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Cui Naifu on China's Village Committee Elections

China Youth Daily, 17 June 1998

Ma: In recent years, China's village committee elections has attracted tremendous attention of both the domestic and foreign media. The current status of village committee elections in China is closely connected with the Provisional Organic Law of Village Committees adopted by the 23 Session of the Sixth National People's Congress on November 24, 1987. As I heard, it was not easy to get the law adopted at the time. There were heated arguments and fierce disputes both at the high and grass-roots levels. The Ministry of Civil Affairs took the lead in drafting the law when you were the minister at that time. Could you tell us a bit more about the background of the adoption of the law?

Mr. Cui: The law was drafted under the direct leadership of Peng Zhen, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the NPC. He is that kind of guy who never shoots an arrow without having a good aim. He thinks that legislation is to put things and views that have been proved correct in practice into law. Law is not what anyone thinks it should be.

It was in 1982 when we had preliminary discussions of the law. After the Third Plenum of the CCP's Eleventh National Congress, the system of household responsibility was adopted in the rural areas. This resulted in increased agricultural production and improvement of life of the peasants. This change was achieved by peasants who began to have more power to make their own decisions. At the same time, many people were looking forward to having a legislation to embody and strengthen this great achievement. For that reason, we first organized and dispatched people to go to Hebei, Shandong and Jiangsu provinces to carry out investigations. This caused fierce controversy. For instance, some village and township officials pointed out that it was difficult to lead and get things done after the introduction of the household responsibility system. And it would be even more difficult for them if self-governance was adopted at the village level. As I recall, that was the key problem at the time.

Ma: In other words, it is a matter of ensuring the rights of the peasants or strengthening the power of the rural officials, isn't?

Cui: Yes. After our investigations and having gathered suggestions from all walks of life, I felt the pressure was very heavy. When we reported the situation to Peng Zhen, he made the following observations. First, self-governance in rural areas was mandated by the Constitution. No one could oppose that with any reason. Second, corresponding to villager self-governance, the role of the (township) government should be one of guiding rather than leading. Guiding and leading had different meanings in law. Leading meant that the leaders would make decisions and the led must obey and do what they were ordered to do, but it would be different if the role of the officials was one of guiding. The led could disobey the orders if they did not conform to reality or if they were in violation of the laws and regulations. Third, the power of the officials must be restricted and they could never be allowed to do whatever they desired to do. If we wanted our country to maintain stability and unity, people should be guaranteed the right to democracy. Dictatorship would lead to nowhere. However, democracy was a procedure. 800 million (900 million now) peasants represented the great majority of China's population. Without giving them democracy the peasants would never have the power to make their own decisions on agricultural production and in their life.

These three observations by Peng Zhen became the fundamental driving force for us to draw up the law. Later through several rounds of examinations, revisions, debates and arguments, the disputes still focused on the word ?guiding?. Nobody came out blatantly repudiating villager self-governance since it was stipulated in the Constitution. But some comrades thought that the law was a little too advanced to fit real situations. Others were worried in that since many governmental tasks were dependent upon the township officials to accomplish, redefining their role as one of providing guidance was tantamount to cutting off their legs and making it impossible for them to deliver anything.

Controversy surrounds the law and it never disappears. When the law was adopted in 1987, it was termed as provisional, which is very rare in the history of China's legislation. This says a lot about the uneasiness felt by many people. Not too long ago, the NPC organized many comrades to conduct research and investigation at the grassroots level. I just came back from Jilin. I feel this law is very useful in regulating rural behaviors.

For example, there is a township government that planned to build a road. This road would go through several villages, and the villagers themselves would be responsible for the money and labor needed. Since there is village self-governance now, the township government has to consult the villagers. The villagers replied: we felt the present road was good enough and the road you wanted to build was nothing more than a political show-off. We did not need it. As a result, the plan had to be canceled. There is a village in Shandong, which is relatively wealthy. The village chair wanted to renovate the village offices and the meeting room. At the village assembly, the villagers said that the present offices were not bad ( I shared the same view when I saw the offices in person this time) and it was the village elementary school that needed renovation. If you wanted to renovate something, renovate the school. The classrooms were given a face-lift. When talking about this matter, the chair was very pleased--his village practices democratic decision-making, not tyranny.

Through years of my investigation and research I feel this law is conducive to the stability and unity of our nation as a whole. It improves the awareness and the ability of the villagers to master and manage their own affairs. It provides the villagers with a better understanding of their leaders' behavior and gives the leaders a sense of integrity. This seems trivial but it really matters in rural areas. There was no democracy in the past and the villagers always suspected their leaders of wrongdoing. With this administrative law in place, there is little chance for conflicts to escalate.

In a nutshell, it is quite difficult to get this law drafted and adopted and many officials and villagers have devoted much of their energy to implement this law. This is a very significant step in the national process of constructing a democratic political system. We need to cherish and treasure this step. We can only move forward in the direction of democracy and the rule of law. We cannot retreat.