INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF URBAN AND REGIONAL RESEARCH
This research was supported by fellowships from the Center for Chinese Studies, Chiang-Ching Kuo Foundation,
Confucius China Studies Program, Fulbright-Hays DDRA, Institute of International Studies, and Social Science
Research Council. I presented an early version of this article at a workshop hosted by Guangzhou University and
South China Normal University called ‘China in an Era of Mobilities’ where I received valuable feedback from
Heidi Østbø Haugen, Junxi Qian, Paul Statham and other participants. I also presented a version of this article at
Stanford University with the Stanford Center for East Asian Studies and am grateful for comments from Matthew
Kohrman, Adam Liebman, Tim McLellan, Yan Long, Jean Oi, and Andrew Walder. Many thanks for comments on
earlier versions of this article from You-tien Hsing, Juliet Lu, Andrea Marston, Jeff Martin, Chris Mizes, Lana Salman,
Kristin Sangren, Michael Watts and Alex Werth. Finally, I thank three anonymous IJURR reviewers for their insightful
— URBAN ECOLOGICAL ENCLOSURES:
Conservation Planning, Peri-urban Displacement, and
Local State Formations in China
Across contemporary China, city governments are unevenly territorializing
peri-urban villagers’ land and housing by creating new urban ecological conservation
sites. I analyze this emerging form of what I call ‘ecological territorialization’ through
three interrelated spatial practices: comprehensive urban–rural planning, peri-urban
‘ecological migration’, and the distribution of institutional responsibility for conservation
site financing, construction and management. Detailing this triad of territorializing
practices renews attention to the relationship between conservation classiﬁcations that
justify state intervention, uneven displacements of people from rural land and housing,
and site-speciﬁc capitalizations that collectively consolidate urban government control
over rural spaces. These practices emerge stochastically as state, private, and semi-state
institutions capitalize on conservation projects in the context of legally and constitutionally
underdeﬁned land use rights and ecological land designations. In the current post-socialist
moment of urban ‘greening’, these practices are key to producing frontiers of land-based
accumulation and extending local state control across the peri-urban fringe. Urban
ecological enclosures not only remake city-level state power but also shape rural people’s
relationships to land, labor and housing.
Ecological migration (EM) (shengtai yimin), often conceived of in relation to
large-scale ecological conservation and social displacement in China, has become a
central aspect of land enclosure. An official state term, EM refers to the involuntary
migration of people as part of government efforts to conserve or restore degraded lands,
ecosystems, as well as multi-scalar ecological engineering projects. The practice
emerged in the 1990s and 2000s, often in relation to anti-desertification and grassland
management policies in China’s North and West. In its early phases EM entailed large-
scale movements from grasslands to concentrated settlement areas, particularly in
Inner Mongolia (Xun and Bao, 2007) and Tibet (Yeh, 2009).
Debates about the environmental beneﬁts surrounding large-scale EM have been
waged between scholars who are clear proponents of state intervention for conservation
purposes (Liu and Wang, 2008; Wang et al., 2010) and those critical of the social and
cultural losses that accompany large-scale migratory displacement (Banks et al., 2003;
Shi et al., 2007; Foggin, 2008; Seki and Hu, 2011). The bulk of extant scholarship
discusses EM through large-scale conservation efforts to mitigate environmental
degradation (Bao, 2006; Liu and Wang, 2008; Wang et al., 2010). These eorts generally
entail the mass movement of entire communities to new settlements constructed
through government support. There has been comparatively little assessment of the
numerous small-scale displacements brought about through urban ecological protection
zoning projects across peri-urban China. I coin the term peri-urban ecological migration
to refer to processes of displacement from land and housing activated when a peri-
urban area is designated for ecological protection. While peri-urban displacements
through ecological zoning are not officially referred to as EM in state policy, some
urban-level government officials use EM to describe the peri-urban displacements
caused by urban ecological protection projects. Utilizing this term in relation to urban
ecological protection displacements indexes similarities between large-scale EM
across China and the much more numerous small-scale displacements in peri-urban
China, which aect millions of peri-urban villagers dislocated in the name of ecological
protection. Moreover, it points to interconnections between social displacement in the
name of ecological protection land designations across scales and state territorialization
of predominantly rural spaces.
I use the term ecological territorialization to refer to the ensemble of spatial
practices through which control over land is wrested in the name of ecological protection.
While this term may be readily applied to the large-scale ecological protection
projects in China’s North and West, noted above, in this account I detail a specific
conﬁguration of ecological territorialization in China’s urban areas, wherein peri-urban
EM, environmental planning, and state-private governance relations ﬁgure centrally.
I argue that ecological territorialization constitutes an emerging form of enclosure
wherein urban governments extend their reach over peri-urban regions. China’s peri-
urban fringe does not resemble patterns of industrial agglomeration or suburbanization
common in the history of Western urbanization. Instead, China’s peri-urban fringes
developed over decades of post-socialist transitions including decollectivization (Oi,
1992), township-village enterprise industrialization (Buck, 2012), and rural–urban
migrations shaped by uneven mobilities linked to household registration benefits
and restrictions (Chan, 1994; Naughton, 1995; He, 2007; Wu and Ye, 2016). These
created socially dierentiated desakota-like landscapes across cities where rural land
designations and agricultural production are interspersed with urban land designations
and urbanized areas (Sui and Zeng, 2001; Xie et al., 2007). Of key importance for this
account is conceptualizing the ‘peri-urban’ in China as patchworks of urban and rural
Land in China is a socialized asset with constitutionally demarcated divisions
between rural and urban land. Even though all land is socialized and therefore belongs
to the state, control of urban land is generally vested within city government hierarchies,
while rural land belongs to the village government personiﬁed in village collectives,
Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-appointed cadres, and township governments.2
In both law and the PRC constitution, the particular state institutions and actors in
control of rural and urban land are underdeﬁned, which leads to structural ambiguities
surrounding land governance and land use (Ho, 2001). Under such conditions, urban
governments have sought for decades to appropriate rural land for urban development
(Ma, 2004; Hsing, 2010; Lin, 2014), while peri-urban villagers have developed village
land for farming, licit and illicit developmental enterprises, rural housing and public
facilities (Oi, 1992; Unger, 2002). Incorporating large swaths of rural land into urban
areas has occurred through urban development, economic and jurisdictional zoning,
and intra-governmental competition (Hsing, 2010; Cartier, 2015). With the rise of urban
land values over the last decade and shortage of urban land for development, peri-urban
1 For additional context on China’s urban development, peri-urban features, or comparisons with urban development
processes in the industrial West, see Ma (2005), Walker and Buck (2007), Wei and Zhao (2009), Lin (2014) and
2 See Ho (2001), Hsing (2010), and article 2 section10 of the CCP constitution for clarification on the ambiguities of
socialized land in China.
URBAN ECOLOGICAL ENCLOSURES 693
village land close to cities has become extremely valuable, contributing to forced land
acquisition and migration (Sargeson, 2013; Chuang, 2015). In this account, I illustrate
conservation-oriented spatial practices crucial to urban government enclosure of peri-
urban village land. Since the central state placed restrictions on making ‘development
zones’ (kaifaqu), from around 2010 onwards, the practices I discuss have become key to
facilitating urban government enclosure of peri-urban village land and conservation-
This article is organized as follows. I ﬁrst discuss the interconnections between
territorialization and enclosure, highlighting how ecological forms of territorialization
are central to contemporary processes of enclosure across China’s peri-urban fringe.
