State-Building and Land Ownership in China and Vietnam: The Critical Juncture of Constitution-Making between 1976 and 1982

Zhihang Ruan, Hunter College, CUNY

The paper uncovers the historical origins of China and Vietnam’s contemporary land ownership regimes. Using newly available historical archives in Vietnam and materials collected in China, the author traces the roots of the land ownership regimes dating back to the constitutions passed in both countries in the early 1980s. The sequence of state-building, economic reforms, and constitution-making led to the divergence in land ownership in the two countries, i.e., a dualist ownership system in China and a unitary system in Vietnam. The paper demonstrates that China’s dualist land ownership system did not emerge as the state’s deliberate effort to monopolize the urban land market. Thus, it cannot be explained by China’s generally stronger state power vis-à-vis society compared to Vietnam. Instead, the Chinese party-state’s more restrained decision at the critical juncture of constitution-making produced an unexpected and likely unintended dualist regime that proved especially useful for later land expropriation and fiscal extraction. In Vietnam, the nationalization of all land arose from the state-building process amid the Third Indochina War. The arrangement instead turned out to be less beneficial to the party-state as economic reforms deepened. With the cases of two communist countries, the study brings new insights to the literature on war, state-building, and long-term fiscal capacity.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 142. Political Economy in China