The China Quarterly

Research Report

Subduing “The Rural House-building Craze”: Attitudes Towards Housing Construction and Land Use Controls in Four Zhejiang Villages 1

Sally  Sargeson 


Why do villagers in China's most densely populated and productive agricultural regions use scarce farmland to construct housing? And why has the Chinese government, which has legislated to conserve arable land so as to ensure national food security, been unable to control housing construction in the countryside? Previous studies of the factors motivating the rural housing boom tend to explain this either as a reaction against insecure property rights in land and a speculative response to emergent market opportunities, or as a social mobility tactic. This paper presents interview and survey data from four villages in Zhejiang province that show that property rights in land do not affect villagers' housing construction and market incentives play only a minor role in propelling house-building. The social and demographic aspirations of families and the reconfiguration of rural households' economic activities are major stimuli of “the rural house-building craze.”


1 Research was funded by an Australia Research Council Small Grant, Pacific Cultural Foundation Grant SC8105 and the Asia Research Centre, Murdoch University. Field research could not have been conducted without the support, advice and assistance of Professor Jia Shenghua of Zhejiang University and Dr Zhang Hongbin of Zhongshan University, to whom I am immensely grateful.