Chinese Village Democracy The Organic Essay


This rationale may prove correct to some degree, but only in those areas where the villagers have no means of communication between villages and thus no way of exchanging opinions and finding out about irregularities and breaking of the law. Kolhammer is pointing out that the declared official role of the organic law of Village Committees is only going to be put in practice after the villagers will be aware of the right they have according to it and act accordingly. There is no possibility that one can draw the conclusion that peasants in most villages in China are not aware of their rights in terms of electing their village leader and Village Committee. The degree of knowledge in this sense may vary, but a country that has experienced huge economic changes after the death of Mao could not have remained immobile to significant social and political changes. The political structure is still the same as in the 1970s, but national think tanks are oriented towards discussing and challenging the Leninist ideology in favor of the Marxist idea of socialism and it seems more and more likely that the Marxist ideology is used as a way to express ideas that are often in contradiction to socialism as an expressions of unity and centralism. O'Brien was the first who sustained the idea that efficacy in the political process made the voters in the rural areas became aware of their power in changing leaders who were not acting in the best interest of those who voted for them and in the spirit of the central authority's derectives. Starting from this point, Lianjiang Li wrote an article entitled the Empowering Effect of Village Elections in China after having conducted interviews in villages in China and a survey of 400 people from 20 villages in T. county of Jiangxi Porvince (Li, 2003, pag 652). The results of the survey supported the author's opinion that since free and open elections will always motivate people be become involved in the electoral process in order to articulate their interests and moreover to help change the leaders who failed doing it before the elections: "we may expect that as free village elections continue and spread, more villagers will become more active in village policies." (Li, 2003, p 660)

Ding sees the process of developing the grassroots politics like a natural manifestation of the economic changes inside China and of the external factors like China's opening to foreign investors and the changes that took place globally, namely in Eastern Europe and the neo-liberalism trend in Great Britain and America. The idea of separation between society and state was sustained by many scholars in China one the economic reform started to take place and the theories developed were based on the Marxists views of a society in relationship with the state, but enjoying the right to follow its own interest separate from those of the state, to a certain degree. The various scientists, specialists in politics and sociologists promoted new concepts like difference in interests and multiple social groups instead of unity. The organic law of Villages committees was implemented and revised after ten years on the background of significant change even in the ideology expressed on official channels by those at the top of the pyramid. One of the most prestigious organizations in China, the Chinese Social Sciences expressed its disbelief in the idea of unity at a societal level in China, in 1986, at the Conference on Political Reform. The idea that society underwent major changes and groups were beginning to form once the market gained a degree of freedom was accepted as consequence of the economic reform. The government was beginning to withdraw from being directly implicated in the life of the citizen and the people developed new needs when the decision making in the interests of a community was no longer coming from the centre. Two consequences made the regime look for a way to avoid chaos in the rural areas: the need to find the right ways to impose the unfriendly state policies, the risk of undergoing a void of power. The representatives of the government that were until appointed by the regime and were leading the villages were replaced by new organizations of self-government. (Ding, 2002, p. 76)

The process of self-governing and formation of grassroots politics did not appear from nothing, because the regime wanted to make experiments on hundreds of millions of villagers regardless of their real interests. The economic reform took place not only in the industrial regions of China, but also in the countryside. He collective farming disappeared by the late 1970s and the...


but, in 1985 the local government continued to appoint the village leaders. Pen Zheng, on of the most prominent leaders of the regime in 1990 was a key figure in the implementation of the Organic law that gave the villages in China the right to self-governance and the opportunity to built grassroots democracy. The Chinese culture, tradition and the political system in China at that moment were elements that made democracy sound slightly different from the western meaning of the concept. Since the beginning of socialism in China, the regime has promoted the idea that democracy was an intrinsic part of the Chinese state and thus, enjoyed by the Chinese civil society. but, an inclination toward what Aristotle meant by "democracy" only appeared when the organic law was passed.
Recently, in an interview Antony Saich gave to Doug Gavel and Molly Lanzarotta, where he was expressing his views on the importance of the Olympic Games being held in Beijing this year from the point-of-view of the Chinese leadership, Saich mentioned China's plans to move between 300 and 500 million peasants from the countryside into the urban areas, by 2020. (Saich, 2008) if they such a huge task will be successfully accomplished, that could mean that the ex-villagers will also bring along their knowledge of self-government. This will be an entirely different matter, altogether since the communities they will suddenly find themselves in will have totally differ in proportions and in structure, but their first notions of democracy will remain and could be adapted and used in the new environment.

On the other side, professors like Daniel Kelliher are more skeptical in regard to the prospect of democracy spreading from the grassroots through the whole country. After reviewing the economic and social factors from the Chinese debate point-of-view on the subject of village self-governance, Kelliher concludes that: "Much of the evidence[...]falls on the negative side, especially for the near-term"(Kelliher, 1997, p. 84) Starting with the revised Constitution in 1982 and then the four years of negotiations between those who were in favor of Peng Zhen's ideas of implementing a law that gave the villages the right to self-governance and those who opposed it from the government, and passing through the different stages and degrees of implementation, and revision of the Organic Law of the Villagers Committees, over two decades and in different regions in China, Kelliher finds the supreme argument in favor of his opinion that looking from the point-of-view of the debate between Chinese officials and specialists, democracy in China has a small chance to spread from the grassroots political institutions:..."the opposition is formidable. Granted, many opponents are lowly township and county officials, who seem a poor match against the mighty apparatus in Beijing calling for self-government. But strategy of resistance is the hardest kind to guard against: feigned compliance" (Kelliher, 1997, p. 84).

So, Kelliher finds that the local government, taking advantage of the fact that villagers are actually ignoring the rights they are granted by the organic law and that the lack of a democracy culture makes them unaware of what competitive elections mean, can simulate that they have successfully implemented the law at the local level, while actually conducting elections where the candidates are nominated by appointment of the government township and whose results completely certain, are as before the adoption of the law. Another and even more dangerous threat to the democratic institution of free elections Kelliher found after reviewing the Chinese debate over the subject of village self-governing is the fight against the concept from inside the party itself.

Despite Kelliher's skepticism in regard to a real opportunity for democracy to spread from the grassroots politics Jonathan Tomm argues that "increased consciousness of democratic rights among peasants and efforts to improve the representativeness of township cadre selection constitute important signs of democratic changes both outside and inside the Communist Party."(Tomm, 2006, p. 86). Tomm mentions the fervent debates and opposition before and after the Organic law was implemented and actually adopted at the local government level, but he is also pointing out that since its passing in 1988 and revision ten years later, the law providing villages the right to self-governance not only was put used to organize elections at a local level in most of the country, but…

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