This corroborates scholarship that discusses how classification, displacement and
capitalization are integral to enacting control over space. Then, I discuss the methods
on which this article is based. Next, I empirically illustrate the key findings by
detailing interrelated spatial practices of ecological territorialization that facilitate
urban ecological enclosure: (1) comprehensive urban–rural planning with overlapping
functional land use designations, such as ‘ecological’ and ‘agricultural’ land; (2) peri-
urban EM involving the state-led displacement and concentration of peri-urban villagers
and the uneven incorporation of village land and housing; and (3) assigning responsibility
to state, semi-state and non-state entities to ﬁnance, construct and manage conservation
sites. Respectively, these spatial practices justify state actions under logics of ecological
improvement, forcefully and unevenly displace rural people, and consolidate control
over rural land through ecological construction (shengtai jianshe) projects. I conclude by
highlighting future directions for research, which include greater attention to political
economic forces and environmental justice. Additionally, I reﬂect on the importance
of multi-sited research that attends to a range of social actors involved in conservation
Ecological territorialization and enclosure
Under broad calls for ‘building an ecological civilization’, written into the CCP
constitution in 2012, China’s central state is redirecting economic development in
conjunction with environmental conservation. In China’s 13th ﬁve-year plan (2016–20),
the central state mandated that 20% of land within city jurisdictions be zoned for
ecological protection (UNDP, 2016; Interviews DX 2016, 2017; FTL 2017; LNT 2017).
Such mandates are emerging alongside projects of nation-wide ecological protection
zoning (Lü et al., 2013) in response to unbridled reform-era economic growth (Economy,
2010). Urban environmental protection policies are being put forward simultaneously
with the remaking of urban planning practices through the 2014–20 National New Type
Urbanization Plan. This urban planning directive promotes urbanization by increasing
the number of rural migrants to cities, particularly medium-sized cities (Wang et al.,
2015). As part of this new policy direction, the 2014–20 National New Type Urbanization
Plan integrated urban and rural planning (chengzhenhua guihua), including rural areas
surrounding the city (Bray, 2013; Wilczak, 2017). Throughout this planning process
cities must maintain static ocial ﬁgures for land areas designated for ‘construction’
and ‘agriculture’ (Zhang and Wu, 2017), which poses challenges for making new urban
conservation sites and developing land.
Land development has been the primary mode of accumulation for municipal
governments operating under structural conditions that drive accumulation from land
rents. Local governments transformed into proﬁt-oriented interest groups in the wake
of early 1990s ﬁnancial decentralization and the 1994 tax assignments that gave city
governments soft budgetary constraints. Since then, land became the primary means
through which local governments generated revenues for service provisioning. From the
early 2000s, the bulk of cities’ extra-budgetary revenues were generated through urban
development (Hsing, 2010). Territorial annexations of surrounding rural land came to
include vast swaths of village land and smaller cities (Ma, 2005; Cartier, 2015). Although
peri-urban land was incorporated in many dierent ways during the reform era (Shue,
1988; Naughton, 1995; Chung and Lam, 2004; Ma, 2005), within the last decade much
of this land-based accumulation occurs through urban ecological zoning. New modes
of city-government-led peri-urban territorialization have emerged under conditions
of stronger central state ﬁscal control that limit development zones (kaifaqu)––the
predominant form of urban-based accumulation from the early 2000s––and mandate
new requirements for urban–rural comprehensive planning. Central state mandates
for urban conservation translate into opportunities for city governments to continue to
generate revenues from land-based transactions through urban ecological protection
Under these conditions, the relationships between comprehensive urban–
rural planning, peri-urban EM, and the assignation of institutional responsibility for
conservation ﬁnance, construction and management––each of which I detail in this
article––became key to municipal state territorialization of and accumulation from
peri-urban village land. The confluence of conservation mandates and new urban
planning practices that incorporate rural areas facilitates the enclosure of village land
and the concentration of rural people into resettlement housing complexes. Ecological
territorialization marks a shift in the ways urban governments extend socio-economic
control over the surrounding countryside.3 The spatial practices I discuss are departures
from accumulation practices of recent decades, wherein city governments obtained
control over extra-budgetary revenues through administrative extension into peri-
urban jurisdictions (Chung and Lam, 2004; Ma, 2005) or through rural enterprise
taxation (Oi, 1992). As I discuss in this article, municipal government enclosures of
villagers’ agricultural, housing and construction land enrolls state, semi-state and
private institutions. To purchase or lease land, these institutions form mutualistic
contractual relationships that facilitate the remaking of land designated ‘rural’ and
‘agricultural’ for multiple and overlapping economic and conservation functions.
The enduring focus of EM scholarship on large-scale environmental projects
(Foggin, 2008; Wang et al., 2010; Chen et al., 2014; Wang et al., 2015) overlooks the
ubiquity of these recent city-level practices that consolidate control over peri-urban
village land. Directing attention from the relatively few large-scale EM displacements, to
the literal millions of small-scale EM displacements, refocuses EM scholarship towards
what is undoubtedly among the world’s largest conservation-oriented displacement by
population. There are few publicly available statistics, which makes estimating those
dislocated a challenge. But, by way of example, Kunming, a single city with a population
of approximately three million, has already dislocated over 200,000 villagers with many
more awaiting dispossession.4 China has over 15 cities with populations of between nine
and 28 million. According to China’s 13th ﬁve-year plan, the country plans to increase
the percentage of the urbanized population from 52% to 60% by 2020. To achieve
this goal, an additional 8% of the rural population would need to move from rural to
urban areas, which entails bringing tens of millions from China’s rural population into
the folds of urban life. The scale of incorporation of village land is staggering as most
medium and large sized cities include numerous sub-counties and villages within
urban jurisdictions (Fan, 1999). Additionally, I want to draw attention to the spaces
opened up through ecological land classiﬁcations, as well as the mass dislocation and
centralization of village housing that occurs through territorializing peri-urban villages
3 My usage of the term ‘ecological territorialization’ emphasizes how ecological spatial practices facilitate
territorialization. This differs from Hung’s (2020) usage, which emphasizes discursive and nonlinear materializations
within environmental discourses and green social movements.
4 The figure demarcating the number of dislocated was corroborated through interviews with municipal government
officials from 2014 to 2017. For additional government sources on the extensive number of planned dislocations,
see Kunming Government (2013).
URBAN ECOLOGICAL ENCLOSURES 695
and transforming village land into ecological protection areas. In the context of China,
designating land ecological sanitizes and normalizes social displacement while paving
way for conservation-based development and local state formation. These phenomena
present an opportunity for reconsidering the relationship between territorialization and
enclosure, which are intimately interconnected.
In the Marxist political economic tradition, the process of ‘enclosure’ is often
theorized with reference to British land reforms starting in the sixteenth century. In
this literature, enclosure ﬁgures as a necessary precondition for capital accumulation.
