Votes and hope
Villagers flock to elect deputies in rural areas
Yang Yubing and four other candidates for election to the local county and township’s people’s congresses in Xiaogang village, Fengyang county, Anhui province, sat at the front of a meeting room, preparing to deliver their speeches and answer questions from residents, who sat opposite the candidates and an invigilator.
The meeting was held on Dec 24 in the village in the eastern province, the day before the election for deputies.
To the right of Yang was Yin Yurong, a local woman who owns a hog farm. She seemed quite nervous and paused twice during her speech, which consisted of just a couple of sentences.
Two of the three candidates standing for the county congress would be elected as deputies, while three of four candidates would be elected to the township congress in Xiaoxihe, with which Xiaogang is affiliated.
While the other candidates were nominated by the township’s Party committee, Yang was nominated by 10 voters. Each candidate’s speech was limited to five minutes and they were not allowed to comment on their rivals.
“If I am elected as a deputy to the township congress, I will strive to win more support from the government for our agricultural sector,” Yang said.
“I will help to train more villagers to breed hogs,” said the 37-year-old Yin, who makes annual net income of more than 300,000 yuan ($43,500) from her business.
Although the speeches were short, the meeting was lengthy as the villagers fired question after question at the candidates.
Birthplace of reform
Xiaogang holds a special place in the history of Chinese agriculture. The village is famous as the birthplace of rural reform, which was a milestone in the country’s overall reform and opening-up policy.
In December 1978, after the collectivized farming policy had been in force nationwide for about 20 years, 18 farmers in Xiaogang secretly signed an agreement to subdivide their common farmland into family plots in the hope of increasing crop yields.
The following year, Xiaogang recorded a dramatic increase in grain production, and was later hailed by the central government as a model for villages across the country.
During a visit to the village in April, President Xi Jinping urged CPC officials at all levels to make greater efforts to help farmers solve problems, raise incomes and maintain rural stability.
Xi’s message was well received by the local people, who, despite the fame their village has garnered, have never been wealthy.
“Although Xiaogang is probably the most famous village in the country, it is absolutely not the richest,” said 73-year-old Yan Hongchang, one of the farmers who signed the secret agreement in 1978.
“What measures will you take to raise villagers’ incomes?” he asked Yin Xingchang, head of Xiaoxihe township, who was standing as a candidate for both the county and township congresses.
Every major CPC official in the township is responsible for the overall administration of a village, and Xiaogang falls under Yin’s jurisdiction.
“In recent decades, Xiaogang has been given a lot of support, especially in terms of infrastructure, so the infrastructure here is even better than in many urban areas, although the incomes of many villagers are still not as high as expected,” Yin Xingchang said.
Official hukou, or household registration, data show that Xiaogang village was home to 1,047 households and more than 4,100 residents in 2015.
The average annual per capita income was 14,700 yuan ($2,120), more than 3,000 yuan higher than the year’s national average for rural resi- dents, but 54 villagers were still living below the poverty line.
Since 2009, Yang Yubing, a Xiaogang native, has rented more than 300 mu (200,000 square meters) of land from other villagers for the cultivation of rice, wheat, soy beans and vegetables.
The number of villagers engaged in agriculture has fallen significantly in recent years, though, because more than 8,000 mu of land has been transferred to agricultural companies and large-scale, modern farms. Every year, the tenants pay the villagers 600 to 800 yuan in rent for each mu of land they use.
While the extra money has been helpful, the development means that there are not enough jobs in the village, so almost half of the population has moved away to large cities in search of work.
“The village has more than 2,000 (registered) adult laborers, but nearly half of them left to become migrant workers in cities”, said Zhao Ling, who hails from a neighboring village but has worked as a cadre in Xiaogang since he graduated from college in 2008.
Yin Xingchang said more needs to be done to provide work for local people. “More businesses should be attracted to the village and more jobs should be created for the residents,” he said, adding that the development of tourism could be an effective way of raising local incomes.
On Dec 25, voters flocked to the headquarters of the villagers’ committee.
When the results were announced later the same day, Xiaoxihe’s Party chief Yin Xingchang was elected to both the township and county congresses, and Yin Yurong, the hog farmer, became a deputy at the township congress.
“I believe the deputies will play increasingly important roles in promoting the development of our village,” said Ma Cheng, who works as a driver in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu province, but had returned to Xiaogang to cast his vote.
Those who failed to return were allowed to authorize a third party to vote on their behalf, and each trustee was allowed to cast votes for three people at most, according to the law.
The villagers said they have benefited from the deputies’ work in recent years, such as proposals they put forward that led to the construction of a drinking water network and a number of roads.
Zhao, the young village cadre, has being acting as a deputy to the township congress since 2011. In addition to explaining the villagers’ wishes to the authorities, Zhao said deputies could do more, such as promoting favorable policies for rural development among the villagers, most of them poorly educated, to help them better make use of the support available.
In 2015, the Fengyang county congress ruled that county and township deputies must present annual reports about their work to voters in their electoral districts.
“Voters have a right to know if the deputies they elected are as qualified to undertake their duties as they should be,” said Liu Jian, director of the standing committee of the Fengyang people’s congress.
According to Zhao, the congressional deputies can promote change and development, which is the only way to win the respect of the local people.
“You must bring the villagers real benefits before you can win their praise,” he said.
I believe the deputies will play increasingly important roles in promoting the development of our village.” Ma Cheng, a driver in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu province, who returned to his home village of Xiaogang, Anhui province, to cast his vote for local congress deputies
Residents flock to the headquarters of the villagers’ committee in Xiaogang village, Anhui province, on Dec 25, and prepare to vote for deputies to the local congress.
An elderly villager listens to an introductory address about the candidates standing for election to the county and township's people's congresses in Xiaogang.
A villager casts his vote at the headquarters of the Xiaogang villagers' committee.