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Special Feature. Chinese Women: Becoming Half the Sky?

Why Women Own Less, And Why It Matters More in Rural China’s Urban Transformation

Sally Sargeson
p. 35-42


As the amount of wealth in China’s economy grows, so too does the size of the gender asset gap. Nowhere is this gap more extreme, or its consequences for women’s future wealth, subjectivity, and agency more serious, than in peri-urban sites where the conversion of farmland for development has sent property values skyrocketing. This article explores how the gender asset gap is being reproduced in the course of rural China’s urban transformation. It queries the plausibility of the most common explanations for this gap, and suggests that Charles Tilly’s theory of categorical sources of “durable inequality” offers a useful corrective to those explanations. Drawing on data collected from interviewees and survey respondents in Zhejiang, Fujian, Hunan, and Yunnan provinces between 2004 and 2012 and from secondary sources, the paper illustrates how, when villagers are compensated for the expropriation of their land and demolition of their agricultural and business activities and housing, Village Committees, patrilineal households, and local government authorities utilise gender categories to resolve distributional problems and differentially compensate men. Women become less likely than men to be acknowledged as, and have the capacity to fully act as, the owners, managers, and users of the assets whose value increases as a result of urbanisation.

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Electronic reference

Sally Sargeson, « Why Women Own Less, And Why It Matters More in Rural China’s Urban Transformation », China Perspectives [Online], 2012/4 | 2012, Online since 01 December 2015, connection on 27 May 2017. URL :

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About the author

Sally Sargeson

Fellow in the College of Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University, currently researching land development, violence, and gendered village governance. Her most recent book, co-edited with Tamara Jacka, is Women, Gender and Rural Development in China (Northampton [MA]/Cheltenham, Edward Elgar, 2011).
Department of Political and Social Change, Hedley Bull Building,College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, 0200 Australia (

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