Marx called this process ‘primitive accumulation’, which he detailed through the
privatization of the commons, the proletarianization of labor and global colonization
(Marx,  1976: 874–6;  2005: 459–516). Following Marx, enclosures became
a central topic of political economy, which E.P. Thompson (1975) theorized in relation
to the formation of agrarian capitalism and an industrial proletariat. Thompson shows
how legal land classiﬁcations denoting private property relations are crucial in justifying
English enclosures. More recent engagements draw on the concept ‘accumulation
by dispossession’, which reformulates primitive accumulation to emphasize that
accumulation requires ongoing processes of social and material displacements (Harvey,
2005; 2010; Glassman, 2006; Perreault, 2013). For instance, many works have detailed
the relationships between capitalist expansion and migration, thereby illustrating how
frontiers of displacement form in conjunction with uneven development (Massey etal.,
1993; Hyndman, 2000; Black, 2018). Other works highlight the role of capitalization in
shaping concurrent processes of enclosure and resource extraction, wherein land is
unevenly territorialized with continuously emerging frontiers of accumulation (Watts,
2012; Ballvé, 2012; Levien, 2012; 2018; Klinger, 2018). In contemporary China, processes
are at play through peri-urban ecological conservation projects that mirror many
accounts of enclosure: loss of access to agricultural land, forced migration, (semi-)
proletarianization and land territorialization.
‘Green’ or ‘sustainable’ development classifications have been shown
to contribute to processes of dispossession, capital accumulation and uneven
territorialization by generating sustainability ﬁxes in which capital ﬁnds a sink in
‘green’ projects (While etal., 2004; Yeh, 2009; Corson, 2011; Fairhead et al., 2012; Pow
and Neo, 2013; Knuth, 2016; Lin, 2017; Rodenbiker, 2017, Chung et al., 2018). As Chung
et al. (2018) detail, urban sustainability and the production of green spaces in China
are inextricable from the landed interests of municipal governments, rural villages and
real estate-oriented entrepreneurialism, thereby making government intervention in
land management and rural communities of key importance. Technical approaches
to socio-environmental management enroll state, corporate and public actors, the
conﬁguration of which shapes how rural land and housing are incorporated into urban
conservation and the migratory trajectories of dislocated villagers. Peri-urban EM
emerges from a range of practices by which villagers’ land and housing are included
in government projects of conservation and resettlement. Forms of peri-urban EM
are site contingent. In what follow, I will point to some of the dierential ways in
which peri-urban EM occurs, thus building on studies that show internal migration
as crucial to urban processes (Beaverstock, 2002; Schiller and Çağlar, 2009). I also
build on scholarship that problematizes the contingent spatial formations through
which enclosure operates (Vasudeven et al., 2008) by highlighting ensembles of
territorializing practices emerging through ecological protection zoning. In this vein, I
point to the productive facets of ecology in shaping land-based accumulation, local state
formations, and dierential forms of incorporation into urban conservation zones. This
highlights how ecological classiﬁcations, displacements and capitalizations condition
land enclosure. This triad of spatial practices justify displacement, unevenly displace
people, and consolidate control over newly designated ecological areas. Therefore,
I contend that it is the intersections of territorializing practices, undertaken in the
name of ecological protection, that conditions the ﬁeld of possibility for land-based
accumulation and local state formation.
Although I consider territoriality as ‘spatial strategies to consolidate power in
a given place and time’ that bring about ‘the occupation and domination of a territory’
(Hsing, 2010: 8), I do not conceptualize ecological territorialization to be the result
of coordinated or masterminded sets of practices led by a monolithic state. Instead,
as Chung and Xu (2016) point out, China’s state is multi-scalar and environmental
governance traverses dierent levels of state power, each with its own set of interests
often causing alliances and tensions across institutional arenas. Urban governance in
China and the extent of city-regionalist administrative reach are historically conﬁgured
through the interplay of top-down central state mandates and bottom-up processes of
implementation initiated by local governments (Li and Wu, 2018). As these authors point
out, the CCP and central government maintain ultimate authority. Yet underspeciﬁed
central state mandates leave room for interpretation and local implementation. Hence,
I detail a Janus-faced state, one that is centrally coordinated, locally adaptive and self-
interested, striving to follow mandates, while simultaneously generating opportunities
for accumulation. Spatial practices that include the creation of measures and documents,
peri-urban EM, and additional institutional support for capital mobilization ﬁgure
centrally in ecological territorialization.
I use the term ‘spatial practice’ in a way that crosses the ﬁelds of geography
and urban planning. Geographers consider spatial practices through the social
production of intersecting spatial modalities including Euclidian spaces, symbolic
spaces, representations of space, and the material reproduction of daily life (Lefebvre,
1991). The ﬁeld of urban planning considers spatial practice through practical work that
planners do in designing, organizing, ﬁnancing and managing the built environment
(Glaeser, 2011). Therefore, spatial practices in this article are constituted, in part, through
technical apparatuses to justify land enclosure, such as the comprehensive urban–rural
master plan, peri-urban EM mobilizations and narratives, and the enrollment of private
institutions for ﬁnancing, constructing and managing land. I illustrate this ensemble
of spatial practices as ‘coordinated but dispersed set(s) of regulations, calculative
arrangements, infrastructural and technical procedures, that render certain objects
or flows governable’ (Watts, 2012: 443). Each city has its own configuration that is
historically and geographically contingent based on their own political economic and
institutional relationships (Peluso and Watts, 2001; Death, 2013: 184) mediated through
national discourses, policies and site-speciﬁc practices of conservation.5 However, each
configuration entails rural land territorialization with highly uneven outcomes for
villagers (Chuang, 2015; Shin, 2016) contingent on how land is valuated and compensated
(Zhao and Webster, 2011; Rodenbiker, 2019). Hence, in this distillation, I detail spatial
practices central to urban ecological enclosures that hold across China’s cities.
The content for this article draws on 15 months of ﬁeldwork over three years from
June 2014 to August 2017 during which I adopted an ethnographic approach grounded
in the practices and experiences of peri-urban conservation zoning. This research
involved 15 villages across three cities: Chengdu, Kunming and Dali. These three cities
are all located in southwest China. They vary drastically in terms of population, area
and regional political economies. Collectively, they represent a range of possibilities for
peri-urban conservation zoning. Detailing practices common across cities of dierent
5 Projects of restoration in essence are projects of defining the limits of what is included and excluded in the
historical ecological reconstruction of place, a process of establishing what is included and excluded from
ecological baseline estimates, which is often fraught by decisions on what to include and exclude (Alagona etal.,
2012). In my cases the history of agricultural land use is commonly excluded, which bolsters narratives of peasant
deficiency (Day, 2013; Schneider, 2015) thereby justifying mass displacement.
URBAN ECOLOGICAL ENCLOSURES 697
size and location departs from the single case study paradigm, prevalent in studies of
urban China, thereby reinforcing applicability beyond these cities.
Within each city I conducted interviews and observations across peri-urban
conservation sites, resettlement housing complexes and peri-urban villages at dierent
stages in the process of dislocation. Identifying common features within and across
sites entailed interviews and observations conducted at conservation and resettlement
sites where relocation was underway and sites where relocation was already complete,
interviews with the managers of institutions involved, and interviews with municipal
government ocials across bureaus. Sites of resettlement are not visually distinct from
vernacular landscapes. Therefore, locating sites of resettlement involved triangulating
between interviews with local government, villagers and resettlement migrants. My
methodological approach to researching sustainability projects in practice samples from
the ‘top down’ and the ‘ground up’. The experiences of diverse actors involved provided
crucial insights into how sustainability practices aect those enrolled in sustainability
projects, as well as environmental governance relations that emerge through planning
and implementing conservation projects.
