In 1987, the Chinese National People’s Congress passed a law calling for direct elections in the country’s rural villages, where 900 million people live. It instantly caught China observers’ attention. Some view the village elections as a sham to fool the world, since in fact the Communist Party is in complete control. Others see elections as a dramatic step forward on the road to democracy, hailing it as a “training ground for democratization.”
Yet, when a grass-roots cadre in a rural area of Sichuan Province, China, seized the opportunity and pushed for a general election for the key posts in Pingba Town, where he lived, the result was devastating. Instead of being promoted for his successful experiment, his boss delivered a dreadful blow to this fledgling political apprentice: “You’re fired.” What went wrong?