Insight: China grassroots democracy challenge awaits new leaders

XIAOSHAN/WUKAN, China Sun Oct 28, 2012 8:59pm EDT

China's Vice President Xi Jinping attends a meeting at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing, in this file photo taken August 29, 2012.REUTERS/How Hwee Young/Pool/Files

China's Vice President Xi Jinping attends a meeting at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing, in this file photo taken August 29, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/How Hwee Young/Pool/Files

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XIAOSHAN/WUKAN, China (Reuters) - Hua Youjuan is an unlikely Chinese official.

Free-spirited but driven, she left her village at age 17, got a degree in marketing, and opened a string of businesses in nearby cities in eastern China before settling in the coastal boomtown of Ningbo, 160 km (100 miles) from home.

She never looked back - until she got a phone call two years ago that set off a chain of events that would turn her into an anti-corruption campaigner, then the elected head of her village and, finally, into a disillusioned witness to the ruling Communist Party's attempts at limited grassroots democracy.

Her story, as she tells it, ends with a party unwilling to yield power and with her campaign losing momentum - a tale that reveals one of the most challenging riddles facing China's incoming new leadership team: how can the party shore up its waning legitimacy without loosening its grip on power?

So far, an answer has been elusive.

Critics say political reform stalled as the current leadership focused on delivering economic growth. Rumors have circulated ahead of the once-in-a-decade transition that leader-to-be Xi Jinping and his colleagues may be willing to push through much needed reforms - but it is far from clear.

Large-scale protests have increased in China, reflecting anger over corruption and the lack of government accountability and transparency - the kind of unrest that experiments in grassroots democracy, like the one Hua Youjuan participated in, were meant to help short-circuit.

Instead, Hua said democracy in her home village of Huangshan, in eastern Zhejiang province, was never allowed to fully succeed, thwarted by senior party officials who she accused of resisting her campaign to root out corruption.

"If real reform comes, then I don't mind staying where I came from, but if things continue like this I just don't see hope," she told Reuters.

Hua's frustrations are shared in other villages that have been to the ballot box, including China's most famous testing ground for greater democracy, the southern fishing village of Wukan where a violent standoff over government land seizures led last year to the sacking of local leaders and elections.

On the first anniversary of the Wukan uprising in September, more than 100 villagers rallied outside Wukan's party offices to protest against what they saw as slow progress by their newly elected village committee to return seized land. Some critics say the committee was outmaneuvered by higher party officials.

China has experimented with limited democracy since the 1980s, holding nationwide village chief elections and giving people a voice in low-level government budgeting in some locales.

But China experts say most of these efforts have fizzled because of opposition from within the Communist Party, and that mass protests are still frequent. Some experts such as Sun Liping of Tsinghua University estimate there could have been 180,000 mass protests and riots in China in 2010.

"Most people I know and meet know change is going to happen, but I don't think anybody knows what kind of change and I don't think anybody really knows how to initiate change," said Tony Saich, a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

"You can only push a ball down the road so long before it runs out of control."


In October 2010, the ball ran out of control in Huangshan village, a suburban warren of houses and small factories on the south side of the city of Hangzhou.

Convinced their local party boss was getting rich through corrupt means, residents launched a sit-in to block a construction project he was involved in.

Hua, living in Ningbo, did not even know it was happening, but her father joined the movement, collecting donations from the village's 6,000 residents to keep the protest going.

A friend of Hua's with close ties to the local government called her and asked her to return to Huangshan to plead with her dad to quit. She did so in early November, but her father refused and the movement gained momentum.

"He said, 'Telling me to stop is worse than telling me to go and die at this point'," she recounted.

Police increased the pressure, summoning Hua and warning that her father could get into trouble if he did not stop.

That turned out to be the wrong tack with the 36-year-old who has a soft smile but a hard head.

She demanded to know what law his actions violated, and then left uncowed. She then became part of the villagers' movement, suggesting they step up their protest by trying to impeach the party chief from his role as head of the village economic cooperative. They began collecting signatures.

On November 10 officials from the district that oversees Huangshan village came to negotiate, but the villagers blocked their exit for several hours. Police were called to get them out, Hua said.

The next day, villagers, officials and police scuffled over the village financial books, which were to be collected by investigators for a probe into the party chief. Hua was summoned by police for questioning. Thousands of villagers gathered outside the police station to demand her release, Hua said.

She was finally freed around midday the next day and given a hero's welcome replete with flowers. "From that day the villagers started to know who I was," she said.

By the end of November, the tension seemed to have peaked. The party chief stepped down and was subsequently put under house arrest, according to Hua.


With the new year came hope as the wheels of village democracy began to turn.

First, the party selected leaders for the village party branch, a body that technically parallels the village committee but in reality holds more power, through a new and relatively open mechanism. Villagers were allowed to nominate candidates, and the party would then pick a leader from among the top five.

