Hezhai, a village in northern Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, south China, used to be ridden by poverty and crime.
However, self-governance introduced to the village more than two decades ago has turned Hezhai, two and a half hour bus ride from Guilin, one of China's most popular tourism destinations, into an ideal town with a beautiful environment, prosperity and rule of law.
Hezhai Village, which falls under jurisdiction of Pingnan Township, Yizhou City, is home to 4,298 people, 95 percent of whom are of the ethnic Zhuang group. The main crops grown here are rice and maize.
Wei Huaneng, aged 57 and a villager of the ethnic Zhuang background, recalled that before self-rule was introduced in February 1980, the family contract responsibility system was practiced in Hezhai. Under the system, each household was allotted an area of arable land to plow. The family contract responsibility system has granted farmers greater autonomy in land use, production and management. In turn greatly liberalized productivity in the rural areas.
Lax administration in the rural areas in the wake of the fall of the people's communes in late 1970s resulted in worsened social order in Hezhai Village, which sits on the juncture of three different counties. Incidents of theft, gambling and illegal logging rose.
The per capita income of local farmers was 67 yuan (about 8.1 US dollars) in 1980, according to Wei.
To reverse the trend, representatives of 85 households with Guozuotun, one of the 12 settlement centers of Hezhai Village, held a congress in February 1980 and elected a villagers' committee to exercise management over affairs of the village.
"I thought I was capable of doing things, so I voted for myself. In the end, I got 85 votes in all and became leader of the villagers' committee," said Wei.
The villagers' affairs committee in Guozuotun was the first of its kind recorded in China. Villagers' affairs committees were later recognized by the revised constitution in December 1982 as a kind of legal organizations of self-rule in the country's rural areas, according to Professor Xu Yong with Central China Normal University.
In the past 25 years, residents of Hezhai Village have chosen seven rounds of leadership.
Wei Xiangsheng, 40 and the incumbent leader of the present villagers' affairs committee of Hezhai Village, said they rely on a quarterly meeting to discuss major village affairs. The committee publishes flyers to educate about the affairs of the village, seek opinions about certain matters and publicize feedback.
In tandem with democratic political construction, the committee has also set up a 12-member council to supervise village affairs and another 7-member collective economic auditing panel.
Thanks to the efforts, the remote Chinese mountainous village has been built into a place with infrastructure similar to an urban district. The town has public facilities such as a TV relay station, a primary school and a dorm for teachers, an activity center for the elderly, a hospice for childless old people are all available, plus large area of lawns and cement roads connecting to different settlement centers.
Meng Baoliang, 72, said openness and the growing democracy in the process of the self governance had led Hezhai Village to economic prosperity and low crime.
Hezhai was cited as a model village for self governance in 2003 by both Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, and by Hechi City which exercises jurisdiction over Hezhai. And per capita income of farmers in Hezhai Village was 2,432 yuan (about 293 US dollars) last year.
Professor Xu Yong with Central China Normal University described villagers' self rule as a great creation of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in leading Chinese farmers for modernizing the country.
"As a necessary product of China's rural economic reform, villagers' self rule is of great vitality," said the professor.
Information from the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs shows that by late 2004, there were 625,000 villagers' affairs committees across rural China, of which, 60 percent had adopted system such as villagers' congresses to improve transparency of administration of village affairs.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao also said in his work report delivered on March 5 at the third session of the 10th National People's Congress that it was necessary to further improve grass-roots democracy by enhancing ability of self-rule among villagers, implementing direct election at the village level and giving greater transparency in administration affairs at the village in the country's endeavor to build a harmonious society.