Taking as giving, appropriation as access: transfers of land development rights and China’s recent experiments
Economic development at both the domestic and global levels is associated with increasing tensions which are inextricably linked to the meaning and allocation of property rights, which has a great impact on appropriation of resources and may lead to different paths of development. ‘Taking’ – the appropriation of private land for public needs – is a typical example that exhibits those tensions, posing a challenge to the conventional conception of property as individualistic and exclusive rights of possession, use and disposition and to the associated neoliberal model of development. Should the individual landowner be left to bear the cost of a regulatory intervention which endures to the wider benefit of the whole community? How can the tensions between private ownership and public regulation be mitigated? If we take the liberal concept of property, then private property seems to be in constant conflict with public interests and wider social concerns. Meanwhile, community, situating between the state and the individuals, and community’s relationship to development rights have not provoked enough discussion. The paper explores the different ways land development rights might be seen both in Western, essentially common law, systems and in China, especially now and in view of two case studies. An empirical example in Wugang, China, reveals the importance of integrating the ‘community lens’ proposed by Roger Cotterrell into studies of the transfer of land development rights. Reading through the community lens, taking could be giving and appropriation could also be access. This approach provides a new perspective to re-evaluate the relationship between legal appropriation and development.