Against State Intervention: The Political Economy Legacy of Coercive Land Redistribution in Vietnam and China

Qixuan Yang, Yale University

Land redistribution was a significant policy implemented by authoritarian and democratic states during the 20th century. In China and Vietnam, it was and still is portrayed as a popular policy that alleviated poverty and reduced social inequality. However, recent historical studies revealed the widespread arbitrariness and collective violence in the redistributive process, casting doubts on its positive reception in rural areas. I argue that the experience of inconsistent and violent land redistribution can have profound, economically negative implications for rural development. People in these regions, generations after the redistributive period, might persistently exhibit a stronger distrust in state intervention, resist land appropriation, and observe a more pessimistic view of vertical social mobility. Empirically, I choose China and North Vietnam to assess the negative consequences of coercive land redistribution. Authoritarian land reforms in both countries were instrumental in many stages of civil war and state-making, which resulted in rich subnational and temporal variations of policy implementation (and thus its reception on the ground). Also, it is puzzling that, even until recently, the regions exposed to land redistribution before the state formation tended to be significantly poorer. Specifically, I employ various data sources in both countries to test the above theoretical claim, including historical maps, archives, and contemporary survey data.

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 Presented in Session 3. Capitalism, Neoliberalism, and the State in Southeast Asia