The rapid development of China’s market economy compels the adoption of water rights and associated market mechanisms to optimize the allocation of water resources. The complexity of understanding and practising Chinese water rights is highlighted by the unique contextual characteristics of an authoritarian political regime, rapid socio-economic change and increasing scarcity of water resources. This article proposes a hierarchical framework to describe the particular water-rights structure in China based on natural resources institutional economics. It provides an analysis of emerging water markets and key factors affecting the formation of a modern water-rights system in contemporary China.
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