On July 28, an election was held in a village near the city of Gaobeidian, Hebei Province. The election was for the offices of village chief, deputy village chief and village committee member. A preliminary election was held five days earlier, and 6 candidates were selected. Two days later, the election result was released. Mr. Yang won the election of village chief with 1,056 votes, 53 more than his opponent Mr. Wang. This is the fourth time that Mr. Yang has won the office of village chief.
HJ: Congratulations Mr. Yang! So many villagers have voted for you. You must have done a great job to earn their confidence and respect.
Yang: Thank you! I feel privileged to have the opportunity to serve my fellow villagers over the past nine years. I’ve learned a great deal in the process, and feel very fortunate that they trust me to lead them for another three years.
HJ: What traits and characteristics do you think are important for a good village chief?
Yang: A good village chief should be disciplined, morally upright and dedicated to the service of the villagers. I have worked really hard to ensure that everyone is treated fairly, address their needs and concerns with patience, and resist the temptation of bribes.
HJ: What are the responsibilities of a village chief? How many hours a week do you spend on your job as a village chief? Do you receive a salary from the government?
Yang: The responsibilities of a village chief include managing the building of private houses by villagers, protecting the farmland, and mediating disputes among villagers. I don’t keep track of the number of hours I work each week in my job as the village chief, but I do have an open door policy, where the door to my house is open from five in the morning to 11 at night everyday. Villagers can find me during this time at my home, and I try to help them with whatever problems they have. I do receive a salary. In my first term, it was around 200 yuan a month ($25); second term, it was 400 yuan. This time, I heard the amount was raised to 680 yuan. I also get reimbursed 50 yuan a month for phone bills, and 5 yuan a month for electricity usage.
HJ: What aspect of your job is particularly difficult?
Yang: The hard part is to help villagers understand the various government policies concerning the agricultural sector. There are many good policies from the central government, and I need to make sure that our villagers understand them.
HJ: Can you tell me a little bit of your past? What prompted you to run for office?
Yang: I was born in 1956. When I was five, my father passed away. With two younger sisters in the family, I learned to take responsibility very early. I entered elementary school in 1964, and was an excellent student. After finishing high school in 1974, there was no college entrance exam due to the Cultural Revolution. So I became a farmer. One year later, I was promoted to work as an accountant for our village. I did this until 1981, and then I continued my accounting career at the town’s brick factory for three years. After that, I saw others in our village start family textile businesses, and decided that we should give it a try ourselves. So I quit my accounting job, and began making jeans, and that’s what my family still does today.
I first ran for the office of village chief in 2003. Around that time, there were many factories being built around our village, leasing a lot of our land. The price they paid was 30,000 yuan/mou (1 mou = 667 square meter), a lot of money for that time. Some village officials took kickbacks and bribes during this process, and many villagers were angry. But nobody was bold enough to speak out, so I decided that I would. It turned out that villagers liked what I did, and voted me into office. I became the village chief in the September of that year.
HJ: That’s really amazing. How often are these elections held? What is the normal course of an election?
Yang: An election for the office of village chief is held every three years. The exact date can be different each time, and is determined by the town government. The process itself is fairly straightforward. Villagers can recommend anyone over the age of 18 to the town government to be a candidate for office. Then an election date is chosen. To win an election, one must receive more than half of the votes. For instance, this year, around two thousand people had voted, and I received 1,056 votes, which was enough to win. The election result is usually posted within two days of the election, but the town government needs to confirm and approve the results before the winner can take office.
HJ: Are elections for nearby villages held on the same date?
Yang: No. Each village has its own election date.
HJ: When was the first time that villagers got to vote to elect a village chief? I heard in the past, the office was appointed by the town government. BTW, are you a communist party member?
Yang: In the early years, village chief was appointed by the town government. But since 2000, our village began holding elections where villagers got to elect their own village chief, but the election result still has to be approved by the town government. And yes, I am a party member, and have been one shortly after I began working as the village accountant.
HJ: What are your thoughts on the election process?
Yang: It can be a tough and trying process. Some candidates try to bribe the villagers by taking them out to dinner and giving them gifts. They also promise all sort of grandiose projects that would improve villagers’ life. But I never did any of that, because I believe that villagers are smart enough to see through all the empty promises. They know which candidates are sincere and honest, and they vote for those who have their best interests in mind. In my nine years as the village chief, I have paved the road and negotiated favorable compensation packages for our villagers in land lease deals. I also released the accounting details of our office at the end of each year, sending each family in the village a book containing all our revenues and expenses, down to the penny. People can see for themselves how we manage the economic affairs of the village, and they can challenge any item that they consider inappropriate. Doing so gives us a lot of credibility, and villagers respect and trust us for this.
HJ: Besides your responsibilities as the village chief, do you still work on the farm?
Yang: No. Since 2000, our family’s land was leased to a local factory.
HJ: How’s your family doing these days? Do you have a large family?
Yang: My family is doing quite well. My son is married and has two children. He works in the family textile business. My daughter just graduated from medical school last year, and is working as a doctor in a nearby city.
HJ: That’s great. Are there a lot of factories nearby? Do people from the village participate in non-farming activities?
Yang: There are several clothing factories nearby. There is also a water treatment plant, a soft drink plant, and an automobile plant. Many of our villagers work in these factories.
HJ: How many people live in the village these days? Do young people still work on the farm?
Yang: There are approximately 2,400 people currently living in the village. Many young people find jobs in cities like Beijing and Tianjin, which are not far from us.
HJ: Does farming cover a family’s expenses? How much land does each person own?
Yang: Farming does not make much money at all. You have to pay for seeds and fertilizer; then rent the necessary machines for harvest. In our village, each person has less than a mou (667 square meters) of farm land, and income from farming is about 800 yuan ($120) per person per year, which is definitely not enough to live on. That’s why most families have some members work in the factories or engage in other business activities to make ends meet.
HJ: Switching subjects. Can you tell me a little about the one child policy and how it is implemented in your village?
Yang: Well, the government encourages one child per family. But in our area, if the first child is a girl, you can have another one three years later without having to pay any fines. Otherwise the fine is about 40,000 yuan ($6,300) per extra child, and the village collects the fine and passes it on to the city government.
HJ: Are there many families building new houses in the village? Is it very expensive to do so?
Yang: Yes, many families are building new houses, and normally it’s a two story house. The cost is around 100,000 yuan ($16,000).
HJ: How’s the education situation in the village? Do you have an elementary school, middle school or high school in the village?
Yang: We do have an elementary school in the village. There are two homerooms and sixty kids in each grade level. We do not have a middle school or high school in our village. Kids would need to go to the town or a nearby city for that. Most of our kids finish at least 9th grade, but only about 1% go on to college.
HJ: Thank you for taking the time to help me understand your village.
Yang: You are welcome. Visit us again when you have time.