My book, Land Bargains and Chinese Capitalism: The Politics of Property Rights Under Reform, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2015.
Land reforms have been critical to the development of Chinese capitalism over the last several decades, yet land in China remains publicly owned. The book explores the political logic of reforms to land ownership and control, accounting for how land development and real estate have become synonymous with economic growth and prosperity in China. Drawing on extensive fieldwork and archival research, the book tracks land reforms and urban development at the national level and in three cities (Dalian, Harbin, and Changchun) in a single Chinese region (the Northeast, or dongbei). I find that the initial liberalization of land was reversed after China's first contemporary real estate bubble in the early 1990s and that property rights arrangements at the local level varied widely according to different local strategies for economic prosperity and political stability. In particular, the author links fiscal relations and economic bases to property rights regimes, finding that more "open" cities are subject to greater state control over land.
You can find reviews of the book in Perspectives on Politics, the China Quarterly, and the China Journal.
I was fortunate to discuss my book with Jeremy Wallace at the Chinalab Podcast.


I have several published articles related to this work on land politics and property rights:

Rithmire, Meg. "Land Politics and Local State Capacities: The Political Economy of Urban Change in China." China Quarterly, no. 216 (December 2013): 872–895.

Rithmire, Meg. "China's 'New Regionalism': Subnational Analysis in Chinese Political Economy." World Politics 66, no. 1 (January 2014).

Rithmire, Meg. "Land Institutions and Chinese Political Economy: Institutional Complementarities and Macroeconomic Management.Politics & Society 45, no. 1 (March 2017): 123–153.

Looney, Kristen, and Meg Rithmire. "China Gambles on Modernizing Through Urbanization.Current History 116, no. 791 (September 2017): 203–209.

*Kristen Looney and I wrote this essay to be an accessible and comprehensive piece for scholars and non-scholars alike on the institutions that structure Chinese capitalism, including those governing land, capital, and labor.

Book Chapters

Rithmire, Meg. "Local States of Play: Land and Urban Politics in Reform-Era China." In Inside Countries: Subnational Research in Comparative Politics, edited by Agustina Giraudy, Eduardo Moncada, and Richard Snyder. Cambridge University Press, 2019.

Rithmire, Meg. "Will Urbanization Save the Chinese Economy or Destroy it?" Chap. 16 in The China Questions: Critical Insights into a Rising Power, edited by Jennifer Rudolph and Michael Szonyi. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018.

Work in Progress

A new project looks at state-business relations in authoritarian Asia, examining contemporary China under the Chinese Communist Party, Malaysia under the United Malay National Organization, and Indonesia under Suharto’s New Order. A book, tentatively titled Unfaithful Friends: Business and Political Elites in Authoritarian Asia, is the centerpiece of this research agenda. The book aims to answer a series of theoretical questions about the delicate relationship between capitalists and autocrats. What strategies do authoritarian political elites adopt to manage the business class? What kinds of strategies succeed, for example by securing political stability and economic growth, and what kinds fail, either by stymieing economic growth or by generating regime instability?

The book draws on archival research, interviews, and several original datasets to first elaborate two ideal typical models of state-business relations under authoritarianism, and, second, explain why relations appear closer to one pattern or another. The two ideal typical models are mutual alignment, whereby an authoritarian regime organizes its institutions and/ or informal practices to serve the productive interests of business, i.e. to induce capitalists to invest in growth and development, and mutual endangerment, whereby economic elites and political elites are mutually entwined in corrupt dealings and invested in perpetuating each other’s dominance primarily because the loss of power on one side would bring about the demise of the other. Both forms of state-business relations would be described as “cooptation,” but, I argue, they produce vastly different outcomes with regard to both economic growth and political stability. I explain the development of one model over another by looking to the legitimacy of the capitalist class and the regime’s control over financial resources.

I presented some of the material from the book at the Asia Center in fall 2018, and you can listen here:

Working Papers

Varieties of Outward Chinese Capital: Domestic Political Status and Globalization of Chinese Firms
Abstract: Recent focus on China’s surging outward investment has overlooked a puzzling fact about China’s policy regime governing outward investment: rather than increasing liberalization and enhancing domestic “push” factors, China’s policy toward outward investment has been ambivalent and vacillating, pushing large-scale internationalization while also embracing strict capital controls. This paper accounts for China’s ambivalent policy moves by focusing on the domestic coalitions that sustain capital openness. I show how three types of domestic Chinese capital—state capital (SOEs), private capital (SMEs and large competitive firms), and crony capital (firms who enjoy access to profits based non-market rather than market advantages)—differ in political vulnerability and therefore pursue globalization in different ways. While all prefer capital openness, they do so for different reasons: state capital uses preferential access to domestic credit to expand internationally for political power and prestige in addition to profits; private capital, in keeping with the theoretical expectations of the international business literature, seeks markets and/ or efficiency; and crony capital seeks to transform domestic access into international safety as quickly as possible. China’s policy ambivalence can largely be explained as the party-state’s attempts to discipline or empower these groups.