Economic Reform and the Chinese Commons: A Tale of Three Villages

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"The fundamental purpose of this paper is to explain the emergence and persistence (or otherwise) of informal groups for common pool resource (CPR) management during a period of economic system reform. Since the late 1970s, China has embarked on a series of policy and institutional reforms that have increased the role of the market and decreased the role of the state in the economy. In the agricultural sector, the family-based household contract responsibility system has superseded the command-oriented commune system. This paper examines the role of community and informal groups in CPR management in the reform period. "Utilizing a comparative case study approach, the paper first describes the different institutional arrangements for CPR management that have evolved in three pastoral villages in China in the post-commune period. The three case study villages are all located within the same county in northern Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region but differ in terms of their resource endowments and degree of settlement. They include a mountain-based Mongolian village and two plateau-based Kazak villages, one of which is semi-nomadic and the other recently settled. "Institutional arrangements were found to vary widely, according to both the village and seasonal type of pasture. This was especially so with respect to the emergence and persistence of group tenure and herding arrangements. Depending on the community and season, group arrangements ranged from being non-existent, to distinctly on the demise, to still prevalent. "The remainder of the paper is devoted to explaining these inter-community and inter-seasonal differences. This is done through the application of elements of new institutional economics with due sensitivity to the role of the state and culture. It is argued that one of the principal factors accounting for group arrangements is the existence of potential economies of size with respect to herding labor. A related factor is the costs and benefits of monitoring and enforcing boundaries, which varies according to season. Finally, the rapid shift in the settled village from kin- based herding encampments to household contracting of transient herders is explained and implications for future CPR management drawn. "This paper is based on eight months' recent fieldwork in China, including five months at the village level. Field methodology included both rapid rural appraisal and a semi-structured survey of a random sample of 30% of the households in each village."
IASC, common pool resources, resource management, community participation, economic reform, pastoralism, village organization, herders