Prior to the end of the Cold War, socialist law was generally considered to be one of the major legal systems of the world. However, due to the collapse of communism in most countries, and the fact that it is very similar to the civil law system, many no longer consider it to be such. Most of the remaining communist countries, such as China, are slowly losing many of the distinctively command economy features from their legal system, as they come to adopt more free-market economies. However, the communist influence can still be seen in places, for example, Chinese real estate law, where there is no unified concept of real property (normally not bought and sold under this system, most of it being state-owned); rather a complex ad-hoc system of use rights to the property are traded instead. In some cases, for example, in urban residental property, the system results in something that resembles real property transactions in other legal systems.
In other cases, the Chinese system results in something quite different. For example, it is a common misconception that reforms under Deng Xiaoping resulted in the privatization of agricultural land and a creation of a land tenure system similar to those found in Western countries. This is not the case. In the case of agricultural land, the village committee owns the land and contracts the right to use this land to invididual farmers who may use the land to make money from agriculture. Hence the rights that are normally unified in Western economies are split up between the invididual farmer and the village committee.
This has a number of consequences. One of them is that because the farmer does not have an absolute right to transfer the land, he cannot borrow against his use rights. On the other hand, there is some insurance against risk in the system in that the farmer can return his land to the village committee if he wants to stop farming, and if his business does not work, he can get a new contract with the village committee and return to farming. The fact that the land is redistributable by the village committee also insures that no one is left landless and also creates a form of social welfare.
There have been a number of proposals to reform this system and they have tended to be in the direction of fully privatizing rural land for the purpose of increasing efficiency. These proposals generally have not been popular largely because the current system is very popular among the farmers themselves. In the current system, there is little risk that the village committee will attempt to impose a bad contract on the farmers since this would reduce the amount of money the village committee receives. However, the current system allows the farmer some flexibility to decide to leave farming for other ventures and to return at a later time.