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Basic Strategies for the Development of Grassroots Democracy


Zhao Shukai, Development Research Center of the State Council

One of the major characteristics relating to grassroots democracy is direct election and direct participation. The flourishing development of grassroots democracy is an important reflex of political civilization with Chinese characteristics. Over the past few years, some local governments have made positive breakthroughs by expanding and deepening democratic participation, which has drawn wide social concern. These breakthroughs involve the construction of self-governance organizations, development of non-government organizations, relations between village-level Party organizations and self-governance organizations, relations between township governments and village-level organizations, the election of leaders in Party and government township institutions, and the setup and management of township institutions. Paying close heed to and carefully coping with grassroots experience is very significant to the development of China’s grassroots democracy. To allow and encourage grassroots to make pilot practice and breakthroughs in a positive manner should become a basic principle to develop Chinese grassroots democracy. The initial breakthrough of grassroots democracy is the direct election of township heads, namely the scope of direct election of township Party secretaries is expanding. In terms of democratic management, grassroots NPCs (National People’s Congress) have gradually enhanced supervision on key affairs such as public budgeting. In terms of related mechanism, these grassroots breakthroughs are primarily initiated locally, i.e. they are orchestrated and directly organized by local Party and government institutions, and some even proceed without the upper-level governments’ approval. In terms of research findings, such breakthroughs are a result of, first, the conflicts in face of local governments under specific circumstances and, second, the political wisdom and reform concept of local leaders. In terms of historical development, the real start of the construction of China’s grassroots democratic politics is based on grassroots pilot practices. Grassroots democracy featured by direct election is somewhat unexpected from the time it came into being. During the development of grassroots democracy, grassroots experience is important in two aspects. 1. Grassroots experience is a basic pathway to solving problems. 2. Grassroots experience is a key means for reducing reform risks. Hence, grassroots breakthroughs and innovations should be viewed with the following approaches. On the one hand, grassroots governments should face properly various problems and the strong desire for reform, put aside specific arguments, and think about the bigger picture. On the other hand, efforts should be made to prevent China’s political situation from developing out of tune, regulate and guide such practices and breakthroughs, and keep them within a controllable range rather than letting them go by themselves. In the development of grassroots democracy, careful attention should be paid to grassroots experience. Several principles should be observed in tackling grassroots breakthroughs. 1. Grassroots breakthroughs should be neither rashly negated and even straightly strangled nor readily approved and even set as examples and widely promoted. 2. Local governments should summarize the experience after thorough investigation, and make joint survey with local officials and help them to make finding reports. 3. Local governments should carry out positive pilot practice and steady implementation. Viewing from the actual process of current grassroots democracy, some problems still exist. For one thing, grassroots governments’ zeal for making breakthroughs is great and various innovative breakthroughs have been achieved. For another thing, viewing from Party and government departments, summaries and researches are far from adequate. As with other fields of social development, the development of grassroots democracy are designed and adjusted within the large factory of society. Various social forces and organizations are involved in the designing and adjusting of such a project. In this process, grassroots governments should be allowed to have a flexible room for self-management, tackle issues and revise their decisions according to their own will and in light of local conditions as long as their actions conform to the general orientation and principles. It is believed that in the course of pilot practice and trials made by various sides, China will form its own successful model of grassroots democracy.

Basic Strategies for the Development of Grassroots Democracy