The basic principles behind the Yantian District Government reforms, begun in 1999, were to separate government from civil society while simultaneously strengthening government capacity and community self-governance. Following these innovations, Yantian’s community governance consists of resident committees, community workstations, and community service stations. Yantian District government workers aimed at transforming local community management from direct governmental central to autonomous civil society.
The reforms conducted by the Yantian District government were innovative in four respects: first, bureaucrats initiated a new platform for community governance with the goal of encouraging wider citizen participation in local civic groups. This platform sought to change the emphasis of government service provision by outsourcing many services to citizen volunteer groups.
Second, innovators sought reform of community administration procedures. They established Community Work Stations to extend the services provided by local government; its task, responsibilities, funds, and staff were all managed by the Bureau of Civil Affairs at the district level. By contrast, Community Service Stations were created to serve local residents, and are under the management of community resident committees. In this way, innovators separated out the offices of government and community service, allowing each to operate in tandem but with autonomy.
Third, government workers reformed community service mechanisms according to the belief that citizen participation and involvement is a key element of community development. Yantian District has set aside a fund to support community service under the jurisdiction of the community service stations. By creating this fund, the government resolved to buy services from community members that then benefit the community as a whole; these subsidies extend to volunteer programs providing in-home services to senior and individualized assistance for the disabled. This government investment in volunteer programs permits local residents to benefit from diversified services while also raising the living standards of disadvantaged groups in Yantian.
A final aspect of Yantian’s community governance system reform was the improvement of community elections. The Yantian District Government has gradually broadened suffrage for community members so that now, citizens without local household registrations (hukou) are permitted to vote in local elections. These elections are also direct. The general voter turnout for Yantian District elections is 89.7%, and public campaigns are encouraged. The election process is supervised by outside observers including scholars, congress ional delegates, and political consultants to ensure fairness in voting.
These sweeping reforms made three results apparent. First, administrative costs have dropped; salaries for government employees have dropped by 3,440,000 yuan (approximately U.S. $443,962) because many services have devolved to local volunteers. Second, the government’s capacity for implementing new policies has increased. The primary purpose of the Community Work Stations is to put government policies into practice; their establishment extends the local government’s presence to the street level. Simultaneously, by outsourcing services including elder and disabled care to local community members, the role of local government has changed from government distribution to government procurement. Third, the Yantian District’s communities have become more autonomous and self-sustaining: resident committees are elected directly and enjoy legal status as self-governing organizations.
Community governance reform in Yantian District has been widely lauded. This model has already spread to other major cities in China, including Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Chongqing, and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.