According to old methods of choosing Party secretaries at the township or community level of the Chinese Communist Party, leaders were appointed or affirmed by higher-level party officials without direct reference to the citizens under the district committee’s jurisdiction. The Xindu District grassroots experiment in democracy sought to change the top-down selection of party officials at the district level of governance.
The innovations of the Xindu District grassroots democracy project mainly lie in the comprehension and integration of democratic politics in current local Chinese administration. The values of transparency and openness in decision-making, steady political participation, public evaluation of district leaders, and democratic direct elections became particularly important to these reforms.
Xindu District reformers in the District Government and the District Branch of the Chinese Communist Party opened the decision-making process, allowing the opening of meetings at all levels of local government. By inviting members of different departments and branches of local government to attend planning meetings and to evaluate administrators and party cadres, yearly public recommendations have become institutionalized at the department, township, village, and district levels.
In November 2003, the Mulan branch committee of the CCP first experimented with direct elections in selecting a candidate to be the new Secretary of the branch. This election involved free competition by all party members in Mulan Town. By March of 2005, all branch committees of the CCP in the 11 towns of Xindu District were selected in direct, competitive elections open to the citizenry.
The building of democracy at the grass-roots level by opening committee meetings and encouraging direct elections has stimulated mass political participation in decision-making and supervision at all levels of the Xindu District government. By making Xindu’s District government leadership accountable to its constituents, the local CCP office is clearly more invested in furthering social and economic development agendas. At the same time, ordinary Party members and citizens have more influence over the Party leadership, meaning that self-identification with the Party organization is also enhanced.