Land grabs in contemporary China

Land grabs in contemporary China


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Reposted from Nao (January 6, 2015). 1 Translated for Nao by Pancho Sanchez from 《认识中国的圈地运动》(“Understanding China’s Enclosures”) by 张玉林 (Zhang Yulin, professor of sociology at Nanjing University), originally published in the journal 《中国乡村发现》2014年第三期 and posted online here:


Translation of an article summarizing original research about land grabs in China since the 1990s, concluding that this ongoing expropriation of peasants is more severe and violent than the peak of Britain’s enclosures in the early 19th century.


Abstract: In less than a quarter of a century, 3.4 times as much land has been enclosed in China than throughout Britain’s the 400 years of enclosures, and 7 times as much land as during the most rapid 30 years of Britain’s enclosures. Correspondingly, China’s [contemporary] enclosures involve a much larger population: 3.4 times as many peasants have been dispossessed [in contemporary China] as those in Britain at the end of its enclosures (1875, 37.5 million). More importantly, Britain’s enclosures reached their peak in about 300 years, but China’s [contemporary] enclosures peaked right at the beginning.2

The 1990s wave of land expropriation and housing demolition (征地拆迁) in China was actually a large-scale enclosure movement. Throughout this movement, there were (still are) a variety of names for park constructions, urbanization and rural urbanization, for instance, the “village removal and housing relocation (撤村并居),” “three concentrations (三集中),” “urban-rural construction land-usage adjustment (城乡建设用地增减挂钩)” that in reality represents “the segregation and centralization of peasants’ housing units (农民集中居住),” and “land transfer (土地流转)” that facilitates the capitalist transformation of agriculture in China. All of the regional or national policies and social engineering projects all point toward the same goal and the same result: enclose a piece of land and remove the villages and peasants there.3

The enclosures are still ongoing and no one knows when it will end. However, the existing results of the enclosures can be used to make a preliminary analysis. This article analyses data from my recently completed research project (soon to be published), focusing on the years 1991-2013, including three sets of data.

First, with regard to arable land occupation and expropriation (征占、征用), 83.35 million mu [5.56 million hectares] of land was [thus affected] during that 23 year period, of which 43.6 million mu [2.9 million hectares] was acquired in 1991-2002, and 39,7 million mu [2.6 million hectares] in 2003-2013. These data do not include the “rent-replacement occupation (以租代征)” of arable land, and does not account for the total area of occupied farm land. At least 150 million mu [10 million hectares] have been occupied or converted to state-owned land.

Second, with regard to the number of peasants who have lost arable land due to expropriation, according to the ratio based on “less than 0.7 mu of arable land per capita” (i.e. for every mu occupied, 1.43 peasants became completely landless), between 1991 and 2002, 62.3 million peasants lost their land, an average annual increase of 5.19 million people. According to the more accurate method of calculation (0.61 mu per capita; for every mu, 1.64 peasants became completely landless), the number of peasants who became landless between 2003 and2013 was 65.14 million with an average annual increase of 5.9 million people. Taken together, the number adds up to 127.45 million people. Taking into account the “rent-replacement occupation (以租代征)” dimension of the enclosure of arable land, the number of peasants who became landless during this period may be as high as 130 million people.

Third, about the number of disappeared or destroyed villages, my calculation is 1.4 million to1.5 million villages – between33.3% and 35.7 % of China’s villages. Specifically, there were about 4.2 million “natural villages”4 in 1990, which were reduced to less than 3.3 million in 2006, and by the end of 2013, there were only 2.7-2.8 million “natural villages” left. Between 1996 and 2006, 70,000 “natural villages” were destroyed, and since 2006, around 80,000 “natural villages” were destroyed annually. The destruction of “natural villages” as been the most intensive in coastal areas and the peripheries of large and medium-sized cities,. For example, from Kunshan Prefecture in Jiangsu Province, listed among China’s “100 Top Counties (百强县),” in its transformation from [administrative designation as] a county (县) to a municipality (市) between 1989 and 2010, 1,386 “natural villages” were destroyed, 61% of the “natural villages” there, among which, the town of Huaqiao had 342 “natural villages” in 1994, and by 2010, only 10 were left to be “preserved.”

