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China Explores Expansion of Grassroots Democracy
Source: china.org.cn
Source Date: Monday, November 05, 2012
Focus: Citizens’ Service Delivery
Country: China
Created: Nov 13, 2012

Wang Xiulan, a retired medical professor in her 60s, was surprised that a nod from the most powerful man in her home village could not make her planned clinic a reality.

Wu Liutun, secretary of the Duqiao Village Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), told her that his signature did not count as it had before.

Wu asked Wang to get permission for the clinic from eight village deputies from the No. 7 Group, one of the seven subsidiary units of Duqiao Village.

Wang, a retired professor of Traditional Chinese Medicine at Henan University, based in the provincial capital of Zhengzhou, planned to set up a clinic where the No. 7 Group is based, also her home village in the town of Baisha, Zhongmou County, and spend the rest of her life there.

But to achieve this, she would need to obtain approval from at least two-thirds of the village deputies.

"If she comes back, she will enjoy the same welfare as the other villagers, such as regular distribution of flour and cooking oil," said Wang Zhanjun, head of the No. 7 Group. "Will the villagers agree, as their welfare is being shared?"

To avoid concentrating power in the hands of just a few people, Baisha introduced a villager representative system, or Villager Congress, in 2006. Unlike the past, when village heads decided everything, all major issues in the village are now decided by the representatives.

According to Chinese law, a village head is elected by all the villagers, but in most cases, a supervision system is not in place. Many village chiefs have continued to find ways to impose autocratic rule, having taken office via bribery or threats, said analysts.

Wukan Village, located in south China's booming Guangdong Province, grabbed international headlines last year when the residents of the small village staged three waves of large-scale rallies over a period of four months to protest what they alleged were illegal land grabs, corruption and violations of financing and election rules among officials.

As the urbanization process has accelerated in recent years, much of Baisha's land has become home to factories. The distribution of the compensation funds for the occupied lands is largely controlled by the village heads.

In the village head election in 2005, only 15 of the 23 villages in the town were able to choose new leaders, for power was hard to be compromised, said Zhu Maitun, former secretary of the Baisha committee of the CPC.

The introduction of the villager congress system has allowed elections to proceed more smoothly. In the 2008 village head election, all 23 villages chose new leaders with the help of the village deputies, as conflicts were first eliminated among families.

Pan Changshui, 60, a farmer administered under the No. 7 Group, had never imagined that he would one day have a say in village affairs, as he is not originally from the village.

He was first chosen by his ten family members as their family representative. He then competed with another ten family representatives to become a unified deputy for the 11 families. Finally, he became one of the eight deputies of the No. 7 Group and one of the 53 deputies of Duqiao Village.

All the group's major issues are decided by the deputies at monthly meetings.

The village deputy system gives villagers more room to supervise the village heads and is crucial for the autonomy of villages, said Dang Guoying, a researcher with the Rural Economy Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Science.

However, it was not smooth sailing when the system was first introduced in the village in 2006. Wu Liutun, the village Party chief, worried that his opinions would no longer matter, but he soon found the benefits of sharing power.

Wu spent 800 yuan (126.9 U.S. dollars) on a water pump for the village last year, but some villagers accused him of taking a kickback. It was hard for him to justify himself. With the introduction of the village congress, villagers now make decisions themselves.

"In the past, you would be criticized if you made one error out of a hundred," said Yan Zhiqiang, Party chief of Baisha. "There was a lack of trust between the cadres and the masses."

"Democracy has made the supervision of cadres a reality and the villagers have their say in public affairs," Yan said.

The villagers' various requests, including compensation for demolition, building roads and land rentals, have been met with the successful operation of the village congress.

The "village deputy system" is the epitome of China's exploration of grassroots democracy.

Expansion of primary-level democracy was highlighted in the 17th National Congress of the CPC in 2007. A series of innovative measures have been taken to improve grassroots democracy, including the trial direct election of town-level Party chiefs in some Chinese cities.

Chinese President Hu Jintao, also general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, called on officials to develop a more wide-reaching people's democracy and pay more attention to exerting the important role of the rule of law in the administration of the country and society, at the opening session of a workshop for ministerial officials and provincial heads on July 23.

Analysts expect more measures to be taken to improve the grassroots democracy in China during the upcoming 18th National Congress of the CPC, which will convene on Nov. 8.

The expansion of the primary-level democracy has laid a firm foundation and prepared talents for overall democracy in China, said Li Liangdong, a researcher with the Party School of the CPC Central Committee.

A plenary deputy conference was held among the No. 7 Group of Duqiao Village to discuss the feasibility of the retired professor's clinic in late August. After Wang promised not to enjoy any welfare from the village and wrote a letter confirming this, the deputies agreed that Wang could move back to the village and open her clinic.

Wang's dream of returning to her hometown has finally been realized.
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