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Thursday, September 27, 2001, updated at 21:50(GMT+8)

Village Autonomy Changes Farmers' Life in Anhui

Forty-five-year-old Li Xiaomao was elected head of his village in 1999, when the democratic election of village leaders was first introduced to China's rural areas.

Li is confident the villagers will continue to support him in the next election, scheduled for the beginning of next year.

"We all had a say in the election," said 78-year old Fu Dengke. "The most trustworthy person is elected, and he has done a good job."

Phoenix Village in east China's Anhui Province was once very poor. The per capita annual income of its 1,600 villagers was less than 110 U.S. dollars.

With more autonomy in place, the village has reported rapid growth in agricultural and industrial production. More enterprises have been set up, and the annual industrial output has exceeded 4. 2 million U.S. dollars. Today, most villagers are well off.

A Chinese proverb says that the head of a group is responsible for all decisions that affect the members.

However, the village-committee law, enacted in 1998, aims to safeguard the decision-making rights of Chinese villagers. It rules that elections of village leaders should be carried out by secret ballot, with choices made in a free and transparent manner.

Some officials were once baffled by the concept of village autonomy and the democratic election of village leaders.

The farmers, some of whom are illiterate, would not be able to exercise their democratic rights properly, the officials said. Facts have proved them wrong.

Democratic elections have been successful in 99 percent of the villages in Anhui, said Zhang Chunsheng, deputy-director of the local legislative body, the standing committee of the Anhui Provincial People's Congress.

Anhui was the cradle of rural reforms in China's history, and its people have hailed village autonomy, a new wave of rural reform.

Some 90 percent of the farmers voted in 1999's elections and representatives have been chosen in most villages to supervise the village committee's work, including its administrative spending, Zhang said.

"All the village committee's plans are submitted for discussion among the farmers' representatives, who are responsible for conveying the villagers' ideas and voting for or against the committee's decision," said Hua Xinsheng, head of a village in Shucheng county.

"In the past, we had to do whatever we were told by the village leaders," said a farmer. "Village autonomy has brought about democracy, which safeguards our rights while we perform duties."

According to Hua, a code of conduct has been agreed upon among the villagers. The code booklets, distributed to every household, urge the villagers to abide by law, be friendly and united, promote good manners and maintain public order.

"Village autonomy is a revolution," said a local lawmaker, "as grassroots democracy marks the beginning of all-round democracy in China."

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Forty-five-year-old Li Xiaomao was elected head of his village in 1999, when the democratic election of village leaders was first introduced to China's rural areas.

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