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China embraces grassroots democracy

China Daily | Updated: 2017-09-15 09:15

CHENGDU - Retirement has proved a busy time for Tian Jingyu. The former police officer, 69, leads a five-member council that discusses issues of importance to the Beiyuan neighborhood, where 1,300 people live in Chengdu, Sichuan province.

"Things can be small or big. From sewage to fences, from roads to garbage centers. We respond to matters of collective importance," Tian said.

Before the council was set up, such matters were managed by the Jinyang community, the upper-level administrative body. The decision-making process was top-down and mandatory.

"Setting up resident councils in each neighborhood is a practice of grassroots democracy, letting the people decide," said Li Hanrong, Communist Party chief of Jinyang, which is home to 40,000 people.

Chengdu began to experiment with the council system in 2003. By 2012, councils had been established in 4,338 communities and villages across the city.

"Democracy brings changes to the people. It gets people moving on their feet rather than sitting on a bench and waiting," Li said.

Since December, Tian has convened with other councilors on three matters: repairing a dilapidated gate, rebuilding a firefighting passage and installing anti-burglar wiring.

"For the construction projects, we need to make the budget ourselves, and we do that in a very meticulous way because at least half of the cost will be paid by fellow residents. The rest is covered by the community construction fund," he said.

Tian and other council members solicit public suggestions on each project. The final decisions are posted in a public place for a week before being handed to the upper-level administrative body.

Beiyuan's infrastructure spending needs to get two-thirds of votes from a 37-member council meeting.

"Four projects, including ours, were approved this year. We were lucky. At least nine projects were vetoed in the last three years," Tian said.

After gaining approval, Tian called five more meetings to discuss details before construction started.

Since the 18th Communist Party of China National Congress in 2012, China has striven to build a grassroots governance system, led by local governments and including participation by the general public.

"Listen to the people, let them vote and allow public opinion to be fully expressed - not after but before government decisions - even if it is about very trivial things like whether a room should be used as a food store or a barbershop," said Wang Yukai, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance.

"Governance is to understand needs and respond effectively to them, taking in suggestions. Only by doing this can so-called vanity projects be avoided."

Last week, in the Guanyuan neighborhood in Beijing's Xicheng district, more than 40 people were elected by residents to vote on what types of groceries a new service center should offer.

The center replaces several farmers' markets.

"If the public has suggestions or complaints as to the quality and price of groceries, I'm ready to hear them out. If people decide the contractor is too expensive, they have the right to vote to replace it," said Xu Li, deputy head of Xicheng district.

Zhao Xiuling, a political scientist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said local governments, particularly in developed cities, have created many ways to govern communities.

Creative methods in some cities have been hailed as inspirational models of grassroots democracy in China. Wenling in Zhejiang province is one such pioneer.

In 1999, the coastal city adopted a model of democratic consultation, featuring civic participation as well as face-to-face dialogue between government officials and the public in designing and carrying out public policy.

"The most effective governance is to get people involved. Rubber-stamping solves no problem. Only full participation does," said Yu Meixiang, a local official in the Taidong neighborhood in Shanghai's Xujiahui district.


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