It was the same people in the same building, but Li Zhenhe felt strangely welcome on a recent visit to the Cheng'an County government. The security guards, unusually, warmly showed him the way instead of blocking him for having no appointment.
At the sides of the building gate were 32 bulletin boards where job descriptions of the county leader, Zhang Chenliang, chief of the Cheng'an County Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) , and other senior officials, complete with photos, resumes and mobile and office phone numbers were on show.
Also displayed was a breakdown of the financial expenditure of the government's various departments and explanations about the county's major projects and issues of public concern.
"It has made me feel like I was being served," says Li, a farmer of Guzi Village, Cheng'an County in north China's Hebei Province. "We are encouraged to know what is happening inside the building and may knock on the door and enter the offices of the county's top leader."
Cheng'an is one of the three pilot counties chosen from China's 2,862 counties in March last year to spearhead the reform on power transparency of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC). The other two were Suining, in eastern Jiangsu, and Wuhou, in southwestern Chengdu.
Of the three, Suining has the biggest population at 1.32 million, followed by Wuhou at 580,000 and Cheng'an at 360,000.
The CPC Central Committee's Discipline Inspection Commission and Organizational Department jointly issued guidelines last week, signaling an expansion of the trial to more counties.
Describing county governance as an "essential link" in the Party's organizational structure and national administration, the document said that increasing transparency at county level was a significant measure to standardize the use and strengthen the supervision of Party authority. It would also help prevent grassroots corruption.
Observers in Beijing see the reform as an imperative step for the CPC to improve its governing mechanism based on more intra-Party democracy and open management of Party affairs.
"The reform at county level will promote the progress of China's political civilization in the long run," says Zhang Xixian, vice director of the Party Building Department at the Party School of the CPC Central Committee.
In China's political hierarchy, county chiefs have long been viewed as grass-root positions of great importance because they are a bridge between higher authorities and the general public.
Ancient Chinese wisdom has it that "only when a county is in order, can a nation be at peace." This has proved true as county Party chiefs appear very vulnerable to corruption.
In neighboring Henan, more than 20 chiefs of the CPC's county committees have been penalized since 2006 for illegal practices. In one notorious case, Li Yinkui, former chief of the CPC's Fengqiu County Committee, was found to have accepted 1,575 bribes worth more than 12 million yuan (1.8 million U.S dollars).
A public outcry after the case led to demands that the power of Party chiefs at county level be contained through effective supervision and for the prevention of officials' personal power becoming Party decisions.