Rural land and Mining

 “The empty institution embodies certain rules not yet accepted in society, but in such a manner that the newly created institution is ineffective. They emerge as compromises over sensitive political issues. The interests opposed to them ensure that they are established in such a way that they cannot achieve their aims. The interests supporting them win a pyrrhic victory as their rules, (…), have no practical impact on social actors’ behaviour.”


(P. Ho in Institutions in Transition, Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 73)

The mining governance in China features a dilemma: on the one hand, there are various issues inherent in China’s mining institutions: 1) an outdated nature of the current legislation, 2) ambiguity in the regulations, and 3) administrative fragmentation of responsible authorities. On the other hand, China has witnessed a fast growing mining industry. Therefore, this study aims to explain this phenomenon by adopting the theories and conceptual framework on institutional function and credibility put forward by Ho (2005, 2014, 2016a).  The central question is as follows: How do China’s mining institutions affect the local communities, and to what extent do the rural residents perceive these as credible?


In this study, mixed-method research is performed through three instruments: 1) archival analysis, 2) comprehensive literature review, and 3) empirical fieldwork. The empirical data included survey answered by 352 farmers living in the vicinity of mines in eight counties, and interviews with 29 key informants.

The project concluded that the institutions of mining land expropriation and environmental protection in China have emerged as an ‘empty institution’, of what Ho  describes as an institution that is largely ineffective and ignored, but simultaneously socially accepted and little contested. But the MIDR has become non-credible institutions, which exhibits as lacking of focus on underground mining, national compensation standard, and unclear distribution of the liability at the macro level, and the forced resettlement, high tensions and conflicts, and concerns with future livelihood at the micro level.

The book argues that it is the non-enforcement of mining land expropriation and environmental regulations that are conducive to economic development. At the early operational mining stage, mining activities had contributed as a complimentary livelihood, therefore the farmers would tolerate some risks. When the environmental degradation and land loss does not threaten the livelihood of the local community to a great extent, only a mild reaction is expected. However, there are inherent risks in the empty institution that has a tendency to evolve into a non-credible institution. When the function of access to land as their subsistence was disrupted by land subsidence and ineffective resettlement schemes, the resistance to mining increased. Meanwhile, the institutional arrangements did not provide sufficient protection and sustainable livelihood, the perceived credibility would definitely decrease.

Researchers: Xiuyun Yang    Peter Ho