The North China Plain is the country's granary: most of wheat and maize is supplied by this region in the northeast of China. Intensity of agricultural production has risen sharply in the last decades and the negative environmental effects like water scarcity, salinization and nitrate contamination have been widely acknowledged. In the wake of the country's rapid economic development it becomes at the same time more and more urgent to narrow the gap between the well-being of the urban and rural population. In order to better understand the paths that lead to this present dilemma, this paper provides a historical overview of the development of the land and water markets and the rural financial system. It highlights the linkages and reciprocal restraints between these three sectors and gives some conclusions and policy recommendations on how to proceed in order to further a more sustainable development in the North China Plain. Apart from literature review, data from an original farm household survey, conducted by the authors, is used to substantiate the arguments put forth in this paper.