This paper explores the distinct dynamics of land-use change in the context of the rise of the industrial tree plantation (ITP) sector in Southern China, considering both land access and three political-economic control mechanisms. It demonstrates that the expansion of the ITP sector in Southern China involves multiple directions of land-use change. It argues that land-use change does not solely result from personal economic decisions based on one’s land access, but is also affected by political economic circumstances. In other words, having land access does not necessarily secure full control over land use. Instead, a series of structural and relational factors, including state and corporate interventions “from above”, political reactions “from below”, and interactions of the two – serve to drive forward, block or modify the direction of land-use change, even though they might not affect land access. In highlighting these factors, this piece hopes to shift attention from land access to land control and thus contribute to a fuller understanding of land-use politics not only in China, but also in other regions of the world.