In the past 20 years or so, China’s real estate market has experienced phenomenal growth. Hundreds of skyscrapers bursted into the sky during the two decades and many more are coming. This dramatically changed the landscape of many cities in China. All these skyscrapers and other real estate developments are built on a unique land ownership system. The system is still in its primary state of formation, thus uncertainties exist in many crucial areas. In 2007, the first Property Law of People’s Republic of China was enacted and clarified some of the uncertainties but it is far from eliminating them all. Many land ownership issues are still left undefined. The following is an overview of some aspects of China’s unique system.
In China a private party cannot “own” land. All land is either “owned” by the State or by the Collectives. The State owns most of urban area land (i.e. commercial land) and the Collectives are the owners of most rural land (i.e. farm land). Under the current system, even though the land itself can not be transferred, the State may pass the right to use its land to private parties through the granting of “Granted Land Use Right” (“GLUR”) or “Allocated Land Use Right” (“ALUR”). In contrast, Collectives are not allowed to transfer the use right of the land they own. Collectives’ land must be converted from Collective ownership into State ownership before the use right of the land can be transferred. There are efforts, including legislative and administrative, to “free” the land owned by Collectives. The general purpose behind these efforts is to give farmers more “property right” to energize the rural economy in China.