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Supervised Governance by People, a Challenge for China's Villages
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In the rural area of the impoverished county of Binhai in east China's Jiangsu Province, a blue roadside billboard with a slogan painted in white catches the eye.

"Those unable to get rich won't be elected village cadres; those incapable of leading everybody towards wealth are not good cadres."

In rural Jiangsu the slogan is not unique. It is replacing slogans for the one-child policy and compulsory education.

Electing or nominating educated, able people as village officials, who will lead their fellow villagers toward a wealthy life, is being popularized as a new management mode in 680,000 villages throughout China.

Democratic supervision to stop power abuse by powerful village heads is becoming more widespread.

In the booming coastal regions, more than 60 percent of the villages have elected able people village heads, while in underdeveloped regions, peasants are pinning their hopes to such slogans as "Choosing the right person will enable a village to become wealthy".

"Making a person's capability of getting rich the criteria to judge a village head is the choice of the new stage in the history of China's rural development," said Liu Shejian, a researcher with the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

"It is imperative for China's rural areas, home to 900 million residents, to develop. Most farmers are poorly educated who need educated, able people to pool scattered resources and lead them towards wealth," Liu added.

While more and more prosperous villages have been created under the leadership of able people, however, problems have cropped up in some places due to the new village management pattern.

Take Wanfeng Village in Shenzhen city, south China's Guangdong Province.

Under the leadership of Pan Qiang'en, in 1984 the village became the first to employ a joint-stock system and transform the villagers into share holders.

In 2000, the village boasted 1.4 billion yuan (US$173 million)in gross assets and 350 million yuan (US$43 million) in annual sales revenue earned by more than a dozen subordinate companies.

Though becoming a pace-setter for villages across the nation, the village, or Wanfeng Group, made a loss of more than one billion yuan because of rash decision-making and dysfunctional operation, with a debt burden of 550,000 yuan (US$67,817) for each villager.

Li Miao, a senior official with the supervisory organ of the provincial Party committee of north China's Hebei, said, "Power that is out of control is the most dangerous phenomenon in both urban and rural areas."

Usually, a powerful village head is authorized to allocate various resources and act as an entrepreneur, increasing chances of corruption. In this regard, effective supervision is required.

In western China, farmers have not only selected able people as village heads but also voluntarily formed decision-making and supervisory organs. At the impoverished village Songping in Southwest China's Yunnan Province, thanks to the leadership of both village cadres and a development committee, farmers' per-capita net income increased from 353 yuan (US$43) to 579 yuan (US$71), and the number of poor households decreased from 236 to 118.

All the cadres at Zhongcao village in Hebei province are in business. After these business people were elected village cadres, the first thing they did was to compile 15 management rules, including a principle of transparency, democratic cadre assessment and engineering bidding control, in a brochure and distributed it to each family.

Professor Zhao Zelong with the Southwest University of Political Science and Law based in Chongqing Municipality said, "In cadre evaluation, Chinese farmers have put more emphasis on capability, a change from emphasizing only virtues. However, it is necessary to establish a democratic supervision mechanism and an effective legal system to restrain village heads' power and safeguard the rights and interests of farmers."

(Xinhua News Agency March 29, 2006)

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