Do Kinship Networks Strengthen Private Property? Evidence from Rural China

Journal of Empirical Legal Studies (2015, Forthcoming)

40 Pages Posted: 22 Aug 2013 Last revised: 6 Aug 2020

See all articles by Taisu Zhang

Taisu Zhang

Yale University - Law School

Xiaoxue Zhao

Wesleyan University

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: February 8, 2014


This paper finds that the existence of strong kinship networks tends to limit state interference with private property use in rural China by protecting villagers against unwanted government land takings. It then distinguishes kinship networks from other kinds of social networks by showing that their deterrence effect against coercive takings is far more significant and resilient under conditions of prevalent rural-urban migration than deterrence by neighborhood cooperatives and religious groups. Finally, the paper attempts to identify and differentiate between various possible mechanisms behind these effects: It argues that kinship networks protect private property usage mainly through encouraging social reciprocity between kinsmen, which facilitates collective action against coercive takings. Kinship networks are more effective than neighborhood cooperatives or religious groups at sustaining reciprocity over long distances and, therefore, are less affected by rural-urban migration. Altruism between kinsmen, however, does not emerge from the data as a major factor.

Keywords: Property rights, land takings, kinship, social networks

JEL Classification: D70, K11, P26, P32

Suggested Citation

Zhang, Taisu and Zhao, Xiaoxue, Do Kinship Networks Strengthen Private Property? Evidence from Rural China (February 8, 2014). Journal of Empirical Legal Studies (2015, Forthcoming), Available at SSRN: or

Taisu Zhang (Contact Author)

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States

Xiaoxue Zhao

Wesleyan University ( email )

238 Church Street
Middletown, CT 06459-0007
United States


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