Boland, A. (2006) “From provision to exchange: Legalizing the market in China’s urban water supply,” in M. Dong and J. Goldstein, Everyday Modernity in China, University of Washington Press.

In this chapter I approach water resources distribution from the perspective of the legal mechanisms being implemented in order to “rationalize” the pricing and distribution of urban water supply. This process of legalization is illustrated through a set of cases including that of unprecedented local experiment with water trading between two cities in Zhejiang, as well as a somewhat less successful experiment with service contracts between the municipal water supply company and city residents in Beijing. My focus here is on the interaction of economics and law in the marketization of water, both at the regional and household level. In the cases I present, I am not only interested in the effects of specific legal reforms on water supply, but is also interested in how a turn to more legalistic modes of interaction are changing the relationship between people, water and the provisionary state. Central to my analysis is the idea that rule of law can be viewed as an ideological project informed by the broader political logics of the reform period. From this perspective, one can begin to examine the historically contingent nature of China’s much-heralded move towards legal modernization. Through sketches of specific struggles surrounding the redefinition of water and its supply, I show how law’s modernizing effects owe much to the material and symbolic legacies of the socialist period.