In total, I interviewed 223 peri-urban villagers, 130 resettlement complex
migrants, 90 local government ocials across the city, township and village levels, 15
representatives from companies involved in building conservation infrastructure, and
23 ecologists involved in conservation planning and delimiting historical ecological
records.6 My multi-method approach provided a range of data sucient to pinpoint
common features across cases. I triangulated across sites of conservation displacement,
resettlement and construction to achieve a multidimensional understanding of urban
ecological protection zoning. While conﬁgurations of actors and institutions are site
specific and conjunctural, over the course of research I identified spatial practices
consistent across cases.
The vice president of the environmental planning bureau loomed over the
city map several meters in diameter, pointing to green markings of varied shades. He
explained that these green areas on the map were sites where the city was creating
urban ecological protection sites as part of their comprehensive urban–rural master
From the perspective of environmental protection and development, we have
to restrict and control space … This is a form of control from the top … Then
secondly, we try to improve the ecology. Previously the [rural] area was in
total disarray [luanqibazao], but now we pushed all that mess out of the area.
We moved out over 50,000 mu7 of farmers from their agricultural land and
homes … Multiple bureaus do the planning, then we distribute the areas to
institutions in order to carry out ecological construction. But, if you would
have seen it 10 years ago, the whole area was a total mess. It had all sorts
of agricultural ﬁelds, houses, animal husbandry … you name it (FL Kunming,
This quote from an environmental planner highlights key processes of urban ecological
enclosure, including comprehensive urban ecological planning, which entails distributed
planning across multiple bureaus, peri-urban EM and the allotment of institutional
responsibility. In the following sections I detail these interconnected spatial practices.
6 I use pseudonyms and alternative place names throughout to protect the anonymity of those involved in this
research. I provide months that correspond to interviews, but do not provide exact dates of to avoid exploitation
by cellular locational tracking technologies.
7 6.07 mu is roughly equivalent to one acre. 50,000 mu is roughly 8,240 acres of land.
— Comprehensive urban–rural planning and overlapping functional land zoning
Comprehensive urban–rural planning, beginning with the 2014–20 National
New Type Urbanization Plan, synthesizes plans across multiple jurisdictions. During
interviews, high and mid-level municipal state ocials and environmental scientists
consistently stressed the importance of comprehensive planning (duoguiheyi)
within urban–rural planning. This involved the consolidation and synthetization of
multiple kinds of city and township-level planning, which were previously conducted
independently. Through this centralized process, urban and rural planning became
part of a single municipal master plan. This included land use planning, environmental
protection planning, economic planning, tourist planning and other forms of planning.
Despite its somewhat sprawling and inherently contested nature, the comprehensive
planning process invests the power to determine ﬁnal decisions over planning in the
municipal government hierarchy.
First, each urban and county bureau involved drafts up parts of the plan
independently based on each bureau’s assigned tasks. During collective meetings over
the course of a year, they discuss and synthesize preliminary plans and assessments.
Within this process concerted eorts are taken to respond to multiple central state
policies, including the mandate to maintain consistent fixed measurements of
agricultural land within the city jurisdiction and more recently policies mandating
the maintenance of static total amounts of construction land across cities and villages
within city limits.8
Comprehensive planning also includes central mandates for ecological redlines
and control lines, and other conservation site demarcations within the city region (Lü
et al., 2013). However, the demarcation of ecological land (shengtai yongdi) or ecological
protection land (shengtai baohuquyu) are not legal demarcations, thus making these land
use types legally underdeﬁned. In lieu of legal deﬁnitions, there are general guidelines
set forth by the Ministry of Land and Resources for ecological constructions that
include developing ecological principles and education, strengthening national resource
surveillance, strengthening land use through functional zoning, building ecological
service systems, and land conservation (Deng et al., 2009; Central Government, 2015).
This ambiguity lends itself to disputes within the planning process.
Disputes over land zoning are frequent in these multi-bureau meetings. When
disputes arise, environmental planning bureaus often interject to ensure ecological
protection areas remain part of the plan at the rate of 20% land area coverage mandated
by the central state. This indicates an increase in power for environmental bureaus, which
have historically been relatively weak within the municipal governance structure9. At the
top of this distributed yet hierarchical pyramid are municipal government cadres. These
appointed party ocials approve the comprehensive plan, though rarely participate in
multi-bureau meetings. If there are disagreements about the form of the plan after a
year of meetings, the municipal cadres make ﬁnal decisions, reconciling any outstanding
internal conﬂicts. Hence, the centralized planning process delimits which forms of land
use designations are allowed and which fall outside of the plan, both within the built-up
regions of the city and the surrounding rural areas. This planning process subsumes
county-level planning within the urban government hierarchy.
In the planning process, municipal bureaus make concerted eorts towards
zoning ecological protection areas with overlapping land use designations, which
allows them to respond to central state conservation mandates while producing
8 For a detailed account of key national land designation policies, such as ‘balancing farmland occupation with
farmland reclamation’ (zhanbu pingheng), which is a no net loss of agricultural land policy and ‘linking up the
increase in urban construction land with the decrease in rural construction land’ (zengjian guagou), which is a no
net gain of construction land policy, see Zhang and Wu (2017).
9 This also mirrors central government bureau reconfigurations since 2018 as the powers of multiple ministries,
particularly the Ministry of Land Resources, are invested in the newly created Ministry of Ecology and Environment
URBAN ECOLOGICAL ENCLOSURES 699
new avenues for generating land-based revenues. Within the planning processes,
multiple overlapping functions (gongneng) are ascribed to parcels of land demarcated
for ecological protection. This centralized planning process therefore consolidates
functional planning and introduces overlapping functionalities wherein ecological
land use designations overlap with, most commonly, limited development use, tourist
land use, or agricultural land designations. In some cases, this is coordinated through
tiered protection zoning. In these cases, ﬁrst tier zones, within the plan, are supposed
to have no human activity or development. In second tier protection zones there is
limited development designated within the comprehensive plan. In third tier zones,
developments are also limited, but less restricted than tier two. Government ocials
describe second tier and third tier zones as having ‘cautious’ or ‘chosen’ developments,
allowed only after approval in the comprehensive plan.
This comprehensive planning process has become a way to develop land
without having to designate it as ‘construction’ land (e.g. housing or commercial
land uses), a land use designation that would be legible to the central government
and therefore subject to scrutiny. Instead, ecological land designations (shengtai
yongdi) allow for ‘ecological construction’ (shengtai jianshe) to occur. That is to say,
environmental land designations have economically viable adjuncts demarcated in
the comprehensive master plan via overlapping functional land uses. This conjoining
of, for instance, ecological functions with agricultural or tourism functions, open land
to the political economy of ecological construction. In my interviews, overlapping
functional zoning was frequently discussed as a way to ‘optimize’ (youhua) the spatial
layout of the city (F.L. Kunming, September 2016; Y.J. Kunming, October 2016; X.P.
