To foster autonomy and efficiency in village government in Hebei Province, administrators selected Qingxian County for implementation of a new model of local administration called the "Village Governance Model of Qingxian County." The purpose of this model was to unify local administration, to empower villagers to take part in politics, and to establish a Village Representative Assembly in the countryside.
This Village Governance Model required the establishment of a three-committee system made up of one representative body (the Village Representative Assembly) and two appointed bodies (the Village Party Committee and the Village Committee, the smallest organ of the national government). An advantage of the model was to invest final decision-making power in the newly formed Village Representative Assembly that can arbitrate between the two non-elected offices of the Village Party Committee and the Village Committee. The charter for this project strictly delineates the responsibilities of each group thus investing village government with a system of checks and balances and defusing potential power struggles between the two non-elected groups.
The Village Representative Assembly for each locale in Qingxian County depends on direct election for its membership. Every five to fifteen households choose one representative. To prevent conflicts of interest, the director of the Village Committee must not serve as the president of the Village Representative Assembly; by contrast, the secretary of the Village Party branch is positively encouraged to run for office in the Village Representative Committee. If he fails to be elected, he is expected to resign his post as Party Secretary immediately, on the assumption that he has lost the approval of the villagers. This measure introduces a degree of democracy to the selection of local Party leadership.
Generally, the Village Representative Assembly convenes once a month, but it can also meet at any time if more than one-third of its representatives request a meeting, or if a matter of urgent importance arises. Any resolution proposed by a representative is only ratified when more than two-thirds of the village representatives approve it.
By clearly placing the Village Committee and the Village Party branch under the authority of the Village Representative Assembly, these elected representatives have the opportunity to develop good relationships with both government and Party hierarchy. The model is fundamentally cooperative: while the Assembly acts as a check to the authority of the other two offices, it must also meet regularly to consult with the Village Committee while conducting its own procedures. The Assembly’s formation clearly addresses the problem of inadequate villager participation in local governance. The insertion of community members into the process of governance also increases the transparency of local decision-making processes, opening government workings to public scrutiny.
Through the introduction of citizen supervision over the Party and Village Committees, the Model also acts as a check to corruption by making village cadres accountable to their constituents. The introduction of the secretary of the Party branch committee to the Village Representative Assembly prevents direct conflict between the Party and the assembly; it also exposes ordinary citizens to Party hierarchy and procedures. In addition to on-the-job training, the initiative gives some formal education to individual community members in politics: Qingxian County has established a countryside training system for representatives in order to standardize how village governance is conducted.
The implementation of this project has had a tremendous impact on the grassroots administration of local government in Qingxian County. The regular friction between the Village Committee and the Village Party Branch has been minimized, raising the efficiency of both. One year after the new model’s introduction, surveyed residents of 154 villages out of the total of 345 in Qingxian County said that their villages were functioning better than they had the previous year, while an additional 155 operate “well.” The program has improved relations between local Party members and the community: out of Qingxian’s 345 villages, 294 Village Representative Committees are successfully headed by their Village Party Secretaries who are chosen freely in direct democratic elections. A total of 2,244 Party members have been elected as village representatives, accounting for 34.8% of the total number of representatives. The introduction of the Village Representative Committeee has also mobilized the public to participate in rural development programs: in 2004, 183 villages built 396.4 kilometers of paved road, an increase of 4 or 5 times over previous years.