The central authorities are sending special teams to villages in 10 provinces to investigate illegal activities and malpractice on the part of grassroots officials.
Since early last month, a number of government agencies including disciplinary, agricultural and civil affairs departments have dispatched personnel to villages where problems have been reported.
Their findings are expected to help lawmakers amend and revise existing relevant decrees, in the context that the government is combating corruption and malpractice carried out by grass-roots officials.
It is the first anti-corruption investigation of its kind in the country, according to sources.
In recent years, the number of economic crimes committed by village heads has been on the increase, the Xinhua News Agency quoted a law expert in East China's Jiangxi Province Wang Jianxin as saying earlier this year.
The trend poses new challenges for the nation in its anti-corruption endeavours, Xinhua said.
The most common forms of malpractices by village chiefs include public fund embezzlement, selling out collective property in behind-the-scenes deals, writing IOUs to farmers and the misuse of power, Wang Jinhua, an official with the Ministry of Civil Affairs and a participant of the action, told a Beijing-based newspaper recently.
Corruption especially arises in the scenario where no regulation specifies how to use the money with which the government compensates farmers who have lost their land in the course of urbanization, Wang Jinhua told The Beijing News newspaper.
Wang also said that in many cases, supervision at the village level is hardly implemented because laws and regulations just exist on paper for this group.
"The village officials are a special group," Wang Jinhua said, "as many regulations concerning civil servants don't apply to them. They are just too low down the ladder."
In some extreme cases, local office holders even prevented documents issued by higher departments from reaching rural residents, he said.
"Then their instructions would never be carried out," Wang added.
As a result, a large number of disgruntled villagers penned letters, made phone calls, or even went in person to higher departments, to report the problems they were facing, and this seems to have made senior leadership sit up and listen.
But Wang refused to connect the investigation to the frequent visits by petitioners to higher government organizations in recent years.
"In cities, it's hard to arouse people's attention if an official pockets a certain amount of money," Wang said.
"In villages, where incomes are much lower, corruption has a greater effect on rural residents' welfare and consequently triggers more complaints," he added.
The investigation covers a large part of the country, including coastal areas and the underdeveloped west, according to the report yesterday.
In addition, the villages selected for investigation are those whose officials' wrongdoings have been reported to higher authorities or uncovered by the media.
"We are going to listen to reports, hold discussions, check up on villages and investigate house by house," Wang Jinhua said.
But the main goal of the action is to unveil the contradictions between villagers and cadres and report them to the lawmakers.
(China Daily August 11, 2005)