Chengdu, September 2016; X.J. Dali, February 2017; J.Y. Dali, February 2017). In the
process of making the comprehensive plan, government bureaus fold in previously
existing green spaces into new ecological site designations, thus transforming existing
designations into new multi-functional sites. These overlapping spatial designations
open sites to be economically productive within the bounds of the comprehensive
plan (Z.J. Kunming, November 2016; P.L. Dali, January 2017; T.Y.L. Chengdu, February
2017). Ecological protection sites are ‘developed’ in a variety of ways, including
wetland parks catering to urban tourists, resettlement housing, and heritage museums.
But given the ongoing process of development, sites may even look like empty ﬁelds
or dilapidated villages ﬁlled with rubble and items left behind by displaced residents.
There are three important aspects to stress about the process of comprehensive
urban–rural planning. First, the planning process enables city governments to determine
land use activities across urban and rural spaces, which extends unprecedented control
over counties and villages. This occurs through a mechanistic approach to socio-
environmental management that facilitates the demarcation of overlapping land use
functions within which ecological land classifications figure centrally. Within this
approach to nature, urban modernity and ecological civilization can be ‘built’ through
technical management, modelling and planning. However, determining the plan’s
content is not sucient to bring the plan into action. As I will show in the following
sections, under fiscal constraints and with a dearth of regulatory and managerial
capacity, city governments rely on multiple institutions.
Second, assigning overlapping functionality within conservation sites allows city
governments to maintain nationally mandated amounts of construction and agricultural
land within their jurisdiction, while following central mandates for making ecological
protection areas. However, the demarcation of basic agricultural lands (jiben nongtian)
does not necessarily indicate that land is agriculturally productive, meaning land that
produces food for human or animal consumption. Instead, even building agriculturally
‘unproductive’ wetlands is officially counted towards ‘basic agricultural land’. It is
crucial within the comprehensive planning process that the sum total of ‘construction’
land in the city jurisdiction remains the same.
Finally, the plan operates as a spatial apparatus that legitimizes new forms of
land control. As a document, made collectively by multiple government bureaus, it
remains internal to the state, with only several city-scale maps and broad descriptions
shared with the wider public. The internal character of the plan adds an additional layer
of ambiguity as persons without access to the master plan are unable to independently
verify plan contents. Given the veiled existence of the comprehensive plan as an
internal state document, it becomes a mechanism to exert spatial claims regarding the
boundaries of ecological protection and therefore claims over land. The production of
the comprehensive master plan, therefore, is a spatial practice that justiﬁes land and
housing dispossession on the peri-urban fringe. As the municipal government hierarchy
extends control over village land villagers are unevenly displaced.
— Peri-urban ecological migration
I obtained a rare glimpse of the comprehensive urban–rural master plan as I
sat in the oce of a high-level municipal ocial in Kunming. He thumbed through the
book-sized plan to point out several maps of villages inside conservation zones. Flipping
pages back and forth from the small-scale map to a city-scale map, he pinpointed a
village slotted to move into high-rise resettlement apartments and said:
The village and the city are not the same. The city is [concentrated] like this,
but villages are really dispersed [fensan]. Their surface area is really wide.
So up until now, they have not matured [chengshu]. Regarding this form of
governance, it is not only a calculated plan, it is also a structure of the city and
countryside in which we take the dispersed and concentrate it vertically. When
the scale [of incorporation] is very large it is much easier … We have tried
to move villages to a point [qiancunbingdian] which involves concentrating
many villages together. This is one way we transform villages. The other way
is to export their labor. We take dispersed built areas and concentrate them
through ecological migration in order to deal with them [lai chuli] (Y.Y. Kunming,
Another high-level municipal ocial discussed peri-urban EM and the transformation
of rural land as forms of environmental and social improvement:
When there is an ecological protection development we have to move villages
out, … [otherwise] they will become like a village-in-the-city [chengzhongcun].
We give them an improved living situation. Previously the village did not have
comprehensive planning. Wherever the village headman said to build, there
something was built. With this kind of comprehensive planning and planned
construction, their living situation improves (Z.L. Kunming, March 2017).
Across municipal government ocials and planners, there is a pervasive sense
that facilitating peri-urban EM initiates socio-environmental improvement. However,
the reality is that villagers are differentially affected by how they are incorporated
into conservation sites. That is to say, divergent forms of uneven incorporation into
conservation projects shape patterns of peri-urban EM.
Villagers’ experiences of peri-urban EM are shaped by whether village land is
purchased outright with a one-time payment, leased by a bureau of the city government
or an institution approved by the city, or consolidated into village shareholding
corporations that lease land to institutions and distribute shares of the proﬁts.10 These
dierent forms of incorporation elicit non-uniform peri-urban EM as agricultural land,
village housing construction land and village housing are enrolled into projects of peri-
URBAN ECOLOGICAL ENCLOSURES 701
Those forced to sell land receive one-time capital inﬂuxes that facilitate petty
entrepreneurialism and inter-village land lease markets. Land leases provided annual
capital payments that spur transitions from self-directed agricultural production into
migratory labor, wage labor or into agrarian managerial sectors. This contributes to the
gendered and age-contingent hollowing out of villages as those in prime working age seek
work opportunities elsewhere (Wu and Ye, 2016). Corporatized villages most frequently
receive the highest amount of compensation and the highest quality resettlement housing.
Villagers from corporatized villages incorporated into conservation sites often
used the phrase ‘moving into richness’ (banfuyou) to discuss the process of becoming
relatively wealthy from land and housing compensation. These are essentially
instances of accumulation through dislocation as villagers are able to accumulate
through processes of land and housing valuation and compensation linked with socio-
environmental displacement. The social cohesion and market-oriented organization
of village collectives facilitates relatively favorable contractual relations under
state-led ecological protection zoning. Village corporatization proved a key factor
in maintaining a degree of control over land and often facilitated close-proximity
migrations to housing on or near village construction land, which allowed their new
homes to double as a site of social reproduction. These ﬁndings echo Zhang’s (2015)
claim that village corporatization facilitates movement into the capitalist employer
class. Table1 summarizes the general relationships between the means of land and
housing incorporation into sites of ecological protection and patterns of peri-urban
EM. This table communicates general patterns within which there is much variability,
including dierent capacities to cope with transitions shaped by individual class and
social positionality, as well as discrepancies between village land holdings, housing
spaces, and the amounts and forms of compensation obtained for them. Each of these
forms of village incorporation shape social dierentiation and constraints within which
villagers navigate socio-spatial transitions (Rodenbiker, 2019). Despite these dierences,
it is possible to generalize common features across cases.
Each form of peri-urban EM entails a process of prohibiting small-scale
agriculture on village land and territorializing villagers’ housing space. The spatial
Relationships between the means of land and housing incorporation into
sites of ecological protection and patterns of peri-urban ecological migration
Means of Incorporation into
Ecological Protection Area Relation to Land and Housing Patterns of Peri-urban Ecological Migration
Individual Land Sale Sale of land conveyance;
immediate or eventual sale of
original rural housing; one-time
capital compensation for land and
High variation in amounts of land and housing
compensation; high levels of compensation promote
petty entrepreneurism and resettlement complex
landlordism; low compensation contributes to poverty
and psychological stress; urban proletarianization in low
quality resettlement housing is common.
Land Lease Land lease to an institution
ranging from state, semi-state,
and private; villagers may or may
not retain original rural housing.
