Journal of Geographical Sciences ›› 2021, Vol. 31 ›› Issue (8): 1222-1242.doi: 10.1007/s11442-021-1894-0

• Review Article • Previous Articles    

China's agricultural land use change and its underlying drivers: A literature review

WANG Xue1, LI Xiubin1,2   

  1. 1. Key Laboratory of Land Surface Pattern and Simulation, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS, Beijing 100101, China
    2. College of Resources and Environment, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
  • Received:2020-09-22 Accepted:2021-03-09 Online:2021-08-25 Published:2021-10-25
  • Supported by:
    National Key Research and Development Program of China(2017YFE0104600);National Natural Science Foundation of China(41930757)


Understanding the manifestations and underlying drivers of agricultural land use change in China is of great importance for both domestic and global food security. However, little is known about the holistic pattern of agricultural land use change across China, especially from the perspective of intensity since the evidence has been gathered mainly through case studies at local levels. This study conducts a systemic review of agricultural land use change and its underlying drivers in China by aggregating 169 relevant case studies from 123 publications. The cases related to intensification and disintensification, which are the two types of agricultural land use change, are generally equal, accounting for 50% of the total number of cases. Intensification and disintensification can be further divided into the same three categories: expansion/contraction of agricultural land, changes in agricultural land use activities and changes in land management intensity. Demographic, economic, technological, and institutional drivers, together with location factors, are frequently noted as significant underlying drivers, while sociocultural drivers and farm(er) characteristics are less frequently recognized. Finally, three major land use change trajectories are summarized mainly concerning rising labor costs and the concomitant increase in off-farm employment, the ecological improvement policy, and advances in agricultural technology.

Key words: agricultural land, land use intensity, driving forces, aggregate analysis, China