The above data sets show that the enclosure movement in China has been swift and violent: in less than a quarter of a century, the number of peasants rendered landless and the number of “natural villages” destroyed exceeded all expectations. This is unprecedented in human history.

There are three major forms or means for enclosing and occupying arable land. Throughout various forms of enclosure that have taken on a variety of names, the basic unit of enclosure changes from several square kilometers at the township level to the national level of several hundreds of square kilometers. The strategically planned enclosure in total occupied 15,000 square kilometers in 1993, expanded to 38,600 square kilometers in 2005 (579 million mu).

Since the mid-1990s, urbanization has become an important form of enclosure. In a comparable statistical range between 2000 and 2012, the “area of completed construction (建成区)”5 of towns and cities expanded from 53,774 square kilometers to 101,446 square kilometers, with an increase of 89% (71,510,000 mu), within which, the completed construction area of municipal-level [设市] cities increased 103% (from 34 to 70 square kilometers), and the completed construction area of county-level cities increased 80%, not counting the towns in those counties, whose constructed area expanded by 104%. When urbanization became a national strategy, in many cities, the construction of new urban areas only intensified the enclosure of arable land: in 2012-2013 alone, 24 directly-administered municipalities and provincial capital cities proposed plans to construct new urban areas, which expected to occupy 4,600 square kilometers in total, among which the city of Guangzhou alone proposed to build 9 new urban areas occupying 800 square kilometers.

The third set of important enclosure tactics that has been widely deployed in the rural areas over the past decade includes “three concentrations (三集中)”, “leaving the village and moving into new housing village removal and housing relocatio (撤村并居)” and “urban-rural construction land-usage adjustment (城乡建设用地增减挂钩),” which have pushed peasants to move into centralized housing.6 The “three concentrations” plan in Jiangsu Province will transform 250,000 “natural villages” into 40,000 housing complexes, within which the rate of transformation in Wuxi, Suzhou and Nantong has approache d or exceeded or 90%. Jiepai township in Danyang municipality (Jiangsu) will conduct a full-blown transformation that will relocate 178 “natural villages”, together with 14,500 peasants, into in a newly constructed “Jiepai New Village” – to “create Jiangsu’s largest concentrated residential area for peasants” and “China’s’s ‘first township-level city (镇级市)’.” The 2006 “connective adjustment (挂钩)” policies were manifested as part of the enclosuresthat robbed peasants’ residential land (宅基地) and destroyed their villages. Evidence shows that the so-called policies to “revitalize the stock of land and strengthen the economical use of land” were in fact referring to the intention of the Ministry of Land and Resources to “make loopholes in the local municipalities”: reducing the amount of land used for rural construction increases the amount of land for urban construction, and the main way to reduce the amount of land used for rural construction is to make peasants withdraw from residential land . Someone in power in a prefecture-level municipality once described his grandiose blueprint thus:

I have here a total of one million peasants; I am going to use three to five years to demolish these villages, because those one million peasants are occupying about a million mu of potential construction sites, so forcing one million peasants to live in high-rises would release 700,000 mu of land…

A report shows that, as of 2010, a similar calculation for implementing the relocation of landless peasants was made in about 20 provinces and cities nationwide, such as the “multiple villages in one complex (多村一社区)”7 construction project in Zhucheng Shandong, the “complex for merging all the villages of one municipality (全市村庄合并社区)” project in Dezhou city, the “new people’s housing (新民居)” project in rural Hebei province, and the “10 thousand ares of fertile land construction project (万顷良田建设工程)” in Jiangsu province. According to a 2011 survey of 18 provinces, 20% of the landless peasants were “forced into high-rises” (被上楼).

