BEIJING - When farmers from the village of Xinshi in China's southwestern city of Zunyi finally reached an agreement concerning the renovation of the village's main road, new concerns about compensation quickly replaced the farmers' previous contentions.
"The majority of the villagers preferred to have the road completely rebuilt. By doing that, the farmers didn't have to give up as much land," said Che Desheng, the secretary of the Xinshi village committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC).
Villagers then worked out a compensation plan at a collective consultation meeting, a popular practice championed by local farmers in the remote villages of this land-locked province of Guizhou.
The meetings, attended by village Party officials, Party members and representatives for the farmers, have proved to be an effective way for villagers to resolve problems and conflicts.
Village officials are obliged to respond to villagers' inquiries and take immediate actions to address villagers' concerns through these meetings.
The meetings used to be held biannually. However, the meetings are now held from the 26th to the 28th every month, as they have increased in popularity for their efficiency and transparency in addressing public concerns, according to Che.
"Villagers make decisions for themselves here," said Che.
Regular meetings between Party officials and farmers have strengthened bonds between them and ensured that farmers are knowledgeable of the latest government policies, said Xu Caizhong, Party chief of Yuquan Township, which administers the village of Xinshi.
According to Tian Jingqiang, deputy head of the organization department of the Guizhou's Meitan County Committee of the CPC, the consultative meetings have provided an impetus for the public to become more involved in local economic development.
Through candid communication, the leaders of the county's villages become increasingly aware of what they need to do and their actions become more efficient, Tian said.
The meetings are "creative" in that they combine local culture with rules and regulations, said Qin Gang, a researcher of Marxism at the Party School of the CPC Central Committee.
Qin believes the meetings are an important way to realize "grassroots democracy" and ensure proper and successful social management in China's villages.
In other villages near the city of Zunyi, villagers exercise a form of democracy through the establishment of supervisory bodies.
In Fenggang County, supervisory councils and other decision-making bodies have been created through voting systems in 33 villages, according to Wang Yunming, Party secretary of Fenggang County's village of Zhongxin.
In the village of Zhongxin, 129 farmers are allowed to receive subsistence allowances every year. Before August 2010, village officials had the final say over who would receive the allowances.
After the establishment of a supervisory body in the village, however, villagers decided to vote for who would receive the allowances. Forty percent of those who were previously included on the list were replaced by poorer villagers.
Fierce debates quickly erupted, and those villagers whose names were taken off the list came to the village's Party officials to complain, Wang said.
It was not until members of the supervisory body urged the disgruntled farmers to respect the will of the majority that the farmers put an end to their argument.
According to Professor Gao Xinmin, a researcher specializing in Party building at the Party School of the CPC Central Committee, supervisory panels and other elected bodies can allow villagers to coordinate their interests much more efficiently than mandates from governmental authorities.
Grassroots democracy is all about people making their own decisions and coordinating their own interests, said Gao.
Marxist researcher Qin believes that the best brand of democracy is that which allows a group of people to solve their own problems.
"Democracy is at its best when it is conducive to social stability and helpful in addressing public concerns," said Qin.