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Democracy grows in China's villages

CHINA'S village level democracy has developed rapidly since reforms began more than 30 years ago, according to the China Rural Issues Research Center.

More than 400 million farmers in 17 provinces took part in villagers' committee elections last year, said Xu Yong, director of the center based at the Huazhong Normal University in Wuhan, central Hubei Province.

Xu said most of China's 6 million villages had held villagers' committee elections at least seven times by the end of last year.

More than 98 percent of villages had drawn up villagers' self-governance memorandums and township agreements, and more than 90 percent were making village affairs public, he said.

Tang Ming, a professor at the center who served as an election observer in Hubei Province, said elections, held every three years, had become a regular part of life in rural areas. Democratic elections, the publicizing of village affairs and democratic management of administrative power through public scrutiny were increasingly important in the countryside, Xu said.

Xu said since the implementation of the Organic Law of Villagers' Committees in 1998, the Communist Party of China and the government had taken vigorous measures to promote village democracy.

In 2007, the Report of the 17th National Congress of the CPC established grassroots autonomy as one of the four institutions of the socialist democratic polity.

The Decision on Major Issues Concerning the Advancement of Rural Reform and Development, approved by the Third Plenary Session of the 17th CPC Central Committee, set the "perfection of villagers' autonomy" and "safeguarding the democratic rights of farmers" as basic target tasks of rural reform and development.

However, problems, such as illegal election practices, persisted with village-based democracy, Xu said. Bribery and violence also occurred. In some villages, village officials become the sole decision makers.

Xu said these conditions reflected the relatively short history of village-based democracy, compared with a feudal history of more than 2,000 years.

Tang said the root of these problems lay in lagging rural development and urban-rural disparities.

Liu Yiqiang, a member of the center, said discrepancies between actual democratic institutions and popular expectations helped account for these problems, but this situation could be improved in stages.

According to Tang, one feature of village-based democracy was innovation.


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