As for the causes of enclosures, they are usually attributed to “land finance” or the “primitive accumulation of capital” by local governments or individuals. Such accounts are correct, but we should also take note of cultural factors, which I previously analyzed as “urbanism (城市信仰)” or “deprecation of the rural (贱农主义).” These are the two extreme forms of capitalist development in China, and moreover, they are referring to a revolutionary transformation of a mode of perception that constitutes the totality of the cultural. At the same time, its epistemological establishment justifies a series of destructive capitalist practices. As urbanization becomes belief, cities, especially large cities, become the totem of modernity, which then posits agriculture, rural villages and the peasantry as the residual primitive existences of backwardness. From this point on, the destruction of “natural villages” and the “peasant to citizen” transfiguration becomes inevitable. Certainly, cultural relations are not separated from economic and political relations; they are mutually constituted and are mutually strengthening. However, something else escapes the relational complex that has often been noticed: when the agricultural tax was abolished, when agriculture is no longer a source of taxation, villages and peasants in the rural areas become the burden or the social surplus to the local government, which deepens the “deprecation of the rural” and intensifies the enclosure movement that annihilates villages, peasants and agriculture .

This is not to deny the possible existence of “harmonious land acquisition”, “harmonious demolition,” but numerous studies have shown that the enclosure of land is usually a unilateral “announcement of land acquisition,” which lacks a basic consultation process, and the unilateral decision simply does not take the peasants’ agreement to land acquisition as its premise. The compensation for acquired lands is often unfavorable to the peasants, and the payments for compensation are often delayed. Above all, the lower standard of compensation meets “corruption” and “personal relationships.” Therefore, land acquisitions and the demolition of “natural villages” are manifested as an accumulation of differences and hierarchies,8 between peasants and the local government and between peasants themselves. As such, enclosure brings about a double birth: the compulsive enforcement of enclosure and resistance. A survey involving 17 provinces and 662 towns showed that about 17.6% of the interviewed respondents who had their land taken said that the government used coercive means in the process of expropriation. The State Council’s Development Research Center conducted a study of 39 villages in Jiangsu, Shandong, Sichuan and Beijing, showing that in 36% of the villages, violent incidents took place in relation to land acquisition. Linking the results from these two studies together with the demolition of tens of thousands of villages and the expropriation and dispossession of millions of peasants would allow a recognition of the number of violent incidents involved in enclosure.

Violence in the enclosure movement is highly organized. The public security policies and its various structural components, constituted in the relations of power, would be mobilized. In a small operation, hundreds would be mobilized to target a specific “refractory holdout (钉子户),”9 whereas in a larger operation involving a village and a number of peasants, thousands would be mobilized. Many operations took place at night or before dawn, and the boorish behavior was reminiscent of the scene [in World War II,] when the “[Japanese imperialist] devils entered the villages (鬼子进村).” When fierce resistance was met, “shoot-outs” were justified as a necessity. Gangsters (黑社会分子) have a wide and profound involvement in the enclosure process (do not forget the 2005 Dingzhou incident in Hebei, and also the recent Pingdu incident in Shandong), where a local gangster would act alone, or they would join arms with the government by taking up a role in the tactical team. Such a union between gangsters and the government in land acquisitions is no longer a taboo for the local government officials; in fact, local officials are longing for the help and influence of gangsters.

With the participation of multiple forces in land acquisitions, many regrettable incidents occurred, the saddest of which being self-immolation. Self-immolation as an extreme and desolate expression of resistance to enclosure had its episodic ruptures. In 2010 alone, there were 10 incidents of self-immolation, including the case involving Tao Xingyao and Tao Kuaixi, a father-and-son duoin Donghai county, Jiangsu; and that involving Zhifeng Luo and Ruqin Zhong, a mother-and-daughter duo in Yihuang county, Jiangxi. In Jiangsu province alone, there have been 15 cases of self-immolation since 2003. In a 21st century China, the high frequency of such “low probability incidents” has been outrageous, and is bringing up an unsettling thought about the cold-blooded and unreasonable stigmatization of “refractory holdouts.” As for the process of land acquisition and relocation that is causing “mass incidents (群体性事件),” according to my estimates, there were 2,000-4,000 such incidents in 1993, which increased to 14,000-26,000 ten years later. In 2011 alone, there were 45,000-83,000 incidents – including several thousand cases of direct violent confrontations, followed by a death toll in the thousands.