The process, called "open nomination, direct election", was part of the party's latest nationwide attempt to infuse public affairs with a degree of accountability.

Party leaders have directly dismissed the possibility of China adopting "Western-style", multi-party democracy, but the concept of "intra-party democracy" - more openness and competition behind the red wall of the 80 million-strong party - has gained traction and there appears to be consensus behind it.

Li Yuanchao, who is expected to join China's top leaders in the Politburo Standing Committee at the 18th Party Congress in November, championed "open nomination, direct election" when he ran Jiangsu province from 2002-2007.

China watchers say the concept of intra-party democracy is likely to get a boost at next month's congress - where China's new leadership team will be unveiled - but critics say this misses the point.

While village elections are enshrined legally in China, fair votes free of behind-the-scenes meddling are relatively rare.

In Huangshan, Hua was elected village chief in April 2011 despite eligibility rules she said were an attempt to prevent rebellious villagers from standing.

The old party and village bosses were out, but Hua soon found she could not work with the new party chief, who outranked her in China's hierarchy of officials, and who she said was favored by party officials at higher levels.

In July, the villagers started to organize again to petition the Hangzhou government and party officials called Hua to step in. Instead, she turned off her phone and ignored them.

The response was swift. Thirteen people were arrested, 10 of whom, including Hua's father and brother, were brought up on criminal charges for previous actions, she said.

Multiple phone calls to the party office of Wenyan township, one level above Huangshan, to seek comment for this article went unanswered. The Xiaoshan district party office, above Wenyan, had no immediate comment on the situation in Huangshan when contacted by phone.


A day after Lunar New Year this year, Hua went to the village of Wukan in southern Guangdong province where an uprising against illegal land sales had resulted in concessions being granted by the province's high-flying leader, Wang Yang.

She said she went on a whim, feeling lonely with her brother and father still in detention with no court date yet set, and hoped to learn something from the Wukan experience.

For Hua and others, Wukan symbolized the possibility of rural activism in China and opened a path toward more democratic, equitable and transparent village governance.

In Wukan, decades of strong-arm rule by its former village party secretary, Xue Chang, had resulted in widespread abuses of power. Villagers felt powerless, unable to choose their own village chief or village committee representatives.

In September last year, these tensions boiled over into a protest movement which led to village elections in March.

Villagers flocked to vote. The poll also drew plaudits for using secret ballot boxes and open nominations and it resulted in the new village committee being largely comprised of former protest leaders.

But even in Wukan the new officials have had a tough time achieving their goals - partly, some say, for the same reason Hua is frustrated: higher-ranking party officials are opposed.

Zhuang Liehong, a core village committee member and advocate of improved grassroots democracy and governance, quit recently in frustration at the limited progress in negotiating the return of seized land from uncooperative higher authorities.

"If after the 18th party congress there isn't further progress in getting back our land, more will quit," said Zhang Jiancheng, another democratically elected member of the new Wukan village administration.

Pressure is building around China, said Minxin Pei of Claremont McKenna College in California.

"That's a political reality we cannot ignore," he said, adding China's new leaders must push through reforms or pay a high price.

"If they don't push, where they end up is lots and lots of Wukans, lots and lots of Shifangs and Qidongs," he said, citing other places where large violent protests have erupted recently.

Hua, who Reuters first met in Wukan, said she was worried things in her village could back-slide if she did not run again when her term ends in 2014.

"If I can do this and feel like there are results then it's something I want to do," she said. "But if, for instance, another term is going to be like this, without being able to change anything, then I don't want to do it."

(This story has been refiled to correct dateline to Xiaoshan, from Xiangshan)

(Editing by Mark Bendeich and Dean Yates)

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Comments (5)
DeanMJackson wrote:
The article reads, “She never looked back – until she got a phone call two years ago that set off a chain of events that would turn her into an anti-corruption campaigner, then the elected head of her village and, finally, into a disillusioned witness to the ruling Communist Party’s attempts at limited grassroots democracy.”

Since the Communist government in Beijing has millions of agents reporting back to Beijing on every aspect of life in urban and rural China, persons such as Hua Youjuan work for the Beijing government to fulfill the next major disinformation operation within the “Long-Range Policy”, the “new” strategy all Communist nations signed onto in 1960 as the only means by which the West could plausibly be defeated (never heard of the “Long-Range Policy”? Ask yourself, why not?):

“Since at least the early 1970s, the Communist party of China has been poised to create a spectacular but controlled “democratization” at any appropriate time. The party had by then spent two decades consolidating its power, building a network of informants and agents that permeate every aspect of Chinese life, both in the cities and in the countryside. Government control is now so complete that it will not be seriously disturbed by free speech and democratic elections; power can now be exerted through the all-pervasive but largely invisible infrastructure of control. A transition to an apparently new system, using dialectical tactics, is now starting to occur.”

