On June 30, 1950, Mao Zedong published a decree on the implementation of the Land Reform Law of the People’s Republic of China. The law stipulated that the basic goal of land reform was “to eliminate feudal, exploitative land ownership by landlords and implement peasant land ownership, so as to free the rural labor force, develop agricultural production, and open the way for the industrialization of New China.”
The rural reforms that began in 1978 opened a new era of public ownership and private management of rural land in China. On September 1, 1980, the CPC Central Committee printed and distributed “Issues Concerning Further Strengthening and Perfecting the Agricultural Production Responsibility System”, which promoted the rapid development of the responsibility system in rural areas around China. The core of the system was the household contract responsibility system, which later developed into the household contract operation system. Under the household contract operation system, land ownership and operating rights were separated; land was owned by the collectives, while operating rights were given to peasants.
The Land Law implemented on January 1, 1999, stipulated clearly that “Collectively-owned land that belongs to peasant collectives of villages according to law shall be managed and administered by village collective economic organizations or villagers’ committees; land that belongs to two or more rural collective economic organizations and is owned collectively by peasants shall be managed and administered by the respective rural collective economic organizations or villager teams; land that is collectively owned by village or township peasants shall be managed and administered by village or township rural collective economic organizations.” The Law on the Contracting of Rural Land promulgated in 2000 again stressed that while peasants can contract and operate rural land, ownership remains with the economic organizations of the collectives.