Grassroots democracy in action in Chengdu

Tian Jingyu, 69, used to be a police officer, but he’s been busier after retirement.

His home is in the Beiyuan neighborhood of Chengdu, capital of southwest China’s Sichuan Province.

He is busy because he leads a five-member council that discusses issues of importance to the neighborhood.

“Things can be small or big. From sewerage to fences, from roads to garbage centers, we respond to matters of collective importance,” Tian said.

Before the council was set up, such matters were managed by the Jinyang community, where the decision process was top-down and mandatory.

“Setting up resident councils at each neighborhood is a practice of grassroots democracy, letting the people decide,” said Li Hanrong, Party chief of Jinyang.

Chengdu started to experiment with the council system in 2003. By 2012, councils had been established in 4,338 communities and villages across the city.

“Democracy brings changes to the people. It has got people moving on their feet rather than sitting on a bench and waiting,” Li said.

Since the 18th National Congress in 2012, China has strived to build a grassroots governance system, led by local governments and participated in by the public.

Delegating government power to responsible and committed people like Tian is a solution adopted by many Chinese cities to address the increasingly complex desires of the public.

At a meeting in early September, Chengdu set up a community governance committee at city level to make sure the council system was working.

As the councillors exercise autonomy, a supervisory board supervises them.

“Listen to the people, let them vote, and allow public opinion to be fully expressed, not after but before government decisions, even if it is about very trivial things like whether a room should be used as a food store or a barber’s shop,” said Wang Yukai, a professor with the Chinese Academy of Governance.

Tian receives no wages for his work, though he does get a hundred yuan or so (US$15) every month to cover his phone expenses. “I’m more than happy to do my job. It is my responsibility as well as my right,” Tian said.

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