Annual land lease payments vary across sites; loss of
access to agricultural land forecloses independent
agricultural production, stimulates inter-village land
leases, labor migration, semi-proletarianization,
working-age ﬂight from villages, and agrarian wage
Corporatized Village Land
Sale or Lease
Sale of land conveyance or
land leased to an institution
ranging from state, semi-state
and private by a corporatized
village with centralized ﬁnancial
management; may or may not
retain original rural housing.
Highest amounts of compensation; ‘moving into
richness’ (banfuyou); close-proximity displacement into
better-than-average resettlement housing; localized
entrepreneurialism with capital from corporatized
village assets; new relocation housing doubles as sites
of social reproduction.
10 As I will discuss more below, leasing and allocating land to institutions also generates fees for municipalities that
can be used for urban services (see Lin, 2009; 2014).
concentration of villagers in resettlement housing complexes (anzhifang), and
withdrawal of their access to agricultural land, opens up rural land for conservation-
oriented development. City governments control village land through moratoriums on
village agricultural production inscribed into the land sale or lease. As villagers move
into new housing, city governments obtain control of rural housing, rural construction
land, and agricultural land.11 This process does not instigate a net gain or loss of either
rural construction or agricultural land according to ocial ﬁgures.
As part of the process, land and housing contracts are drawn up between the
village council and leasing institution. When these contracts are signed, rural areas
can undergo ecological construction. Most ecological constructions involve forms of
perennial vegetative cover, such as wetlands, aorestation or grassland, as designated
by multifunctional land demarcations within the urban–rural comprehensive plan. This
allows for conservation eorts to overlap with commercial enterprises analogous to the
dual-function forests that serve both environmental and economic functions (Zinda et al.,
2017). The process of enacting spatial control over village land entails removing villagers’
control of land through lease or purchase and ‘restoring’ or constructing an ‘ecological’
landscape. By concentrating otherwise dispersed village housing, under which rests
village housing land (a form of rural construction land), city governments are able to
territorialize rural construction land, without increasing the sum-total of construction
land within municipal jurisdictions.
Resettlement complex housing often resembles urban high-rises in architectural
form. Such housing is frequently built on rural housing construction land or agricultural
land that has had its land designation swapped with a site previously designated as rural
housing construction land, which is then designated agricultural land. This migratory
transition to high-rise resettlement apartments often occurs in close proximity to
original, more dispersed, village housing land. Thus, village construction land is used to
maintain land quotas. In most cases, the municipal government also requires acquisition
of village housing. Rural housing is owned by villagers, but the land on which it is built is
owned by the collective. Short-term use of this land can be allotted to villagers, but it is
not the villagers’ private property (CCP Constitutional Amendment 10, 1982; Ho, 2017).
Despite this, village housing compensation and valuation are key sites of struggle and
sources of social dierentiation between those villagers who obtain high compensation
versus those who do not. The compensation for each is site speciﬁc and contingent
on land and housing’s market value, the bargaining capacity of the village council, the
council’s relationships (guanxi) with bargaining institutions, and higher levels of local
Some villages are able to obtain high prices for land and housing that provide
them with multiple units in resettlement complexes, essentially ‘moving into richness’
through migrations that facilitate upward social mobility as middle-class resettlement
complex landlords. For many, this oers dual sources of employment as migrants enter
into other forms of labor in addition to renting out apartment units. In contrast, other
villagers are undercompensated for land and housing far below market prices. In some
cases, they are not compensated for land. Many undercompensated villagers lament
moving into poorly constructed resettlement units and entering migratory labor streams
as they transition out of agricultural production under precarious structural conditions.
Those undercompensated and newly proletarianized experience severe psychological
stress as they transitioned into high-rise resettlement.
Land leases to municipal bureaus or other institutions entail varied migratory
processes. Land leases, across cases, remove control of agricultural land from the village
collective. De facto control then resides in either a bureau within the urban government
11 For an account of all types of ‘village’ land designations, see Zhang and Wu (2017). In this article, I highlight only
those essential to illustrate the processes of urban ecological enclosures.
URBAN ECOLOGICAL ENCLOSURES 703
or an institution. The agricultural land remains legally part of the village, but under
lease by an institution. In cases of villager housing removal, this can also include village
housing land, but not in all cases. Villagers may either retain their housing, but without
access to agricultural production, or their housing may be purchased in which case they
will be concentrated into resettlement complexes. The municipal government’s control
of land hinges on wresting land control from village councils through lease or purchase.
Much of the decision-making power in villages rests with the CCP-appointed village
party cadres and the village party secretary. These actors are positioned to help protect
collective interests (Cai, 2003). They also stand to beneﬁt from village land transactions.
It is well documented that village cadres capitalize on land for housing and construction
purposes. Outside of the allegiances of village government, strategies for protecting
village interests are deployed by village shareholding groups and elite civil society
organizations (Mattingly, 2016). These village shareholding groups can breed strong
shared interests across the village, binding the interests of villagers under collective
management (Cai, 2003: 673; Zhang, 2015).
As noted above, cases of peri-urban EM in villages that have formed village
shareholding corporations tend to produce the most socio-economically favorable
outcomes. In most cases, corporatized villages are able to maintain a degree of control
over village land as the corporatized collective leases the land to a private enterprise,
semi-state institution or a municipal state bureau. Much like the case of land leasing
outside of village collectives, noted above, members of shareholding groups are then
able to maintain a shared income stream through assets derived from land. Many village
collectives are able to obtain relatively well built resettlement housing, including single-
family standalone housing units (bieshu), and higher than average payments for land
leases. These often facilitate labor transitions that utilize the domestic space of the
standalone home to remake labor. Village shareholding resettlement areas resemble
patterns of agglomeration clusters organized around service provisioning. Resettlement
homes are often turned into service shops, teahouses, rural-themed restaurants and
guesthouses (nongjiale), and other spaces of leisure-based tourist provisioning to
capitalize on the newly made conservation site.12 This form of proximal migration,
mediated through the village shareholding company, often facilitates the highest degree
of village autonomy across forms of incorporation.
While removing villagers is a key spatial practice to open land frontiers,
ﬁnancing, building and managing ecological land are key to enacting control over these
village spaces. In the following section I turn to the third spatial practice: assigning
— Assigning institutional responsibility
Under ﬁnancial constraints, city governments are unable to provide the capital
to obtain villagers’ land, build resettlement housing, and construct ecological protection
infrastructures without institutional support. Additionally, city governments can
generate revenues by leasing land use rights to institutions. The process of village land
and housing territorialization is site speciﬁc and contingent on obtaining the necessary
capital for acquiring village land and building resettlement housing. The municipal
government assigns a series of dierent institutions responsibility for ﬁnancing, building
and managing ecological construction areas. These institutions include state-owned
enterprises, municipal-level government bureaus, private managerial companies,
real estate companies and semi-private state-owned enterprises. Institutional
responsibilities vary at each site but can include infrastructural ﬁnancing, construction
of resettlement complexes and conservation sites, as well as daily environmental land
12 For an account of China's emerging political economies of tourism linked with nongjiale see Chio (2014).
management. Opportunistic urban government ocials allocate or grant land to a single
institution at each site. Enrolling these institutions is integral to the regime of land-
based accumulation and crucial to enclosing peri-urban village land.
