Japan from the inside out

Land use in China

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, December 8, 2009

IN THE POST immediately preceding this one, Prof. Shimojo Masao makes a reference to agricultural reform in China and the private ownership of land. He holds that agricultural problems in China will not be solved until land can be privately owned and democratic reforms established.

In one of those serendipitous examples of synchronicity, fewer than 12 hours after posting it, I ran across this article from the Hoover Institute that compares land reform in Russia in the post-Soviet era and in China in the post-Mao era. It is both enlightening and frustrating. On the one hand, it does present a contrast worth considering. On the other, the authors celebrate the wonders of Chinese agrarian reform while glossing over the critical fact that Chinese farmers still cannot own land outright. They offer a vague hope that it might be possible in the future, depending on the way in which a new law passed in 2007 will be implemented.

I understand that academics and intellectuals as well as journalists want to pitch a tent to present a point of view, and create narratives to further that presentation. But why is it so difficult for them to realize the reader needs the basic facts first. They’re not going to find them all here. The curious reader will have to plow through several more articles and sift through several bushels of infotainment before a picture begins to take shape.

That picture contains several scenes the Hoover Institute article doesn’t even hint at–serious anti-governmental unrest in rural areas and a Chinese debate over what degree of private ownershop is necessary.

It will come as no surprise the author of this Time magazine article chose to dramatize government thuggishness–it’s a glossy infotainment mag, after all–but still didn’t manage to get the facts down. (He says land is owned by the state. Chinese farmland is owned by the individual villages.) This recent Financial times article has more information, but still does not present the basic fact about Chinese land ownership.

This Christian Science Monitor article has the same problem. None of these articles, however, make it clear that the Chinese government is still opposed to private ownership. That information is to be found in this piece in the Vancouver Sun.

This summary by the Council on Foreign Relations is much better, but again they have little to say about the new law. (It will allow freeholding rather than outright ownership.) Instead they just provide a link to the English translation of the law itself. Couldn’t they have found the time and space–a clearly written paragraph?–to properly explain, rather than invite the reader to wade through 247 articles of legalese?

Yet again one has to recognize the brilliance of Akutagawa Ryunosuke for his literary montage Rashomon, later turned into a film by Kurosawa Akira that starred Mifune Toshiro. It tells the story of a man’s murder and the rape of his wife from the perspectives of four people. Their accounts differ so greatly the reader or viewer wonders if they are describing the same incident.

That, however, was fiction. How unfortunate that it also describes the state of academic writing and journalism.

3 Responses to “Land use in China”

  1. Durf said

    The bulk of the Rashomon film plot came from a story called “Yabu no Naka,” not the story of the same name. (Although Kurosawa did nod to “Rashomon” as well with the opening and closing scenes shot in the gate house.)
    That’s what I get for only reading the story (in English, many years ago) and not seeing the movie!

    – A.

  2. mac said

    Relative to this blog, it would be very much worth study Post-WWII Japanese Land Reform, very much a political motivated reform on behalf of MacArthur’s imperial SCAP who considered landlordism to be one of the main the source of Japan’s “evils”. Are we not just seeing a similarly political attack here on the CPC’s hegemony (… for good or ill, I do not know)?

    I am not going to make any attempt at intelligent, detailed discussion of those reforms. For that you might start with, e.g. ‘Agricultural Land Reform in Postwar Japan’ by Toshiko Kawagoe World Bank 1999.

    In Japan, land reform had no effect on production. That came about from science and technology. It did, however, restructure society and remodel the landscape, and I am positive it was not for the better. Removing the at least experienced landlord class, and empowering an inexperience but more narrowly self-interested peasantry, may have lead to the kind of body politic MacArthur wanted by disempowering the perceived to be threatening leadership but, to be quite frank, it has lead to Japan looking like shit and being crippled by an almost impossibly crippled agricultural system that might well be able to delivery beautiful, gift wrapped, hand washed single carrots to the market place but charges far too much for them.

    This is fighting talk … a polemic … and I don’t know if I am entirely right but if anyone wonders where the hell all those dumb, neo-mock castle farmhouses with heavy, Chinese-style, tiled roofs came from, you can pretty much guess peasants selling land that was given to them back to the government during some road construction programme or another. Ditto, all those shitty, look-alike, environmentally inappropriate, plastic catalogue houses parked inches right next to the mock castles … peasants building houses for their newly married son or daughter to live in with a 35 year mortgage for a house only designed to last 25 years.

    You can say what you like about the old land owning aristocrats but they had an overview, an eye for design, were wedded to their land and had a direct interest in constructing quality properties, out of local, environmentally friendly and sympathetic resources, that could last for hundreds of years. Anyone that has seen the majesty of the Gassho houses or spent a night in the Chiiori Trust’s Iya cottage will understand what I mean immediately. It is no wonder that Hollywood had to go to New Zealand to re-build feudal Japan for The Last Samuri …

    In my current opinion, the desire of one foreign, imperial power to “democratize” another nation is rarely based on humanitarian or charitable interests. More than usual, it is based on a desire to replace one power structure with a more pliable power structure or even create an immobile, rudderless and largely impotent ‘other’ as I suspect the political aims for Japan were (… that and getting people off the land and into factories to turn Japan into cheap mass manufacturer of consumer goods for the West, rather than the essentially self-contained sustainable society it was during Edo).

    And that the conservative farming rural population kept the LDP in power for 40 years, at the cost of vast subsidies and more huge and ugly building programmes, seems to bear this out.

    None of the SCAP Japan reforms really addressed any problems the Japanese peasants suffered (I doubt the CFR really cares about Chinese peasants), what it lead to was driving them off the land, or allowing an escape from it. Personally, for me you can replace CFR with “supra-national imperialism”.

    For the record, I am myself “of peasant stock”. Please do not assume any class prejudices nor that I am defending the landlords unreservedly.

    Making a wide leap, the “Promised Land” of privatization is often only a side step to the transfer of land and capital from local people with interests in its living value and welfare to foreign corporations only interested in it financial value to them.

    What other interest could these Westerner powers have on China’s assets?

  3. Bender said

    Land reform didn’t really contribute to productivity, but it was good to achieve equality, which was seriously lacking in prewar Japan and was the cause for general social unrest. We have to thank the leftist GI Joes for democratizing Japan.

    In the meantime, the rest of Asia remained under despot regimes, and now they have to use nationalism to quell domestic inequality. It’s quite a irony here.

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