The Development of Man-Land Relations in
by Frithjof Kuhnen
Human life is not possible without land. We live and reside
on land, and by applying labour on the land, man produces
food and raw materials for his requirements. Man-land relations
have economic, socio-political and even religious implications.
Since the beginning of history, the relations between man
and land have been of basic importance for society. Because
of their importance, these relations are institutionalized
in all societies in a system called land tenure.
The system of land tenure governs the individuals' or groups'
rights to land and the resulting relationships among the rural
population. These rights may be fixed by custom or law and
are often explained as a complex or bundle of different rights
which, together, constitute the property, i.e. the right to
control an economic good, in this case land. This bundle of
rights may be vested with groups or belong to individuals.
Even in this case, it is often shared with others.
The components of the land tenure system are the system of
control over land (in modern times often ownership) and the
system of labour organization.
The system of control over land (ownership) regulates the
relationship between people and land, specifically the power
of disposition over and the right to use land. As it is practically
impossible to increase the amount of land, and it is the basis
for primary production, for living and recreation i.e. the
basis for existence , the amount of land controlled and the
type of distribution determine the social conditions. Rights
an land bring with them work and income, prestige and influence.
Anyone without rights an land is dependent in an agrarian
society. He is forced to work an someone else's land in order
to earn his livelihood.
The system of labour organization regulates the relation
between the people carrying out the work an the land, particularly
the method of dividing the work and the yield, i.e. the wage.
These relations may exist among family members alone, between
farm family and hired labourers or among members of a collective.
Already at a very early stage in history, man attempted to
facilitate his work an the land by designing simple implements
and thus forming capital. The conventional production factors
labour, land and capital are utilized in traditional cultivation.
But, in early times already, many cultivators had begun to
run a sort of enterprise. Their goals are of economic nature:
production for their own needs, for barter and, in modern
times, for sale. Through this enterprise, cultivators are
tied to the overall society: they are dependent upon supplies
and buyers and have to fulfil the latters' wishes and conditions.
Thus, modern agriculture is not only an interplay between
land, solar energy and labour, but is rather determined by
a number of modern factors that originate outside agriculture.
Together with the conventional factors of production. These
factors form the system of land management.
Neither the system of land tenure nor the system of land
management are immutable. On the contrary, they are subjected
to a continuous process of change. Alterations in the natural
growing conditions, technological innovations, increases or
decreases in the size of population, social and economic evolution,
influences exercised by the political power structure and
decline in the importance of agriculture in society and economy
bring about changes. As these factors have been changing more
and more rapidly in recent times, the systems of land tenure
and land management frequently lag behind the new situation
and do not adjust to it an time. Their institutional establishment
makes it difficult to alter the systems. Political power structures,
cooperative ties, class, cultural and ethnic interests and
motives work towards maintaining the established forms.
The necessary changes in the land tenure system can take
place in various ways:
- Instruments of agrarian policy try to adapt the land
system in small steps over a long period of time. They work
mostly by means of incentives such as taxes, subsidies,
investments in institutional support, etc. or are of regulatory
nature. They are suited for supporting the continuous adaptation
to changing conditions, but are too mild to balance out
serious shortcomings once they have arisen.
- Agrarian reforms are measures to overcome obstacles hindering
economic and social development that are the result of shortcomings
in the agrarian structure. Changes in land tenure as well
as changes in land management are included. Agrarian reforms
make use of legal force and intervene in the property and
land use rights of the people, although with compensation.
The former term "land reform" points out the changes
in rights to land without referring to changes in land utilization,
as well. Such mere changes in land ownership were sufficient
at a time when the goals of reform were political and social
in nature. During a struggle for economic development, it
is of utmost importance to include the reform of land operation
and management so that the wider concept of agrarian reform
is more popular today.
- Agrarian revolutions are spontaneous, radical changes
in the traditional land system with the uncompensated redistribution
of all rights on land and usually a drastic reorganization
of the society.
As a result of the continuous change in the factors that
govern and form the land tenure systems, an ideal land tenure
system cannot exist. The momentary specific land tenure system
is the institutional framework, within which the agrarian
production and way of life occur under currently existing
circumstances and conditions. It is interrelated with the
natural, social, economic and political conditions. As these
change, the land tenure system has to continually adapt itself
to the altered situation. The same applies to the system of
The paper at hand analyses, as an example of institutional
change within the socio-economic-political development process,
the main features of man land relations in Asia during the
different periods of history. The main emphasis is an
- the varying role of agriculture in society;
- the social, economic and political goals the land tenure
system has to support;
- the system controlling rights to dispose of and use the
- the forces initiating changes in land tenure,
- and the actual tenure arrangements in different time periods.
While the historic development in Asia varies from country
to country, there are common or at least similar features
among Asian countries as far as the changes in the land tenure
system are concerned, if one compares the stages in development
and not the historical periods of time. The paper at hand
interprets the man land relations for the following periods:
- early history,
- pre colonial times,
- colonial rule,
- after independence, and
- beginning industrialization.