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Rural reform aims to empower villagers

Xinhua | Updated: 2013-10-16 21:24

HEFEI -- Deciding what trees to plant on the street is not a bid deal, but it's an highly visible symbol of the many new powers villagers in Xiaogang have recently regained.

"They planted peach and persimmon at first, but the village council objected, so camphor was chosen instead," said Yan Lihua, a villager of Xiaogang, in Fengyang county, Anhui province.

A symbol of China's rural reforms, Xiaogang became famous in 1978 after 18 of its farmers made a secret pact to resist the country's egalitarian agricultural system. The pact meant that after the farmers had handed a certain percentage of their produce to government, they were able to keep the rest for themselves.

The move turned out to be history making and unleashed farmers' productivity that had remained dormant under the collective commune system. The central government approved the new system and the model was adopted across the country.

"When villagers' basic material needs are satisfied, they hope to participate more in the management of their village," said Yan Jinchang, one of the 18 farmers and now a member of the village council.

The latest reform in Xiaogang now centers on power decentralization of the village branch of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and village committee, a self-ruling body whose members are directly elected by villagers.

The village council has the veto power on big decisions affecting the villagers, according to Zhang Xingyu, the village' party chief.

The council has 30 members. Each of them must get the support of 15 villagers to be elected.

"We want to make sure the council represents the will of the villagers," Yan Jinchang said.

The council allows villagers a role in decision-making that concerns them, like the location of a primary school, construction of community facilities and even the width of restaurants and shops because of a lack of space.

Restaurants on both sides of the Friendship Avenue were originally designed to be 5 meters wide -- too wide for two tables but too narrow for three tables to be placed in a row.

Villagers who were potential restaurant owners made proposals to the council, and a six-meter solution was adopted.

The new reform requires government to change its role, from an administrator to a provider of public service, said Yu Qian, Xiao's deputy party chief.

In the newly-built Xiaogang public service center, villager can apply for various public services in a one-stop visit. They can examine the village's spending and revenues on the computer.

"Everything, big or small, is now open and transparent. This makes it easier for villagers to supervise the government and let us know what the government has done for us," said Yan Lixian, a villager.

According to Fan Hesheng, vice dean of Anhui University's School of Sociology and Political Science, self-governance among villagers is an intrinsic requirement of government function reform.

An expert on the rural political system, Fan has noticed emerging problems facing agriculture, rural areas and farmers in villages of Anhui province.

"The organization of the village council encourages villagers to participate in politics, this will help address their problems more directly and democratically," said Fan.

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