Large-scale high-frequency direct confrontations and the tendency to exert violent suppression by the local government – “the abuse of police forces performed on the masses” and “the direct assaults and the vast array of violent practices by the public security bureau” – are directly related. For example, Zhang Tianxin, the former municipal party committee secretary of Kunming, mobilized more than 1,000 militarized police officers and dispatched armored vehicles to suppress peasant revolts in Jinning county. Shen Peiping, the former mayor of of Pu’er, Yunnan, who was also known as the “Colonel (大佐) of Demolition,” ordered the mobilization of both the militarized police and the [regular] police forces to suppress the protesting rubber-farmers in Menglian county [in a Dai ethnic minority area], which led to the violent escalation of the incident.10 Many operations of forced expropriation and demolition have mobilized fire trucks and ambulances, showing the detailed strategy that anticipates violent confrontation and its consequences, in which the latter is considered as a necessary and unavoidable cost – just like the saying “without forced demolition, there would be no new China.”11 It should be stressed that the violent inclination of government officials is directly contributing to the violence of those who carry out [policies, such as the police]:12 when self-immolation is about to occur, demolition continues; when bloodshed happens, the roar of bulldozers does not stop. According to the cases I have recorded, between 2010 and2013, at least 20 peasants who had lost their land were murdered by various machines of expropriation and demolition. This means that the people who resist enclosure may still share a sense of hope to bypass grinding and pressing by the machines, but on the other hand, the strategy to eradicate the refractory elements simply does not register this hope. Life becomes a question that “can be resolved by money [Renminbi – a pun invoking socialist discourse of “the people”].”

Just by pointing out that the Chinese enclosure movement is rapid and violent does not show its historical specificity. Many of the specific characters of the Chinese enclosure movement can be illustrated clearly only in comparison with the British enclosure movement.

“Enclosure” in Britain targeted “open fields,” which included the encircling the open fields, the commons, as well as woodlands, marshes and uninhabited places [fenland, marshes, heathland, downland and moorland]. The initial enclosures sporadically appeared in the 12th century, where enclosures consolidated and joined together strips in the open fields for convenience and exchange between peasants and sharecroppers in cultivation. The much more predatory enclosures came in the 15th century, involving the “seizing and fencing of the commons” that came with the demolition of farmhouses and the expulsion of peasants from their land. This round of enclosures lasted about 400 years and accumulated at least 7.31 million acres (43,860,000 mu), among which3.51 million acres (27,070,000 mu) were enclosed between 1801 and 1831. They were carried out by manorial lords (领主), nobles, newly emerging landlords, merchants (商人) and lawyers, as well as wealthier farmers (耕农) and sharecroppers (佃农), but mainly by landlords, merchants and wealthy peasants renting land for commercial farms. Before the 17th century, the occupied land was mainly turned into pasture and farms for planting crops used for dyes in the prospering textile industry. After the 17th century, the occupied land was mainly used for planting new varieties of cereal crops as part of the “agricultural revolution.”

As many writings on the enclosures have argued, as a “long-term process of conquest and plunder” [in the longue durée of historical capitalism as a social system], the British enclosure movement included “killing, oppression and political deals,” and in the 18th and 19th centuries, enclosure was manifested as the “destruction (碾压) of the peasantry,” in which “the first colony of the British Empire was actually England itself.” Marx divided the enclosures into two phases, the earlier being carried out by individual violent acts, and the latter being characterized by parliamentary enclosures, in which the law itself became the instrument for plundering people’s land. Regarding the latter, Marx wrote, “the last great process of expropriation of the agricultural population from the soil is, finally, the so-called ‘clearing of estates’ [or clearances], i.e. the sweeping of human beings off them,” in the early 19th century.13 “All the English methods hitherto considered culminated in ‘clearing’ … But what ‘clearing of estates’ really and properly signifies, we learn only in the Highlands of Scotland, the promised land of modern romantic novels.” Robert Somers wrote in 1848 that “the clearance and dispersion of the people is pursued by the proprietors as a settled principle, as an agricultural necessity, just as trees and brushwood are cleared from the wastes of America or Australia; and the operation goes on in a quiet, business-like way, etc.”

