Formal and informal property rights in China
: a study of institutional change in housing and land use

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The thesis investigates informal land property rights and their interaction with the formal institutions and community governance in the context of the interplay of state, market and community in China. It constructs a framework of endogenous institutional analysis and change (EIAC) based on Ostrom’s framework of institutional analysis and development, and it applies the EIAC framework to study three institutional phenomena concerning land use and housing. By employing the EIAC framework, it facilitates the understanding of institutional endogeneity, complexity, and diversity in China. The implications could be extended to property rights enforcement in other transitional authoritarian regimes. 
The thesis examines three institutional phenomena of informal or extralegal land use and housing and develops associated theoretical concepts. First, it investigates the institutional complexity of the extralegal housing market by exploring the divergent fates of “small-property-right housing”: toleration, intervention, or demolition by local governments. It tries to capture and identify the structural and endogenous variables contributing to the heterogeneous security of small-property-right housing in different cities. Second, it explores how resistant entrepreneurship helps residents defend their property rights against state expropriation and induce change in formal institutions by examining the nail-house strategy adopted by Chinese residents who tenaciously refuse to vacate houses and adopt supplementary means—such as using media exposure, (threatening) violence, or self-burning—and attempt to extract higher compensation after their houses have been slated for demolition because of land expropriation. Third, it examines the institutional diversity in the redevelopment of urban villages. As a form of community governance of collective-owned land, the performance of the redevelopment of urban villages is not only affected by the rules from the top down or bottom up, but also highly impacted by a list of community attributes. It tries to contribute an endogenous-mapping approach to study institutional diversity. The thesis is an endeavor to explore the conceptual endogenous-mapping approach and use a collaborative multimethod approach to navigate institutional diversity and complexity.
Date of Award1 Feb 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorMark Pennington (Supervisor), Emily Skarbek (Supervisor) & David Skarbek (Supervisor)

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