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Columbia University

Publication Date

Fall 2004

Program Name

China: Yunnan Province - Language and Cultures


China’s ethnic and geographic diversity makes the task of examining the implementation of national policy nearly impossible. As more than 70% of the population lives outside urban areas, narrowing the field to rural governance does not whittle down the subject matter to any great degree. However, the vastness of the topic is precisely why it is so vital to developing a coherent understanding of the country – knowing how a majority of the Chinese population interacts with local government sheds a great deal of light on the status of political reform in China today.

Many of the problems plaguing Chinese rural governance have been around longer than the People’s Republic itself. Corrupt local officials, unfair taxes, the absence of the rule of law – all are issues that predate the communist party-state. However, for the past 20 years the central government has been attempting to institute what (if successful) could amount to a veritable revolution in the governance of China’s some 900,000 villages. The passage of both the 1987 and 1998 Organic Law of Village Committees gave villagers, on paper, a good amount of decision-making capability with regard to local matters. While a great deal of literature exists addressing the systems and procedures by which these committees are elected, scholars have devoted less attention to the day-to-day interactions the committee has with other actors in rural politics. Careful analysis of these interactions is needed to truly understand not only how village elections have changed rural governance, but also how they have not.

By looking at the institution of village elections, the difference between the legal and actual roles of various actors in rural politics, and the difficulties surrounding the issue of self-determination in a predominately Tibetan Administrative Village in Yunnan, the author hopes to illustrate that, despite making marked improvements to its systems of rural governance, China’s countryside remains a long way from developing the beginnings of a democratic political culture. In many cases, it seems that the elections themselves have done little to ameliorate many of the problems plaguing rural areas – much more is needed to truly empower China’s peasants.


Political Science | Politics and Social Change


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