The British enclosures brought “chaos and miseries,” displacing many people and rendering them destitute, and the peasantry resisted fruitlessly but continuously. The enclosures’ long-term historical impact was to lay the foundation for capital’s primitive accumulation. As Marx put it, “they [the various methods of enclosure: “spoliation of the Church’s property,” “the theft of the common lands,” and “the usurpation of feudal and clan property and its transformation into modern private property under circumstances of ruthless terrorism”] conquered the field for capitalist agriculture, incorporated the soil into capital, and created for the urban industries the necessary supplies of free and rightless proletarian.” This means that land enclosure shaped the agricultural revolution and generated two essential elements for the industrial revolution: labor-power for the factories and food for the cities. At the level of politics and society, land enclosure destroyed the entire peasantry and gave “the basis of the present princely domains of the English oligarchy,”14 creating a division between the rich and the poor: by 1873, if the yeomen – holding in average 500 acres of land – and the aristocrats – holding in average 14,000 acres of land – were to be seen as the largest landowners, their combined number of households (13,802) only constituted 1.3% of the overall population, yet they owned 70.7% of the land, whereas the cottagers who constituted 72.3% of the population only owned 0.46% of the land. As late as the early 21st century, this gap has not narrowed: the richest 0.6% of the UK’s population owns ¾ of the country’s land. From the point of view of a social worker interning on an organic farm, this occupation of land “leaves a sensory scar in the contemporary landscape, the physical restriction and orientation of the flowing of the masses in space, the organization of the food system and day-to-day labor practices in UK,” accordingly, “the reasons for resistance are not reducible to social justice, but also include environmental justice, the reproduction of biodiversity and demands for healthy reproduction of British agricultural practices.” Here the word “scar (痕迹)” is manifested as an imbalance that most Chinese scholars have difficulty comprehending: the high concentration of land ownership in few hands and the large-scale of farms in Europe, as well as agricultural production that constitutes only 1% of the overall population.

As can be seen from the above summary, the speed and scale of China’s enclosures has been staggering: in less than a quarter of a century, 3.4 times more lands have been enclosed in China than in Britain’s 400 years of enclosures, and 7 times more than in the fastest 30 years of Britain’s enclosures [in the early 19th century]. Correspondingly, China’s enclosures involve a much larger population of dispossessed peasants: 3.4 times more than Britain at the end of its enclosures (1875, 37.5 million). More importantly, it took about 300 years for Britain’s enclosures to reach their “peak,” but China’s enclosures reached their peak right at the beginning.

The reason that China’s enclosures have been more intense than Britain’s is that the agents of enclosure are organized, i.e. local governments working in cahoots with industrial and commercial enterprises. This is significantly different from the British private enclosures, which expressed a transformation from common ownership (公有制) and incomplete private ownership to a system of absolute private property, whereas the China’s enclosures express a transformation from peasants’ collective ownership to state ownership, in which the actual controllers of state property are local governments, which derive huge revenue from the land: the rent (土地出让金) alone derived from such land increased from 129.6 billion yuan in 2001 to around 4 trillion yuan in 2013, amounting to 19.4 trillion yuan in 13 years. As for those officials who hold the right to “grant (批地)” the right to use land have of course also won an incalculable amount of hidden income.

