chapter  6
14 Pages

To vote or not to vote in village elections

Village democracy or village self-government (cunmin zizhi) has been a much talked-about subject both inside and outside China since the 1980s. It is one of a handful of topics that the Chinese government is eager to publicize and the Western media and academia are interested to investigate. The Chinese government, often through the Ministry of Civil Affairs, has organized and allowed foreign journalists, social scientists, dignitaries, diplomats and political, academic, and social organizations (such as the US International Republican Institute, the Ford Foundation, the Carter Center, and the National Committee on US-China Relations) to go to Chinese rural areas to observe village self-government and elections. There is no doubt the Chinese government intends to showcase village self-government to the world, in order to demonstrate that this new development will be the beginning of the long-delayed democratic transition in the most populous country in the world. (During his visit to China in 1998, former US President Clinton paid a special visit to a village outside Xian to talk about, among other things, village democracy in China with some selected villagers.) Village self-government has taken twenty years to evolve. This practice

can be traced back to the late 1970s, when the ‘household responsibility’ system replaced the people’s communes as the new economic system in the Chinese countryside. The old political structure of communes, production brigades (shengchan dadui), and production teams (shengchan xiaodui) became obsolete in favor of the new economic system. Like the household responsibility system that first emerged independently of governmental forces and support, villagers’ committees (VCs) (cunmin weiyuanhui), the new form of village self-government that replaced the production brigade, were initially spontaneous creations at the grassroots level. The first were created, without prior government approval, in two counties in Guangxi province.1 The early VCs were responsible only for managing neighborhood affairs.2 Later on, they became a comprehensive administrative organization in many rural areas. Article III of the 1982 constitution established the VC as ‘a mass-based self-governing body at the grassroots level’ in rural areas. It also stipulated that the chair, the deputy chair and other members of the VC be elected by villagers.3