Under the old model of village management, district- and county-level administrators of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) selected village team administrators from among prominent local Party members and activists. This type of administration could be divisive, fostering cynicism and indifference to the political process among community members not involved with Party politics. To encourage more citizen involvement in village administration, Zigui County officials in the government and the Party resolved to experiment.
On December 1, 2002, singling out Yanglinqiao Village as a model, Zigui County officials abolished the village team and reorganized Yanglinqiao by community. Yanglinqiao has two communities with their own individual councils. Each councilmember serves for one year and is selected by direct election.
These councils are entrusted with the autonomy to manage the affairs of their communities. Where, in the village team model, administrators acted on orders from higher levels of government, these rural community councils rely on villagers themselves, as their constituents, to make local decisions. Every villager has the right to attend council meetings, giving villagers the opportunity to supervise their elected officials and participate in local politics. By empowering local people to become involved in government, this new model of village organization allows village members to train to be members of the CCP, and to move up to the cadre level in their local CCP branches.
Following this model, Zigui County adapted its experiment in Yangliangqiao to other villages and towns. Currently, 779 communities have been set up in Zigui County. Data collected from 629 of these communities shows that, since emancipating the villages from direct top-down control, they have managed to raise nearly 1,500,000 yuan (approximately U.S. $199,449) in taxes. These funds have been reinvested in nearly 480,000 public works projects, and have been applied to maintaining over 1,000 kilometers of highway. Community councils have invested in drinking water and power supplies, and have initiated public art projects. By pooling funds to distribute welfare benefits throughout each community, the per capita income for villagers in Zigui county grew by 100 yuan in 2003 and by 200 yuan in 2004.
By giving Yangliangqiao’s villagers a more direct say in their affairs, innovators were able to empower them to manage their own internal community difficulties. Letters to district and county officials asking for help arbitrating between citizens and the village team dropped to 27 in 2004, one third of the number of complaint letters sent in 2002. Furthermore, the new reforms have improved relations between villagers and local cadres. By developing the autonomy of village politics from Party politics, villagers are now empowered to work with officials at the district level to achieve their own desired reforms. These reforms effectively defused much of the resentment generated by previous top-down models of rural administration, improving villager status in rural political life and encouraging self-motivated economic and political development.