These differences in the scale, speed and agents of enclosures have influenced on the usage of violent means. For the condition in China, let us recall the data mentioned above: 17.8% of land expropriation cases involved the government’s usage of “coercive means,” and 36% of the villages whose land was seized experienced related violence. Lacking data about the UK, we can estimate, based on the long-term character of its enclosures involving fewer annual incidents of enclosures on average, that they involved less violence than in China in both relative and absolute senses. Violence was less organized, its means less diverse, and its consequences less severe – for example in terms of death toll.. On the other hand, regarding the extension of violence after enclosure itself, China’s actions toward the expropriated appear to be much more moderate: unlike the “bloody legislation” of the British [that punished, disciplined and regulated] the expropriated, China might be said to have achieved a degree of “historical progress.”

As for the purpose of enclosure and use of enclosed lands in Britain, it was carried out to increase rent, to transform farm land into pasture, and to cultivate cereal crops. In other words, enclosure did not change the use of land from agriculture, nor did it destroy agriculture and the natural environment. In China, land enclosure mainly serves to accumulate revenue from comprehensive land-based finance by promoting industrialization and urbanization, constructing all kinds of new urban areas and industrial districts with paved ground, meaning the land’s de-ruralization, the transformation of its use and natural characteristics, the abandonment of agriculture, the destruction of villages, and the oppression (压迫) of nature.

Finally, let us look at impact and consequences. The British experience has been described above; the impact and consequences of enclosure in China can be summarized as follows. Enclosure brings revenue to the government from land-based finance and enriches countless people through investment, exchange or “corruption.” It is facilitating the rapid growth of the Chinese economy and the expansion of cities, serving as an important element contributing to the “Chinese miracle.” It is transforming sites of grain production into sites of grain importation, a threat to China’s overall food security. It is destroying the ancestral homes of hundreds of millions of Chinese people, and turning tens of millions into “ “three-nothing peasants (三无农民)” [with no land, no job and no social security], exacerbating social inequality. The frequency in the deployment of organized violence in enclosures fills Chinese society with the stench of tyranny. The enclosures’ starting point and endpoint of de-ruralization has widened and deepened their ecological impact: the transformation of farm land into paved land covered in high-rises, roads and shopping centers is causing a vast reduction of biodiversity, and an intensification of the “urban heat island effect” and “smog island effect,” which further weakens Chinese people’s relationship with nature in a way that will also weaken humanity itself (加剧人性的弱化).

Although the enclosures in both Britain and Chinese have been “cannibalistic,” there is a difference between “buildings devouring people” versus “sheep devouring people.” The main characteristic of China’s enclosures in contrast with Britain’s has been the loss of both social justice and ecological balance [自然性]. This dual loss means that the enclosures will not be more “successful” in shaping China’s future than they were in shaping Britain.

Translator’s notes:

