Problems and Purpose
The Guangming Village case involves groups that hold the traditional view that the village no longer looks after these married-out women as their husbands should look after their welfare, and the married-out women’s group that demands an equal share of village wealth. Although the deliberative experimental forum is held under an authoritarian system, the government’s public policy making is not simply a contest between the officials and people, but is the result of the contestation of many interest groups. The Guangming Village local government set up a platform for public deliberation and took a neutral position in order to ensure fairness. Local deliberative democracy is not only political communication between the government and the people, but is also deliberation between different groups in society with different interests. This is an important reason why local deliberative democracy can develop in China.
Background History and Context
In the 1990s, following household registration reforms, it became no longer necessary for a married woman to take on her husband’s registered place of residence and their children could choose to be registered at either their father’s or mother’s hometown residency. This resulted in many ‘married-out women’ and their children retaining their previous village of residency after marriage, with some even choosing to stay in their original village and in doing so receive a share of the collective benefits there, or maintain family connections, friends and jobs etc.
Married-out women often use petitioning methods to make appeals when they do not receive shared economic benefits, which they argue they are entitled to according to the constitution. In this case, on 20 September 2007 more than 40 villagers petitioned the local government, presenting a signed document ‘on the requirement of enjoying the allocation of villagers’ collective economic benefits.’ The married-out women then continuously petitioned higher levels, including twice to Guangzhou and even to Beijing. The allocation of economic benefits to married-out women became a sensitive social issue and a challenge to local economic development and social transformation.
Villages in Huizhou carried out a great deal of negotiation work and raised many suggestions, but the benefit-sharing problem could not be fundamentally resolved. As early as September 2007, the Dayawan Stability Maintenance Centre held mediations for 30 married-out women, issued relevant legal regulations for the village and encouraged the village to hold a village conference to discuss the problem. However, there was no resolution as most villagers continued to oppose married-out women being able to access collective economic benefits.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Guangming Village local government.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
From the 230 total residents, all those over the age of 18 (143 people) were chosen to participate. This ensured that every citizen with voting rights had an opportunity to express their views and exercise their rights.
Methods and Tools Used
Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction
- Firstly, before deliberation, briefing materials were provided by the case designer to participants, to allow them to fully understand the differences of opinion and the reasoning behind the issues that would be deliberated.
- Secondly, using the method of small and large group discussions, participants were divided into 10 groups. Small group discussions first allowed everyone to express their opinion then discussion took place in the large group.
- Thirdly, to preserve the fairness of the democratic deliberative talks, graduate students from Shenzhen University were trained to facilitate the small group discussions. The facilitators did not take sides and had no direct interests that coincided with those of the villagers.
- Fourthly, participants filled out a survey questionnaire before and after deliberation, so that the comparison between the two could demonstrate the influence of the deliberation on the participants’ thinking.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The villagers discussed many different proposals for solving the benefits-sharing problem: one-off compensation, namely a one-time payment given to married-out women; equal distribution, following the national constitution’s rules on gender equality and the law on women’s rights; proportional division, where the appropriate proportion was determined according to the farming responsibility at the time of land requisition, or according to the population, or according to the contribution.
After a day of discussions, the villagers’ thinking had clearly changed. Before the discussions, the villagers’ approval of equal distribution was very low, and they believed the issue to be unimportant. However, after discussion, the mean level of importance attributed to this issue increased from 0.66 before the discussions, to 3.95 afterwards (using a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 meaning the least important and 10 the most important). The villagers’ attitude toward the importance of equal distribution greatly increased, but the average remained below the mid-point of 5. The one-off payment proposal received substantial support, both before and after deliberation, with an average of above 5. Guangming Village eventually chose a one-off provision of a one hundred square metre house (worth approximately 500,000 Yuan). This solution clearly reflects public opinion.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
1. The value and limits of deliberative polling
Open discussion, transparency, and no behind-the-scenes activity helped create a strong sense of fairness. In particular, the platform the government set up created public trust, and the great deal of energy it applied showed that it took the problem seriously. However, this experiment shows that to cultivate deliberative citizenship, a one-off large-scale democratic deliberative polling is not enough. Democratic deliberations must be repeated regularly and informally. In this case, the village cadres held informal discussions more than 10 times. The importance of this should not be underestimated. Moreover, the village cadres gave more time for each individual to reflect the root of the problem and urged each individual to engage in internal dialogue so as to achieve a better understanding of the perspectives of another; this is what Robert Goodin (2003, 169-93) calls the ‘internal-reflective’ aspect of deliberation. Quarrel is the opposite of rational discussion, but it is a component of cultivating deliberative citizenship: allowing each side to express completely opposing positions and express their underlying feelings allows each side to understand the other’s ‘baseline’, which assists problem-solving.
2. Combining Western democratic deliberative method with Chinese local methods
One the one hand, standardized large scale democratic deliberations can improve all kinds of deliberative meetings. The openness and fairness of a deliberative forum can avoid suspicion and gain popular trust. Taking pre- and post-deliberation surveys can help us to understand the changes and trends in villagers’ thinking. The intersection of large and small group meetings can increase the quality of deliberations. On the other hand, we need to recognize the value of local methods in cultivating deliberative citizenship, including Chinese traditional philosophy and cultural practice. In addition, the equal rights were interpreted as an Aristotlean proportional fairness, in the local term of ‘pindeng bu juefeng’ – ‘equal but not equalitarian distribution’.
3. Building a negotiation mechanism
From this experiment, we can see that whether deliberative citizens can solve a practical problem depends on whether the local government can build an effective and fair negotiation system. The local government constructs a democratic deliberation platform allowing each side to fully express their rights claims and perspectives, and explain their reasoning. When each side obtains all the information, especially in relation to understanding the other side’s rational aspirations, their prejudices will undergo a change.
Baogang, He. "Deliberative citizenship and deliberative governance: a case study of one deliberative experimental in China." Citizenship Studies (2018): 0-18. Accessed March 10, 2018. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322571391_Deliberative_citizens...
Author: He Baogang, Alfred Deakin Professor, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Deakin University
Case Submitted by: Qin Xuan