Understanding the complexity of agricultural systems requires insight into the human-environment interactions. In this paper we used survey data to analyze land system change and its relation to farmer's attitudes in a typical agricultural region of Northeast China, focusing on land tenure, crop choice and intensification. Our survey shows that land transfer was fairly common across the study area: average farmland acreage per household almost doubled from 1.3. ha by early 1980s to 2.6. ha by early 2010s, especially due to urban migration of farmers. The survey indicates an increase in land transfers over time with a sharp decrease of the average period of land transfer contracts. Crop choice displays a trend of decreasing diversity as several cereal crops are no longer grown in the study region and the majority of bean cultivation has been replaced by maize and tobacco. Land transfers can explain part of these changes, butnot necessarily the full change to a dominance of a smaller number of crops at the region level. Irrigation intensity is related to the locations of rivers, while agricultural inputs, along with land transfer and crop allocation, show a spatial pattern which is related to road accessibility. Survey results show that two family characteristics (education level and the initially allocated land rights) and two socioeconomic factors (infrastructure and crop prices) are important in making land transfer decisions, while external factors such as market, policy, local cropping system, and agricultural disasters have substantially influenced crop choice decisions. The survey approach is very valuable to analyze land system changes from a stakeholder's perspective, especially in the absence of statistical data atfarm level. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.