In interviews, municipal government ocials would refer to these institutions
as the ‘owners’ of the land. They told me to look for ‘the owner’ (zhao yezhu) to
understand who controls land. They were referring to the institution that is able to
gain de facto control of responsibilities for infrastructural construction, ﬁnancing and
economic activities within the parcel zoned for ecological protection. Government
ocials referred to the process by which institutions obtain control as one of assigning
‘institutional responsibility’ (fuze jigou).
It is important to note that there are multiple ways to express ownership in the
Chinese language. The word deployed by government bureaucrats for ‘owner’ (yezhu)
denotes proprietary ownership of the material surface of an area. Officials used a
dierent word for ‘owner’ (dizhu) to express sovereign land control. Yezhu is the owner
of a property or a form of proprietary ownership, while dizhu denotes the land owner,
literally the sovereign holder or landlord. City government bureaucrats reserve the
use the term ‘dizhu’ for themselves. According to the PRC constitution, article two,
section10, the ownership of land rests with the state (shuyu guojia). However, the
utilization of the language of ownership (yezhu) in this context indicates the indelible
role of institutions in enacting control over rural land newly designated for ecological
protection. Institutions are able to obtain proprietary ownership over land through
obtaining the use right of the land, without ever vesting land ownership with an entity
outside the state. Table 2 summarizes types of land ownership in relation to processes
of ecological territorialization.
Through allotting institutional responsibility, the city government is able to
accumulate through land transactions surrounding land conveyances (Lin, 2009). Use
rights to state-owned land are leasable; they operate like a legally transferable property
use right, albeit with use and time restrictions put in place by the municipality. According
to article three of the 1990 Provision Ordinance for Granting and Transferring Land Use
Rights over State-owned Land in Cities and Towns, companies, enterprises, individuals
or organizations can obtain the right to use land and engage in development after paying
the appropriate land premiums, which correlate to the market price of land. When land
use rights come through the payment of land premiums in a ﬁxed sum, the municipality
grants land use to an institution. This can occur through land auction or through closed-
door arrangements. When land use is applied for by government institutions, land use
rights can be allocated to that entity (Cao, 2015: 56–8). Fully private entities are generally
granted land use through full payment of land premiums. State-owned enterprises are
readily allocated land use rights, without paying the full land rent premiums; that is, they
either pay a reduced land premium or have the premium waived. The latter occurs for
state-owned enterprises because they are formal state institutions that have historically
provided infrastructural services upon which municipal governments rely.
Types of land ‘ownership’ in relation to processes of ecological
Types of Land ‘Ownership’ Before Urban Ecological Enclosure After Urban Ecological Enclosure
Yezhu: a land use right, proprietary
ownership, leasable and purchasable
Villagers, appointed and elected
members of the village collective
Institutions, ranging from state,
semi-state and private
Dizhu: legal land ownership, vested in a
Township government, appointed
cadres and elected members
representing the village collective
City government hierarchy, through
land lease, sale of land conveyance, or
URBAN ECOLOGICAL ENCLOSURES 705
To assign responsibility to one of these institutions, the ﬁrst step is to complete
comprehensive urban–rural planning as outlined above and then appropriate land
from villages through purchase or leasing. When comprehensive plans are approved,
responsibilities are distributed to different institutions for financing, service
provisioning and infrastructural construction for different parcels of land. As each
institution becomes involved, they take on risks that come with overtaking ‘ownership’
of the land. With de facto ‘ownership’ comes the responsibility for managing market
risks. Many sites require large amounts of ﬁnancial capital. The cost alone of building
some larger projects have exceeded US $164 million.
Financing is site speciﬁc but may be arranged through any combination of state
support, private ﬁnancing and public–private partnerships. Each site is independently
funded, with ﬁnancing linked to each site’s institutional land manager. In discussing
ﬁnancing and management of peri-urban conservation sites, a middle-level government
ocial observed that:
Public–private partnerships (gongsi heying) are widely sought after. We also
consider private ﬁnancing. These are different channels for ﬁnancing adopted
according to the particular project. We start by designing the project, making
it ofﬁcial in the comprehensive plan, and providing an expert review. When
it is ready, we go on to ﬁnd ﬁnancing. Once we ﬁnd it, then it is built. Now as
for which department or institution has responsibility over these steps, this is
divided between different institutions (Y.Z.L. Kunming, March 2017).
As long as ﬁnancing comes from state-owned enterprises, private capital or semi-private
enterprises, the municipal government is able to reduce city budget expenditures
and potentially generate revenues from land conveyances, while responding to the
central government mandates for urban ecological protection zoning. When municipal
bureaus are assigned responsibility, they can more readily draw on state funds to ﬁnance
construction. A mid-level municipal official described the capital bed for an urban
ecological area as coming from that which was allocated to his bureau from central and
provincial levels of government. The rest of the capital came from sales of land within
the urban ecological area. Many municipal officials whose bureaus were assigned
institutional responsibility indicated that leasing adjacent land parcels for development
was a crucial source of capital ﬁnancing for construction and administrative maintenance
of conservation sites. In cases where a state institution has responsibility, ‘the capital can
also come from that earmarked [by the state] for infrastructure, repairing roads, water,
electricity, gas … in addition to the selling of land’ (P.Z. Chengdu, April 2017).
While municipal governments are able to profit from land transfer fees and
save funds through obtaining ﬁnancing support from institutions involved, institutions
assigned responsibility also aim to make their involvement in ecological construction
proﬁtable. Institutions provide infrastructure and services with the market impetus to
capitalize on land. In practice, daily management and infrastructural provisioning for
urban ecological areas is dispersed across institutions and with this dispersal comes
de facto economic governance of the land parcel, albeit under the restrictions of the
comprehensive urban–rural plan. One municipal ocial who ‘owns’ two ecological sites
turned into treatment wetlands put it quite succinctly, ‘whoever gets the investment
decides how to build the wetlands. Whoever builds the wetlands governs the wetlands’
(Y.Z.L. Kunming, March 2017). In taking on responsibilities for ecological construction,
institutions can act like umbrella corporations. Other entities operate through contracts
with the umbrella institution assigned ‘institutional responsibility’. Under the umbrella
institution (i.e. the ‘owner’ [yezhu]) there is a variegated economic geography wherein
dierent organizations conduct economic activities in addition to building and managing
the conservation site. These institutions are supposed to align their conservation and
developmental practices with the comprehensive urban–rural master plan under the
authority of the municipal government.
Institutions proﬁt from their control of ecological protection zones in four ways:
land sales and rents, housing sales, state subsidies and leisure capital. Institutions can
proﬁt from the value markup from land adjacent to an environmental protection area.
Multi-functional zoning allows institutions to lease land or rent spaces within and near
conservation sites for economic enterprises in accordance with the comprehensive plan.
Some institutions build commodity housing as well as resettlement housing. In many sites
there is construction of high-price single villa homes as well as high-rise resettlement
apartments within or adjacent to the areas zoned for conservation. State subsidies are
available for ecological constructions, often coming from the central state that can
oset the costs of these projects. Estimates for central state subsidies for ecological
construction, c. 2011, were upwards of US $4.8 billion (Lü et al., 2013: 349). At the very
least, these subsidies contribute to infrastructural and management costs. In some cases,
subsidies can even become a source of proﬁt for ‘owners’. Finally, institutions beneﬁt
from leisure capital, including renting store fronts within and around the conservation
site, leasing land within and adjacent to the site, selling access fees such as entrance
tickets or parking fees, and other practices related to the land use designation, including
commercial orchards, on-site restaurants, and pick it yourself agricultural plots.