One has to wonder about the IQ levels of those the Chinese Communist Party has aimed this news at? Not too high. At any rate, one-party Communist rule in China will remain firmly in-place after the fraudulent collapse of the Chinese Communist government in several years or so.

You see, a dictatorship that has millions of agents reporting back on every aspect of life in China gets to create events it can control, and thanks to Western business interests Beijing would get away with the ruse, but won’t thanks to Dean Michael Jackson.

In order to understand the World Communist threat to our liberties, one must understand Communist strategy:

“Lenin advised the Communists that they must be prepared to “resort to all sorts of stratagems, maneuvers, illegal methods, evasions and subterfuge” to achieve their objectives. This advice was given on the eve of his reintroduction of limited capitalism in Russia, in his work Left Wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder.

… Another speech of Lenin’s … in July 1921 is again highly relevant to understanding “perestroika.” “Our only strategy at present,” wrote Lenin, “is to become stronger and, therefore, wiser, more reasonable, more opportunistic. The more opportunistic, the sooner will you again assemble the masses round you. When we have won over the masses by our reasonable approach, we shall then apply offensive tactics in the strictest sense of the word.”

If you examine the backgrounds of prominent Russian figures, you will find that they have long Communist Party/ KGB or Komsomol pedigrees. Yet for some inexplicable reason, the Western media have accepted their sudden, orchestrated, mass “conversion” to Western-style norms of behavior, their endless talk of “democracy,” and their acceptance of “capitalism,” as genuine. “Scratch these new, instant Soviet “democrats,” “anti-Communists,” and “nationalists” who have sprouted out of nowhere, and underneath will be found secret Party members or KGB agents,” Golitsyn writes on page 123 of his new book [The Perestroika Deception]. In accepting at face value the “transformation” of these Leninist revolutionary Communists into “instant democrats,” the West automatically accepts as genuine the false “Break with the Past” — the single lie upon which the entire deception is based.

In short, the “former” Soviet Union — and the East European countries as well — are all run by people who are steeped in the dialectical modus operandi of Lenin. Without exception, they are all active Leninist revolutionaries, working collectively towards the establishment of a world Communist government, which, by definition, will be a world dictatorship.

It is difficult for the West to understand the Leninist Hegelian dialectical method — the creation of competing or successive opposites in order to achieve an intended outcome. Equally difficult for us to comprehend is the fact that these Leninist revolutionaries plan their strategies over decades and generations. This extraordinary behavior is naturally alien to Western politicians, who can see no further than the next election. Western politicians usually react to events. Leninist revolutionaries create events, in order to control reactions to them and manipulate their outcomes.” — William F Jasper, Senior Editor for The New American magazine.

You ask, what does Jasper mean when he says, “Leninist Hegelian dialectical method — the creation of competing or successive opposites in order to achieve an intended outcome”?

Simply explained, and on a tactical level, it’s called the “Scissors Strategy”, where one blade represents (for example) Putin & Company, however the other blade of the scissors–the leadership of the political “opposition” to Putin & Company–is actually controlled by Putin & Company*, which leaves the genuine opposition in the middle wondering why political change isn’t taking place. Understand this simple strategy?

On a strategic level, back in the 1960s the USSR and China played the “Scissors Strategy”, by pretending to be enemies. This strategy allowed one side to play off against the other with the West, thereby gaining political advantages from the West, which neither Communist giant could have achieved if it was believed they were united. Clever, huh?

Keep Jasper’s words in mind.

Oct 28, 2012 12:17am EDT  --  Report as abuse
ChicagoFats wrote:
No one has yet proven Lord Acton wrong.

The description of the political setup that so frustrates Hua reminds me of the political system in Chicago. The party chooses who runs and there is almost never any real or even pretend challenge from the other parties (I’m including the Green Party as a real political entity here). It take years to get the really bad actors out of the system here because it’s more important to have a Democrat in office than to have that office served well. Generally we have to rely on either the State’s Attorney or the FBI to get the dirt on these guys and get them out. And the good ones are often mostly rubber stamps for the city administration.

It will probably take quite a bit of violence to effect real reform in China, just as it took two violent wars to on this continent to put in place the system of government we now have. I wish Hua and her fellow revolutionaries all the best, but I’m afraid I’m a little too old to expect to see the kind of change she’s working for.

Oct 28, 2012 12:42am EDT  --  Report as abuse
WJL wrote:
Of course there are abuse of power problems in China with local officials just like in any other country. At least when it comes to the attention of the central or federal minsters, investigations are held and guilty officials are sacked, demoted or jailed. For grand larceny there is even the ultimate deterrent, the death sentence.

How about the situation in other nations? Ever seen a poor congressman, anyone?

Oct 29, 2012 5:44am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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