VI. Grassroots Democracy in Urban and Rural Areas
Expanding the scope of grassroots democracy is an inevitable trend and the important base for the improvement and development of political democracy with Chinese characteristics. Along with China's development and progress, the scope of grassroots democracy in urban and rural areas has been expanding continuously, with more channels for citizens' orderly political participation and ever-increasing ways to realize democracy.
China has now established a grassroots democratic self-government system, which mainly includes the rural villagers' committee, urban neighborhood committee and the conference of workers and staff in enterprises. In these grassroots mass organizations of self-government in urban and rural areas, the Chinese people directly exercise their legal rights of democratic election, democratic decision-making, democratic management and democratic supervision, so that they can manage the public affairs and welfare undertakings of their grassroots organizations and communities by themselves. This has become the most direct and broadest practice of democracy in China today.
(1) Building of Grassroots Political Democracy in Rural Areas
Among China's population of 1.3 billion, over 800 million are rural residents. So, it is an issue of great importance in China's building of political democracy to expand and develop rural grassroots democracy, so that the farmers can fully exercise their democratic rights as real masters in their villages. After years of exploration and practice, the CPC has led the hundreds of millions of Chinese farmers to find, in view of China's realities, an appropriate way to promote the building of grassroots political democracy in rural areas - villagers' self-government.
Self-government by villagers is a basic system by which the broad masses of the rural people directly exercise their democratic rights to run their own affairs in accordance with the law and carry out self-administration, self-education and self-service. Burgeoning in the early 1980s, developed in the 1980s and popularized in the 1990s, this system has become an effective way to develop grassroots democracy and improve the level of governance in rural China.
The Chinese Constitution prescribes the legal status of the villagers' committee as a mass organization of rural grassroots self-government. The Law of the People's Republic of China on Organization of the Villagers' Committee expressly specifies the nature, functions, procedures of establishment, term of service and other issues related to villagers' committees to ensure the healthy development of grassroots democratic self-government in rural areas. The implementing rules of the Law on Organization of the Villagers' Committees and the measures of election of villagers' committees have been enacted or revised in 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the central government on the mainland of China, which provides a more specific legal guarantee for the villagers' self-government.
Democratic election, democratic decision-making, democratic management and democratic supervision are the major contents of villagers' self-government.
- Democratic election. Villagers can directly elect or dismiss members of the villagers' committees according to the Constitution and the Law on Organization of the Villagers' Committee. A villagers' committee is composed of three to seven members, including the chairperson and vice-chairpersons. Each committee serves a term of three years. In the process of election, the candidates of the committee members are nominated and voted for directly by the villagers, and the election results are declared on the spot to ensure that the election is just, open and fair. The villagers are enthusiastic about these elections and, according to incomplete statistics, the average participation rate in such elections is above 80 percent in rural China, with some places even boasting over 90 percent. By the end of 2004, some 644,000 villagers' committees had been established throughout the country, with most of the provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the central government having elected their fifth or sixth committees.
- Democratic decision-making. All important matters touching on the villagers' interests are to be discussed at meetings of villagers or their representatives, and decisions are to be made according to the opinion of the majority. As situations differ greatly from place to place in the rural areas of China, the villages vary in size and it is especially difficult to organize and hold a committee meeting to make a decision in big villages with villagers scattered around a wide area, the problem is solved by holding meetings of villagers' representatives. To date, 85 percent of the villages in China have established the system of villagers' meetings or villagers' representative meetings for democratic decision-making.
- Democratic management. In accordance with the state laws, regulations and related policies, the villagers' self-government rules, or villagers' code of conduct are discussed, formulated or revised by all the villagers in line with the local situation. In line with the self-government rules, vividly called the "lesser constitution," the villagers' committees and villagers practice self-management, self-education and self-service. Now, more than 80 percent of the villages in China have enacted villagers' self-government rules or villagers' code of conduct and established systems of democratic financial management and auditing, and for village affairs management.
- Democratic supervision. The villagers supervise the committee's work and the conduct of the village cadres through making village affairs open, democratic evaluation of village cadres, regular work reports by the villagers' committee, and the system of auditing the work of the outgoing village cadres. Making village affairs public, in particular, is widely welcomed by villagers.
The successful experience of villagers' self-government is a great creation of millions of Chinese farmers led by the CPC in developing socialist political democracy with Chinese characteristics. The promotion of rural grassroots democracy and the practice of villagers' self-government have greatly aroused the enthusiasm of the broad masses of rural people to act as the masters of their own affairs, enhanced their creativity and sense of responsibility, thus opening up a new chapter in the building of political democracy in rural China.
(2) Building of Political Democracy in Urban Communities
The urban neighborhood committee is a mass self-government organization of urban residents in China for self-management, self-education and self-service. It is an important form of direct grassroots democracy in Chinese cities.
