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From moral model to economic pioneer: village heads' new role
( 2003-11-20 21:16) (Xinhua)

China's village heads are changing their role from moral models to economic pioneers in leading farmers to prosperity.

Increasing numbers of successful rural businesspeople have been elected village heads - their official titles are directors of villagers committees and village branch secretaries of the Communist Party of China (CPC). They were regarded as examples of the 900 million rural population who explored better ways of living and received the economic benefits.

In central China's Hunan Province, a 41-year-old boss named Cao Qihui has just been re-elected the CPC branch secretary of Guanshan Village in Changsha County, one of the richest counties in the province, after he had served the post for 13 years.

As the manager of a local private packing company, Cao had saved this village-registered business and expanded it by making operational and technical reforms since 1987 and realized a production value of 60 million yuan (7.3 million US dollars) last year.

"Like Cao, 25 percent of village heads in the county's 494 villages today are young, creative, courageous and experienced in running modern business, and the number is increasing," said Li Xuekai, a researcher from the organization department of the county committee of the Communist Party of China.

"These village heads are popular because they are encouraging and helping the people to get rich after they became rich first," Li said.

"We elect those who are capable to give us a prosperous future, " said a Guanshan villager named Li Kaiming, who also said Cao had trained 128 villagers and offered jobs at his company, which brought them 860,000 yuan (105,000 US dollars) each year.

In the traditional Chinese countryside, farmers did not have many economic opportunities before the opening-up. The main responsibility of the village heads was to deal with people's disputes and arrange daily production in accordance with administrative orders.

As a result, morality became the main criteria for judging village heads. "We only wanted them to be honest and fair in past days," Li Kaiming said.

But today's village heads must be capable of giving the farmers a rich life, said newly-elected head Wu Xie'en from Huaxi Village in Jiangsu Province, east China.

Wu was regarded as a "capable and successful man" by the villagers, who created the "Huaxicun" brand in conjunction with tobacco and wine companies in Yunnan and Sichuan provinces.

"It is getting common that bosses of rural private enterprises have become village heads, which indicates that farmers want their leaders to pioneer an affluent life, not just be moral models," said Peng Jianbai, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Farmers need guidance and help in the hot competition brought by the market economy, so they favor leaders who are responsible and generous in this regard, Peng said.

The new role also posed a challenge to village heads, who needed to enrich their knowledge of the market economy, said Zhu Youzhi, president of the Hunan Academy of Social Sciences.

Wu Xie'en said he had bought books detailing General Electric management methods from Guangzhou. "I learned a lot from the books, and I will let all cadres read them," he said.

Changsha County has also been training village heads in modern farming, breeding and enterprise management.

At present, China has nearly 700,000 villages with 900 million farmers. Due to many historical reasons, there is a great income gap between urban and rural residents, with the ratio at 3:1 last year, according to Wang Yuzhao, president of China's Foundation for Poverty Alleviation.

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