Grassroots democracy is not a show nor going through the motions to farmers when it was first introduced to China's vast rural areas. It is something the central authorities really mean to spread across the country.
However, honest and obedient Chinese farmers are more pragmatic. They would rather choose whoever that would help them live a better life.
"Farmers just want capable people to take charge," said Li Guoqiang, director of Sanyuanli Village of Baiyun District, Guangzhou, south China's Guangdong Province, who is here attending the annual session of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's legislature.
He was planning to set up an agricultural enterprise guarantee foundation to finance potential agricultural firms that could compete on the world market.
"My understanding of democracy is that you have to do everything to the satisfaction of the people, thus winning their support," the NPC deputy said. Without their support, he is likely to lose the next election. That's why he was working on the establishment of the foundation.
A sample survey conducted by Prof. Xie Ziping together with the sociology department of Beijing University, showed "extremely high" enthusiasm of farmers for participating in the grassroots election in east China's Fujian Province in 2002.
Villagers' committees play an important role in implementing the state policies, voicing people's appeals and managing local affairs, according to Wei Yuecai, an NPC deputy from the Sandu Shui Autonomous County, southwestern Guizhou Province.
As a matter of fact, the Asia Foundation has begun to cooperate with the Chinese government in financing Chinese farmers to study law and courses on democracy in Duke University of the United States. The chosen directors of Chinese villagers' committees would go and study for three years in the university. Another program of the foundation is to look into the legal and democratic awareness of Chinese farmers.
The process of "universal election" in China's vast rural areas shows the political zeal and high expectations of Chinese farmers. And the bud of democracy is in full blossom in rural China and will yield well, according to experts on public affairs administration from the United States.
In 1998, the NPC Standing Committee revised and promulgated the Organic Law of Villagers' Committees, which was put into trial implementation in 1987, and further defined requirements for the democratic election at the village level. "Such detailed legal description of village autonomy is unprecedented in the world history of lawmaking," law experts said.
Wang Zhenyao, an official with the Ministry of Civil Affairs, who had visited more than 1,000 villages and guided their elections across the country, said, "Democracy is becoming increasingly widespread just like snowballing."
The best way to improve farmers' quality is in the process of practicing democracy, Wang said, adding that the economic reform in rural areas has inspired farmers' demand for democracy.
Experts with the U.S. Carter Center said, the value of grassroots democracy lies not only in the regulations and procedures involved, but also, and more important at that, in the demonstration of the political life of a country.
As Chinese President Jiang Zemin put it, expansion of the grassroots democracy and guarantee of the people's democratic rights constitute the most extensive practice of socialist democracy.
Now China's cities are experimenting in the direct election of community committees by following the example of grassroots democracy in rural China. It is expected that the seed of "grassroots democracy" would germinate, send out sprouts and take roots in the urban "soil".
(Xinhua News Agency March 14, 2002)