A weapon of the weak? Shareholding, property rights and villager empowerment in China

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


As urbanization continues to fuel land and property conflicts in rural China, shareholding has been promoted as a reform in property rights that would enhance bottom-up control in the governance of collective assets. The recent proliferation of community-based shareholding companies has been credited for giving villagers new identities as shareholders, which entitle them to vote, receive their share of collective profits, and elect the managers of their wealth. This paper critically appraises these reforms and offers a contrarian perspective to singular narratives of villager empowerment. While shareholding clarifies villagers' rights of control, income and transfer in collective property, the effective exercise of such powers is often forestalled on the ground by the concentration of power in elite hands. To the extent that formal and informal constraints on cadre power remain tenuous, shareholding could function as a vehicle for the powerful to appropriate collective wealth rather than as a weapon of the weak.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-152
Number of pages22
JournalChina Quarterly
Publication statusPublished - 5 Nov 2018


  • collective economy
  • land politics
  • property rights
  • shareholding
  • village self-government

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Political Science and International Relations


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