In a front-page article in the People's Daily newspaper, the Communist Party mouthpiece, said the State Council — China's Cabinet — issued an announcement urging cities to stop using rural land for development.
"China has a large population and the supply of farming land is scarce. Now that we are undergoing industrialization and fast urbanization, there have appeared many contradictions in the supply and demand of land for construction," the article said.
Farmers are allowed to use land but cannot own it. As China's economic boom has spread into rural areas, they frequently have had that right taken away by local officials who want the land for infrastructure and housing projects, frequently with little or no compensation.
Mass protests in China among rural poor have increased as a result, and some experts say the goal of the announcement is to try to reign in the local officials.
The announcement is another example of Beijing attempting to get local officials to abide by central directives, said Russell Leigh Moses, an analyst of Chinese politics based in Beijing.
"I see these new directives as less responsive to public outcry than simply reacting to actions taken by officials and farmers, which could lead to outbreaks of unrest. And the emphasis is on efficiency in these statements, not equity or equality," he said.
Zheng Xinli, vice minister of the Communist Party's Central Policy Research Office, told a news conference recently that farmers have the right to use the land and contract it out for 30 years. China's Property Rights Law passed last year also guarantees the ownership of their housing, he said.
The government owns all of the country's land.
He denied there would be any consideration of change in the rural land laws, after reports said farmers in Heilongjiang, Shaanxi, Jiangsu provinces and Tianjin city posted notices on the Internet claiming ownership over land in their villages.
"In the past we had several thousand years of private ownership and this ... led to excessive concentration of land in the hands of landlords," Zheng said.