'Mega Urbanisation, Displacement Enforcement and Informalisation of the State

Large-scale urbanisation projects force millions of Chinese citizens to leave their villages every year. Drawing from an ethnographic study of a mega-urbanisation project in eastern China, I discovered that physical violence played a minor role in facilitating land expropriation and clearance. Instead, local governments employed more informal tactics and methods to acquire land. Specifically, I zoomed into two strategies: (1) the mobilisation of rural grassroots cadres, who were local residents and were similarly affected by this mega urbanisation project. These cadres leveraged their relationships with other residents to enforce displacements, which at times appeared to undermine the developer’s interest. (2) The establishment of a land-based social security fund. I argue that both approaches cultivated a sense of control over the land clearance processes amongst rural residents but concurrently, contributed to their misrecognition of injustice and exploitation inhering in the mega urbanisation project. These findings highlight the intricate power dynamics at play and evolving patterns of state violence in the context of urbanisation projects in Chinese cities.