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Farmers speak through the ballot box
[ 2008-08-27 14:36 ]


Once bitten by a snake, a Chinese proverb says, a man will fear even a piece of rope for the next ten years.

So what can a small farmer do when he is dissatisfied with his elected officials? For Gao Qiong, a farmer from East China's Anhui province, the solution is not to walk away in fear or cynicism, but to fight back through the ballot box.

Village elections have been a reality in China since 1982. After more than two decades, voting has become much more popular, according to Suzhou University legal expert Yang Haikun. The more tangible the benefits, the greater the participation, he said.

With the current round of village elections being held throughout the country, more and more rural people are making their votes count.

Last October the 17th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party affirmed grass-roots autonomy as one of the basic components of China's political system. Revisions to further improve electoral laws are expected to be approved this year.

Gao Qiong certainly feels his vote can make a difference. The triennial election is important, he told China Daily, "because it matters to the welfare of my family."

For quite a number of years, he explained, his home village saw no development because the village chiefs managed badly and were only interested in getting more money into their own pockets.

That village committee was voted out during the 2005 elections, but their replacement still did not exert strong leadership, Gao said.

That's why even after he got a construction job in Beijing, Gao spent 1,000 yuan, half his monthly wage, to go back to his hometown to cast his vote for a new village committee.

This time, Gao said, he is not alone. "My relatives, my friends, and whoever I know, all want to make the election work this time to get a village committee that truly works for the interests of all people," he said.

Gao is not the only former Chinese farmer, who after being exposed to an urban environment and to new ideas, is going home to vote. In more affluent rural communities in Zhejiang province, there are even private entrepreneurs who fly back to their hometowns to participate in elections.

The seriousness of voters these days is in marked contrast to participation when elections were introduced in the 1980s. Back then, villagers often used a village meeting as an occasion to socialize. Many didn't care about casting a ballot. Or if they did, some would draw the traditional Chinese insult of a turtle on the ballot as a sign of contempt.

According to legal expert Yang, many villagers did not see the benefit of replacing a village committee that had been appointed by higher authorities with an elected board.

At the central government level, the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MAC) handles matters related to village elections. MAC figures show that by the end of 2007, there were 2.4 million elected officials in 611,000 village committees across China. More than 90 percent of Chinese farmers have participated in at least one election.

In some villages, six to seven elections have been held.

According to MCA official Wang Jinhua, farmers are learning to have a say in who manages their communal resources, "They have become very careful in weighing local leadership, " he said.

It is not just through elections. In some villages, elected officials have been impeached for incompetence or corruption.

In June, two heads of the Chenjiaying village committee in Yunnan province were forced to resign for trying to sell communal land without the consent of the 800 villagers.

The most typical items on a village's agenda are projects that often require public financing and promise some public benefit - such as roads, water resources, or sales of land rights or other local resources.

Matters for debate may also include social welfare issues, such as funding for the village school and group medical insurance.

In the past, villagers would have little say on these matters. Now, they not only do have a say, but can also demand that all major decisions be made in a fully transparent way. "Chinese farmers demand democracy, and have the capability of exercising it," Wang said.

Getting people to vote is no longer a problem, Wang said. The next goal is to ensure fair elections by preventing vote rigging, he said.



1. What is the Chinese proverb mentioned at the start of the story?

2. When were local village elections first introduced into China?


1. Once bitten by a snake a man will fear even a piece of rope for the next ten years.

2. 1982.

(英语点津 Helen 编辑)

Farmers speak through the ballot boxBrendan joined The China Daily in 2007 as a language polisher in the Language Tips Department, where he writes a regular column for Chinese English Language learners, reads audio news for listeners and anchors the weekly video news in addition to assisting with on location stories. Elsewhere he writes Op’Ed pieces with a China focus that feature in the Daily’s Website opinion section.

He received his B.A. and Post Grad Dip from Curtin University in 1997 and his Masters in Community Development and Management from Charles Darwin University in 2003. He has taught in Japan, England, Australia and most recently China. His articles have featured in the Bangkok Post, The Taipei Times, The Asia News Network and in-flight magazines.


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