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August 31, 2009

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Veterans of the's good

THE Shangyangshi Community in Shangcheng District, one of the oldest areas in southern Hangzhou, has a unique claim to fame. It was there, reports Tan Weiyun, that the first residential committee of the New China was established.

Paint peeling from wooden posts, worn-out house number plates, color-faded window frames, the Shangyangshi Community hidden in Shangcheng District, one of the oldest areas in southern Hangzhou, is known as the city's "true old side."

But what many people don't know is that the area was also the birthplace of New China's first residential committee.

"The election was held on October 23, 1949, in the Xipailou Primary School, just 22 days after Chairman Mao declared the foundation of the People's Republic of China," recalls 85-year-old Chen Fulin, first director of the country's first residential committee and a lifelong resident.

Today he can still clearly remember the number of votes, the attendance and the election held 60 years ago.

"I was accidentally to become 'the first of something' in China's history. It is so cool," he says.

The setup of the residential committee was actually a milestone in China's civil history because it broke the centuries-old Bao Jia system, an ancient community-based system of law enforcement and civil control, which can be dated back to the Song Dynasty (960-1276).

According to the system, one bao consisted of 10 jias, which in turn consisted of 100 households (also reported as just 10 households) that were trained and supplied with weapons.

The leaders of the baos were given authority to maintain local order, collect taxes and organize civil projects.

The idea of the system was that it would diminish the government's reliance on mercenaries, and that it would instead assign responsibility of law enforcement to these civil societies.

The system's flaw was that if one household was found guilty and the other 99 (or 9) households didn't report the offense to the authorities, the whole 100 (or 10) households would be deemed guilty and all severely punished.

After the founding of New China, the Bao Jia system was abolished and the government was looking for a new, better one to replace it, thus the residential committee was born.

In 2007 when the Ministry of Civil Affairs of China confirmed Hangzhou's Shangyangshi Community as the first residential committee, 19 regional bureaus of civil affairs, including Shanxi, Anhui, Hunan, Hebei and many other provinces, claimed that they had the first one and decided to conduct more field trips and gather more evidence to prove their case.

"But with all the records found, Shangyangshi was the earliest," says the current Committee Director Luo Xiaoying, showing a newspaper printed on October 28, 1949, which reported the establishment of the residential committee.

Sixty years has passed, but the community hasn't changed much and its life there still maintains a slow and leisurely pace.

"If you want to see the true Hangzhou, here it is," Luo says.


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