  1. We repost this here because the Pancho Sanchez translated this article for Nao before several members of that group founded Chuang, where Pancho plans to publish such translations in the future. (Nao continues to exist as an independent project.)
  2. If British colonialism is taken as a part of the enclosure process, which makes the enclosure movement a long-term large-scale global process that corresponds with the cycles of capital accumulation, this claim will have to be revisited.
  3. In addition to the methods mentioned above, the enclosure movement in China also includes various forms of racist on-going ethnic-disaster tourism in the autonomous regions (Xinjiang and Tibet for example), high-speed railways construction (Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Shanghai for example; not just for the establishment of a new consumption pattern but also as a form of surveillance technology), various forms of necro-political dis-accumulation of unwanted bodies through the so-called “natural disasters,” the construction of specialized hospitals and national education curriculums that imprison sense-making, the executions and enforcement of the infamous one-child policy that criminalizes women and regulates sexual practices (particularly carried out for nation-building that is heteronormative in nature), the construction of golf-fields and large-scale mining projects.
  4.  “Natural villages” refers to 自然村 as opposed to “administrative villages (行政村)”. In China’s state administrative discourse, “natural villages” are supposed to coincide with traditional settlement patterns and communities, whereas “administrative villages” refer to purely administrative units founded in the early 1980s on the basis of socialist-era “production brigades,” usually containing multiple “natural villages” (and later merged into larger administrative villages in the mid-2000s). (However, many “natural villagers” are also new administrative units with little relation to earlier settlement patterns and community identity.) To borrow from Nicos Poulantzas, an “administrative villages” could be understood as artificial social monads constituted within the relations of power qua relations of capitalist production.“Natural villages” refers to 自然村 as opposed to “administrative villages (行政村)”. In China’s state administrative discourse, “natural villages” are supposed to coincide with traditional settlement patterns and communities, whereas “administrative villages” refer to purely administrative units founded in the early 1980s on the basis of socialist-era “production brigades,” usually containing multiple “natural villages” (and later merged into larger administrative villages in the mid-2000s). (However, many “natural villagers” are also new administrative units with little relation to earlier settlement patterns and community identity.) To borrow from Nicos Poulantzas, an “administrative villages” could be understood as artificial social monads constituted within the relations of power qua relations of capitalist production.
  5. “建成区” could be translated as “urbanized area,” or territory that is attached to a series of security and police apparatuses that constitute the capitalist state.
  6. I translate “城乡建设用地增减挂钩” as “urban-rural construction land-usage adjustment,” rendering the Chinese term “挂钩” implicit. “挂钩” could be used to refer to various forms of spatial coupling, connection and articulation. The term “adjustment” also expresses a sense of coupling, connection and articulation. Therefore, I kept “挂钩” implicit in the word “adjustment,” but at the same time, it is to invent a different concept of spatial “adjustment” that is posited upon the process of enclosure. “集中居住” (living in concentrated housing) refers to the centralization of living in a specifically arranged and segregated spatial concentration.
  7.  See
  8.  Here I am borrowing from the terms of Silvia Federici in translating “不公正” as the “differences and hierarchies,” instead of translating it as “injustice.” Therefore, enclosure – or land acquisition and demolition of the “natural villages” – is an accumulation of differences and hierarchies, an accumulation of “不公正.”
  9.  I am borrowing the term “refractory” from Shiv Visvanathan’s works from the late 1980s on the Laboratory State. “Refractory” here refers to the resistance to enclosure but it also refers to a resistance to a metaphysical gaze that is constitutive of a violent mode of perception of the capitalist state. “钉子户” is not merely a holdout but a holdout that exceeds the logic of capital. It is a cosmic occupation that exceeds any notions of liberal democracy: no elections, no representatives and no numerical counting of bodies. Its existence is that separation that which crosses out the totality of capital, and it does not exist outside of that separation.
  10.  This bloody confrontation subsequently made news headlines and became known as the “7-19 Incident.” For more information, see:;
  11.   This is a play on the old Communist Party propaganda song, “Without the Communist Party, there would be no new China.”
  12.  I am invoking Nicos Poulantzas’ State, Power, Socialism here. My intention here is two-folded. First, the original Chinese text says “需要强调的是,主政者的暴力倾向会助长执行者的施暴气焰” which is making a distinction between “主政者” (those “in power,” for example, government officials) and “执行者” (those who implement laws or policies, such as the police), and this distinction is assuming that the capitalist state is a Subject that rules over its puppets, instead of conceiving the capitalist state as a mode that is constituted in the relations of power – qua relations of production and class struggles. Therefore, both government officials and the police are the related terms of a larger relational configuration that is constituted in a division of labor, in the relations of production and in the process of dispossession; hence, the capitalist state can only be referred as a series of relations. Second, the material ideological practices of the capitalist state are not merely the practices that discipline and regulate individuals and populations, rather, to update Poulantzas in our time and in the context of China, the material ideological practices of the capitalist state also includes practices of enclosure (the double articulation of enclosure that creates a population of citizens and a social surplus that is neither a subject nor an object, in which the latter is to be eradicated in order to an objecthood to be established; the expropriation of the right to have rights; the militarization of police force; surveillance technologies, etc.).
  13.  This and the following quotations are from Ben Fowkes’ translation (1976) of Capital, Volume 1 (Vintage Books), pages 889-890 and 893.
  14.  Capital, Volume 1, page 884.

1 Comment

  1. A more detailed report on this study has been published and reposted here:

    I assume this is the “recently completed research project (soon to be published)” mentioned above.



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