Votes and hope

Vil­lagers flock to elect deputies in ru­ral ar­eas

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the writer at zhulixin@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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.

Ru­ral changes

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.

Pro­mot­ing devel­op­ment

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

PHO­TOS BY ZHU LIXIN / CHINA DAILY

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.

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