This program was a nominee for the "Local Government with Best Sense of Responsibility Award."
The Jiangxi Provincial Department of Civil Affairs launched the "Construction of Village Communities" initiative in April 2003. This innovation was designed to fill governance voids left by Local Village Committees. These Committees have responsibility for many villages that are often widely scattered over a large area. The Committees are often focused on tasks assigned by superior governments rather than those that serve the local villages. In addition, public welfare offices/programs were lacking in many villages.
When the central government announced "The New Socialist Countryside" initiative in 2006, (for facts on "New Socialist Countryside" see http://english.gov.cn/special/rd_index.htm). Jiangxi ensured this program met goals established in the areas of public affairs and public welfare.
By the end of 2007, a total of 23,000 villages had established their own Village Communities and some of these Communities have connected with urban areas. They have increased village autonomy, constructed community centers, and extended the range of public services available. Village Communities have brought more vitality to the countryside by encouraging villager initiatives to improve their own welfare and by making full use of family and community relationships.
Each village establishes an Association for Village Community Volunteers made up mainly of veteran cadres (similar to retired civil servants in other countries), senior party members, elder model workers, retired teachers, and former military personnel. This Association encourages village elders and women to play a leading role in village management and construction, which can be especially important if young male villagers have moved to cities for job opportunities.
Associations support development of public services such as mutual aid, environmental protection, dispute resolution, recreation activities, and information technology. They perform traditional functions in the villages and work to diversify channels for providing pubic services. They also play a supplementary role in encouraging villagers who have migrated to return from the cities to make contributions to their hometowns. Villagers often willingly engage in activities advocated by their Associations because members are senior villagers who enjoy high prestige and are concerned with improving public welfare. As a result, the program has extended government services to larger areas, thus dramatically reducing the workload of township governments.
The cost of Village Community Construction projects are kept very low by housing community centers in ancestral halls or unused rooms where recreational activities are usually held. This program has beautified village appearance, reduced civil disputes, enriched the cultural life of villagers, and fostered a community identity.
This initiative has assisted Jiangxi in meeting the targets established by the central government and offers a model for the rest of the country. As a result, in 2007 it received the "Prize for Democratic Management Innovation."
In the future the innovation can be further strengthened by:
- Expanding Village Community Construction to a larger area,
- Preventing government departments from interfering in the voluntary development of Village Community Volunteer Associations by assessing the "administrative" performance of Associations or by using Associations to perform functions assigned to them. Some government departments have interfered in the elections of associations and the "administrative" performance of the associations, and
- Restraining Associations from becoming economic organizations. After completing infrastructure construction in village communities, some have gradually shifted their focus to economic development. However, if the Associations are transformed into economic organizations, self-management is altered and new problems emerge.