Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Land disputes and forced seizures are China’s main social problem. In fact, about 73 per cent of all petitions and complaints made to the authorities are over land, this according to the upcoming “Blue Book of China's Society” by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), China’s foremost public institute of social research.
Urban and industrial development has led to unchecked increases in the market value of land. Local authorities have often carried out large-scale expropriations but more often than not, they have done so to benefit themselves and construction companies. Farmers have lost land and homes without adequate compensation, some finding themselves virtually homeless and jobless. Fights over land accounted for 65 per cent of rural “mass conflicts”, the blue book said.
Tens of thousands of farmers, whose families have lived in farmhouses for generations, have been relocated to multi-storey buildings so that local governments could sell the land to developers for a profit.
Since 1990, authorities have seized more than 6.7 million hectares of land from farmers. What is more, the disparity between the combined compensation paid to residents and the land's market value was estimated to be around 2 trillion yuan (US$ 300 billion), CASS researcher Yu Jianrong said.
This has fuelled sometimes violent protest. In one case that shocked the nation, Tang Fuzhen, 47, set herself on fire in November last year in southwestern Sichuan province over the planned demolition of her husband's garment-processing business. She died 16 days later.
The central government has set aside 120 million hectares of arable land to help ensure food security, a limit that is however on the verge of being breached.
The blue book also found that people are increasingly upset by rising prices and the growing gap between the country’s rich and poor.
According to the study, residents' "satisfaction level" was 3.41 out of a possible 5 in the cities, 3.37 in small towns and 3.42 in rural communities this year, down from last year’s figures of 3.59 in small towns and 3.55 in rural communities. It did not say if there was a change in the cities' level.
Some key indicators, such as satisfaction with jobs, social security and after-hours entertainment, hit a five-year low, CASS researchers said. In particular, they found rural residents' expectation of a rise in living standards, which was already lower than that of urban residents, had fallen. Urban residents showed increasing concern about how they would live after retiring.
Yu Bin, an economist with the State Council's Development Research Centre, said that the growing income gap reflected a widening gap between urban and rural incomes, even though per capita income grew faster in rural areas (9.7 per cent) than in cities (7.5 per cent).
At the same time, China’s central bank, the People's Bank of China (PBOC), reported the most widespread dissatisfaction with consumer prices in 11 years, with 73.9 per cent of respondents complaining that they were "high and hard to accept".
The PBOC survey, which this year covered some 20,000 households in 50 cities, also found that 81.7 per cent of those questioned were expecting prices to continue to rise compared to 55.5 per cent who said they expected a rise in income.