After the founding of New China in 1949, neighborhood committees were set up in cities all over the country to make urban residents carry out democratic self-government over public affairs in their residential areas. In 1982, the system of urban neighborhood committee was, for the first time, written into the Constitution of the People's Republic of China. The Law of the People's Republic of China on the Organization of Neighborhood Committees in the Cities, enacted by the NPC Standing Committee in 1989, provides the legal basis and institutional guarantee for the development of urban neighborhood committees. In 1999, the state experimented with community building in 26 municipal districts, and then activities for community building demonstration were held all over the country. By the end of 2004, 71,375 neighborhood committees that were deemed up to the requirements for the building of new-type communities had been set up in Chinese cities. At present, urban community building is spreading from selected places to wider areas, from large cities to medium-sized and small cities, and from eastern to western areas. To improve the level of urban residents' self-government, a new type of urban communities with well-organized management and services as well as a pleasing environment and harmonious neighborhood relationships are being built throughout the country.
Like rural villagers' self-government, the major contents of the urban residents' self-government are also democratic election, democratic decision-making, democratic management and democratic supervision. In terms of democratic election, the form of election has developed from candidate nomination to self-nomination, from nominating one candidate for election to each post to multi-candidate election, and from indirect election to direct election, breaking down the limitations on place and status, and continuously enhancing the degree of democracy. In recent years, direct elections have been promoted vigorously in urban communities. A survey made by the government department concerned on the 26 experimental urban locations shows that the urban community residents participate actively in the direct elections of neighborhood committees and over 90 percent of them turn out to vote. As a result of the direct elections, neighborhood committee members have tended to become younger, better educated and more professional. In terms of democratic decision-making, the residents of a community, as the mainstay in this respect, exercise their decision-making power by holding residents' meetings, forums, hearings and through other effective forms and channels. In the aspect of democratic management, the neighborhood committees work within the framework of law, standardize their work according to the community residents' self-government rules and regulations, in an effort to make the residents more conscious of being the masters of their own affairs and concerned about public affairs in the community. In the aspect of democratic supervision, the neighborhood committee practices open management; all issues of public concern, difficult problems and important matters involving the residents' interests are made public to the residents in a timely manner and subject to their discussions, comments, suggestions and supervision.
(3) Building of the System of Conference of Workers and Staff
The conference of workers and staff is a basic system ensuring the democratic management of an enterprise or public institution by its workers and staff members. In China, this democratic right as master of an enterprise enjoyed by all the members of an enterprise or public institution is largely exercised through the system of conference of workers and staff.
This conference system was adopted in the publicly owned enterprises after the founding of New China, and was widely promoted in the whole country after 1957. There are related stipulations on the system of conference of workers and staff in China's Constitution, the Law on Industrial Enterprises of Public Ownership, the Labor Law, the Trade Union Law, and the Regulations Concerning the Conference of Workers and Staff in Publicly Owned Industrial Enterprises. According to these related laws, the conference of workers and staff has five functions and rights: the right to make deliberations and suggestions on the plan and scheme of the enterprise's production management and development; the right to examine and adopt important regulations and rules on wages, bonus, labor protection, punishments and rewards; the right to deliberate and decide on important matters concerning workers' and staff members' life and material benefits; the right to appraise and supervise the administrators and leaders of the enterprise; and the right to recommend or elect the head of a factory.
The conference of workers and staff enjoys broad mass support in China, and among its representatives are not only workers but also technological staff, managerial personnel and other members. It can represent all workers and staff in the democratic management of an enterprise. While the conference is in recess, the committee of the trade union of the enterprise will function as its work organ and take care of the day-to-day work of the conference. Since 1998, the system of making factory affairs public has been adopted in state-owned enterprises, collective enterprises and the enterprises whose equities are controlled by the two, and has also been extended to non-publicly owned enterprises. By the end of 2004, 1.732 million enterprises and public institutions had established trade unions and 369,000 had set up the conferences of workers and staff, covering 78.364 million employees. In addition, 316,000 had introduced the system of making their affairs public, covering 70.612 million employees. Now, 52.8 percent of the publicly owned enterprises with trade union organizations have set up conferences of workers and staff, covering 35.026 million employees and accounting for 72.9 percent of the employees in publicly owned enterprises with trade union organizations; 32.6 percent of the non-publicly owned enterprises with trade union organizations have introduced the system of conference of workers and staff, covering 27.87 million employees and accounting for 46.7 percent of the employees in non-publicly owned enterprises with trade union organizations.
Since the reform and opening-up policies were instituted, the conference of workers and staff and other forms of democratic administrative system have been playing an irreplaceable role in democratic management, coordinating labor relationships, guaranteeing and safeguarding the legitimate rights and interests of the employees and promoting reform, development and stability in enterprises and public institutions. The state will continue to adhere to the principle of running enterprises by depending on the workers and staff wholeheartedly. With the deepening of the reform and opening-up, the state will make great efforts to promote the establishment and improvement of democratic management systems in institutions and enterprises under all forms of ownership and take practical measures to tackle salient problems in these respects, so as to ensure the employees to really enjoy their democratic and legitimate rights and interests.