Under market conditions, there is competition between institutions for obtaining
control over sites and to make them proﬁtable. The provisioning of central state and
provincial subsidies linked to these projects are limited. Therefore, there is impetus for
protection areas to become proﬁtable in the short term. One middle-level institutional
manager noted how, ‘there are many [subsidies] available because the government
considers this very important, but they will not be there for the long-term, the sites
still need to run independently of subsidies’ (Z.L. Chengdu, September 2016). The
ﬁnancial demands of the ecological construction projects and continued management, in
conjunction with the drive to proﬁt from land rents, incentivizes institutions to carry out
economic development projects that fall outside the restrictions of the comprehensive
urban–rural plan. It is not uncommon for institutions to build private commercial
housing that violates the comprehensive plan.
Institutional managers discussed both successes and struggles to proﬁt from
involvement in urban ecological construction. One ocial who is part of a bureau with
institutional responsibility explained that their work of building and maintaining an
ecological protection area requires a mix of state capital and proﬁts from tourism and
land rents. He elaborated:
The government offers us 1,500,000 RMB a year for ﬁnancing our ecological
construction and management, but in reality, the capital should be around
3,000,000 RMB. We run in a deﬁcit, but we only run in a slight deﬁcit currently
because we can proﬁt from the site. We also get funds from the parking lots, we
rent out the service provision areas, and in another two years we will make more
proﬁts because we can raise the prices for parking and rental fees (Z.Y. Kunming,
Even institutions that are municipal bureaus and not private entities ﬁnance projects
through a combination of formal state channels and eorts to turn a proﬁt from peri-
urban environmental protection.
A mid-level government official explained how obtaining institutional
responsibility for peri-urban conservation sites is the same as obtaining a ‘development
zone’ (shijishang jiu dou shi kaifaqu). This manager discussed how his bureau was
granted two large parcels of land within two different urban ecological protection
areas. However, to successfully ﬁnance the infrastructure and manage each site, they
URBAN ECOLOGICAL ENCLOSURES 707
treated portions of the land parcels like development zones (kaifaqu), building villa-
style homes on newly garnered land despite the on-paper moratorium against this
form of development. Ambiguities in interpreting the comprehensive plans’ land
use designations, market conditions that incentivize capitalizing on land, and weak
oversight from city governments are lubricants that facilitate accumulation through this
form of urban ecological enclosure.
Ecological territorialization is central to contemporary processes of enclosure
on China’s peri-urban fringe. This article detailed how comprehensive urban–rural
planning, peri-urban ecological migration and ‘assigning institutional responsibility’
constitute a green regime of urban land-based accumulation. Detailing these practices
of classiﬁcation, displacement and capitalization revealed important aspects of multi-
tiered institutional governance relationships. In this moment of post-socialist transition,
wherein urban greening comes to the countryside, a host of new ambiguities surrounding
the demarcation and use of ecological land (shengtai yongdi) set the conditions for
opportunist urban bureaucrats to form tenuous mutualistic alliances with opportunistic
institutions. Frontiers of land accumulation and local state formation are produced
through these spatial practices and state–private governance relations, within which
are multi-scalar nested economic geographies. The resulting distributive governance
spans private to state-operated enterprises crossing a multitude of interests, aspirations
and motivations. Each entity involved, whether it be a village corporation, a private
institution or a branch of the municipal state, aims to generate revenues through their
The case of urban ecological enclosures in China provides a sobering example of
the ways ecological conservation practices facilitate social displacement, accumulation
and process-orientated formations of local state power. Detailing a triad of practices,
not only advances understanding of China’s current moment of urban greening, but
also points to the continued need to elucidate interconnections between urban planning,
conservation, political economy and enclosure. This leads me to three ﬁnal points. First,
future research on conservation and sustainability practices needs to take into account
political economic forces and the multiplicity of processes and outcomes embroiled
therein. At stake in this endeavor is the recognition, or lack thereof, of the situated
geographical forces underlying conservation that shape social processes, ﬂows of capital,
and the ways that actors enact control over space. In detailing these interconnections in
peri-urban China, I aim to bring attention to peri-urban ecological migrations central
to green urban regimes of accumulation, which unevenly incorporate millions of peri-
urban villagers, yet remain understudied.
Second, without substantial policy changes, those forced into peri-urban EM
will continue to experience a range of dierential trajectories with substantial socio-
economic pressures on poorly compensated and newly landless migrants. At the very
least, equitable compensation based on market prices for land and housing should
be universalized if displacement is to continue at all. In making this endorsement, I
echo scholarship that proposes equitable compensation and inclusion for those that
undergo ecological displacement (Bao, 2006; Shi et al., 2007). But I build on these
calls by advocating for deeper consideration of reform and redress within the complex
political economic context of state-led displacement and land development. The nexus
of local state and private proﬁts from land development are clear routes through which
compensatory capital can and should be derived. Yet, it is not only necessary to consider
compensatory equity within political economic context, but also environmental
justice more broadly. In addition to monetary aspects of compensation, psychological
violence stemming from the total transformation of lifeways must be part of the debates
surrounding ecological protection zoning. As this article and other research has shown,
villagers often experience severe psychological stresses in leaving the security of their
land and homes (Sargeson, 2013; Chuang, 2015; Rodenbiker, 2019).13 Many have lived
in village housing and worked on village land for generations. Forced migration into
resettlement complexes completely transforms villagers’ daily lives and socio-economic
conditions. The notion that urbanizing rural people is integral to making China’s cities
sustainable and modern has become a kind of ‘common sense’. This work calls this
common sense into question. More critical research and attention should be given to the
service provisioning imperatives of the local state tasked with implementing ‘ecological’
urbanization policies, the political economic context surrounding land development
and housing that incentivize institutions to proﬁt from their involvement, as well as
the socially, economically and environmentally uneven outcomes such policies produce.
Finally, this account reﬂects the importance of multi-sited research that draws
on the perspectives of diverse actors located at dierent positions in the constellation
of ecological territorialization. Researching the lived experiences of peri-urban EM
provided valuable information regarding how conservation practices aect villagers
and shape transitional relationships to land, labor and housing. Triangulating between
interviews with villagers at dierent sites and stages of inclusion revealed how dierent
forms of peri-urban EM shaped their socio-economic transitions, the lack of uniformity
across localized experiences of dislocation, and generalizable facets of village land and
housing incorporation. In contrast, researching across bureaus and institutions ‘from the
top’ of the municipal government hierarchy to the village revealed ambiguities central to
urban ecological enclosures. This methodological approach speaks to the importance of
researching sustainability projects from the ‘top down’ and ‘ground up’. Determining the
interconnections between these practices required attention to how migratory mobilities
were shaped by dierential inclusion into conservation, as well as how environmental
governance relations facilitate accumulation and local state formation.
Jesse Rodenbiker, Atkinson Center for Sustainability and Department of
NaturalResources, Cornell University, 111 Fernow Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA,
Abramson, D.B. (2016) Periurbanization and the politics
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Alagona, P.S., J. Sandlos and Y.F. Wiersma (2012) Past
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