Village Democracy and Its Limits

  • Thomas P. Bernstein (Autor/in)


This article examines democratic elections and governance in rural China - a mixed bag of results. On the one hand, village elections have become a normal feature of grass-roots political life. Rural people expect to be able to elect their leaders and to replace them in the next round of elections, or in between, if they turn out to be corrupt or abusive. This constitutes a truly significant step forward in China's quest for a more accountable political system. On the other hand, however, there is good deal of evidence that this outcome applies only to a subset of villages. In other places, power holders, such as the townships and the village party branches, hold sway to a greater or lesser extent. In terms of governance, the goal of financial transparency, a matter of great concern to ordinary villagers, is often not fully attained. Most importantly, village democracy functions within an authoritarian environment which greatly limits its impact.