Skip to content

The Struggling Chinese Village Elections

The following is the translation of a series of interviews Radio
Free Asia (RFA) conducted on the general election of village heads in

The following is the translation of a series of interviews Radio Free Asia (RFA) conducted on the general election of village heads in China. [1]
BEIJING — On November 4, 2008, the U. S. elected an African-American, Barack Obama, as the next President of the United State of America. Yet, in China, some of the websites were still discussing the issues related to the election of village heads, and the people sighed over the struggling village elections in China.

Guang Ming Daily, an official Chinese News website published an article Xu Xun-Lei titled, "The U.S. Presidential Election Versus the Election of Village heads in China." The author disclosed that in recent years, there have been a lot of issues with the election of village heads in China, including bribery, the Village Committee and the Village Party Branch of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) fighting for interests and power, and the lack of the judiciary playing its role that has caused corruption among village officials. The author quoted some of well-known experts within the Party, "Despite of existing issues, the direct election of the villages needs to be extended to the township level. In recent years, there are many people requesting that the general election of officials [be expanded] from the village to the township level, but the Central Government and many local government officials have opposed such requests." The author believes that this has been an obvious obstacle for moving one-step, or even half-a-step towards democracy. The general election of village heads in China was piloted in the mid-1990s [but] until now, it is still very hard to move forward. Cheng Xiao-Nong, the Editor-in-Chief of "Contemporary China Studies," a magazine in the U.S., has been working for the Chinese Reformation Committee. He is very familiar with the problems of Chinese farmers. He expressed that, in fact, the general election of village heads in China is deviated; it cannot be regarded, in a sense, as a genuine form of democratic election.

The CCP has used some clever ways to maintain its power; as a result, the Village Committee Organization Laws have been short-changed. In the end, they have gradually become the CCP’s former local appointed organizations who appoint officials for the villages; then, a fake voting system is used to pass the nomination. First, competition is not allowed; second, all candidates must be approved by the CCP beforehand. Therefore, the general election of village heads is much less meaningful; it has returned into the CCP’s local organization for appointing the village officials.

Mr. Cheng believes that the reason for the general elections of village officials running into difficulties is that the CCP does not want to give up its power in a "One-Party-Totalitarian System."

"The earlier elections of the villagers, generally, were relatively clean and normal. To the CCP, on the one hand, it was desirable to have the villagers’ general election form; however, it cannot allow the officials who are elected to be out of the control of the CCP. Therefore, along the way, the basic direction of the local governments has been to reinforce the leadership of the CCP, and there has been a gradual manipulation of the elections mainly through intervention from local CCP organizations.

Li Hong Kuan, the past Editor-in-Chief of a U.S.-based online magazine, "Big Reference," regards the general elections in Chinese villages as not comparable to general elections in democratic countries.

"They are incomparable because they are from systems of a different nature. In the United State, at the general elections, the Executive Head of a government is elected, but not the village heads. Frankly, in a village, the Village Secretary of the CCP, picks a running dog, or a gopher as the Village Head to carry out the CCP’s Central Birth Policy. It was like in World War II, the Japanese selecting a Committee Head to govern the villages by the same token. The Head of the Committee had no authority; the main power was in the hands of the Japanese. The real power over the land and the allocation of benefits belongs to the Village Branch Secretary of the CCP."

According to "the Village Committee Organization Law," the Village Heads are directly elected by the villagers expressed Cheng Xiao-Nong. Any organizations or individuals cannot appoint or replace [the village head]; however, local organizations of the CCP often intervene in the elections in the villages. In some areas, it happens all the time that the local governments appoint or replace the village heads. Cheng believes that the root of the culprit is "the One-Party-Totalitarian System," of the CCP that has caused difficulties for the general elections in the villages.

[1] Radio Free Asia, November 6, 2008,