In this talk I examine how large-scale land expropriation and commodification in periurban China is done and may be challenged on the ground. I use regulatory fiction to describe both a legal and an ideological construct used by the state to legitimize land expropriation and land commodification. Building on an ethnographic study in Yonghe village in peri-urban Guangzhou, I use the sanctuary of the collective to describe the livelihood protection and human vitality (renqi) that are made possible by the use of collectively owned land. The kinds of socioeconomic relationships that have formed around Yonghe are less subordinate to market rules. Between 2008 and 2016, Yonghe villagers struggled over a decision about whether to relocate Yonghe elsewhere in order to escape the long-term pollution in the area. I argue that those moments of debate, negotiation, and struggle most clearly show that regulatory fiction is an ahistorical and power-reinscribing construct of the state.
Speaker: Mi Shih, Assistant Professor, Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Rutgers