In Wenqiao town of Wenling in eastern China’s Zhejiang province, the people were given an opportunity few Chinese citizens have, to take part in hearings on local government budget plans and suggest ways to spend the money. 
Rural areas are the foundation of China’s development, and they also inspire principles that China always abides by. ① In recent years, China’s rural development has been very fast, especially in the construction of democracy in rural areas. Since 2005, Wenling, Zhejiang Province, on the basis of the original “democratic talks”, has carried out the preliminary test of a participatory budget in the towns of Zeguo and Xinhe, which provides new ideas for strengthening the supervision and restriction of citizens’ public power. In 2010, based on the experience of Zeguo and Xinhe, the town of Wenjiao carried out further exploration and reform of participatory budget. Next, we will take the participatory budget of Wenjiao town as an example to discuss and analyse the reform and development of the participatory budget within the golden layers of democratic governance.
Ⅰ. The Concept of Participatory Budget
Participatory budget means that citizens can discuss and decide public budgeting and policies under the condition of direct, resource and universal participation, and supervise the government’s public expenditure by determining resource allocation and the priorities of social policy. It is a decision-making process in which citizens can participate in and influence their own interests. ② Through this process, citizens’ rights can be stimulated, they can participate in the implementation of each policy and resource distribution, and they can further be given the sense of being the masters of the family and realise social fairness and justice. Thus, civil rights can be better integrated into governance.
Ⅱ. The Significance of Participatory Budget
(1) Through discussion by social organisations and citizens, we can further achieve democratic practices, promote all parties’ ability to truly express their ideas and suggestions, and let both sides develop mutual understanding and trust in the context of transparent information.
(2) It further promotes the reform of the governmental system and makes the government more responsible. In the process of citizen participation, information transparency can allow citizens to control and supervise public funds, restrict the government’s behaviour, improve the government’s efficiency, ensure public funds are used more effectively, and make the government more responsible and accountable to citizens.
(3) It cultivates a good democratic culture. Citizens learn the political knowledge of respect, expression of ideas and decision-making, allowing them to supervise and benefit other more effectively. Let citizens become more rational and knowledgeable, and they will better understand the implementation of each policy and care about the public interest. Through this behaviour, the public will be transformed from an onlooker to an implementer, participant and propagandist, so as to strengthen their sense of ownership.
(4) It enhances social fairness, thereby improving the quality of citizens’ lives. Citizens of previously vulnerable groups can participate in decision-making to express their opinions and suggestions, which can effectively protect the rights of citizens and effectively achieve social fairness and justice.
Ⅲ. The Background and Development Stage of Participatory Budget in Wenjiao Town
The “participatory budget” initiated by Wenling refers to the participation of citizens in the discussion of the government’s annual budget plan in the form of democratic negotiation. The deputies of the people’s Congress discuss the government's financial plans before deciding how to revise and adjust it, so as to realise the substantive participation in the budget review and supervision. ③ The participatory budget of Wenqiao town is based on the continuous practical experience of Wenling’s towns, and it is supported by mature economic and social conditions.
(1) Background of Reform
Wenjiao town is located in the southwest of Wenling City. Its geographical advantage of being close to the sea on one side and surrounded by mountains on three sides has led to the rapid development of the local economy and society. It has formed the pillar industries of electromechanical casting, clothing and shoes, and tourism. The development of the economy provides a good foundation for democratic politics, in that the local economic foundation slowly extends to the political field, so that local people can better understand politics and policies.
According to the data, there are members of the village committee, village branch secretaries and ordinary villagers in Wenling who are all “new Wenling people” from other provinces. They also support the democratic process of the participatory budget, which proves that the democratic people involved in the participatory budget are popular. They feel that they have channels to express their demands and a platform for government consultation. Gradually moving from unfamiliar to familiar, they have come to understand politics more and have learned a lot of political knowledge. In contrast to the past, when they were only concerned about their own interests, in the present they are now concerned for the overall situation locally. In this way, their democratic level has improved, and their sense of participation is also improving.
Wenjiao town’s experience is based on the previous reform experiments conducted in Zeguo and Xinhe towns, and also provides a lot of experience for reference. By integrating the reform experiences of the two towns, it carries out a participatory budget for public expenditure, budget allocation and resource policy allocation.
(2) Development Stage
Differing from the model of Zeguo and Xinhe, the town of Wenjiao, on the basis of summing up the experience of reform gained in advance, created a precedent for democratic talks before the preparation of the domestic government budget. According to the implementation plan of participatory work of Wenjiao town in 2010, the participatory budget work of Wenjiao town is divided into three stages. ④
In the first stage, the town government established a participatory democratic budget discussion working group to draw up the budget plan, and then collected public opinions by democratic discussions and questionnaire surveys in 45 areas of the town, mainly in the form of soliciting opinions and carrying out discussion with the townspeople, widely listening to the public’s opinions. The town’s government officials collected the public opinions and the opinions solicited by the democratic conference, and prepared the 2010 budget refinement plan. Each participant and other people in the community could inquire and communicate with the government by means of investigation, communication and consultation. After summarising the public opinions, the town government refines the plan on the basis of the previous one.
The second stage is to use the platform for democratic talks, and some representative citizens discuss the draft before consultation with government officials. The second stage is mainly divided into four parts: (1) The presidium of the people’s Congress of the town holds cordial talks with democratic representatives in accordance with the four themes of social undertaking, urban construction, gender budget and economic development. (2) Before the public draft of the budget is released for the participation of the government, the public and relevant units will conduct pre-conference investigation. (3) Each special group holds democratic talks on budgeting and puts forward suggestions for revision. (4) The town government will revise and improve the relevant parts of the draft budget according to the results of the democratic talks.
The third stage is for the people’s Congress in the town to hold a deputy meeting. The town government reports to the meeting the “explanation of the government’s budget preparation” and the “budget draft”. The budget review committee listens to the opinions of the representatives of all parties participating in the democratic forum on budget preparation, makes a preliminary review report on the "budget draft" at the meeting, and then holds a plenary meeting, Each delegation puts forward suggestions on the revision of the “pre election draft”. Representatives have a dialogue with the town government to negotiate and determine the revision of the “draft budget” and put forward the “budget revision plan” to the presidium of the National People’s Congress. Each delegation reviews the “budget revision plan”, and more than five of the deputies can put forward the “Budget Revision Proposal”. After the presidium meeting of the National People’s Congress reviews the “budget amendment bill”, a general meeting is held at which the Congress votes on it, and it is finally submitted to the NPC for approval.
Ⅳ. Achievements and Difficulties of Participatory Budget Reform
The results of the participatory budget reform are obvious from the experience in Wenjiao town. It can allow supervision of the government’s public budget, resources and other aspects of governance. It can allow citizens participate, express their ideas, and make society more democratic. In my opinion, it is of great significance in the following two respects:
(1) The participatory budget has activated the rights of deputies to the National People’s Congress and promoted openness around the public budget. Within the framework of the law, democratic political activities should be carried out to a greater extent. When democratic talks introduce the process of examination and supervision, the rights of deputies to the NPC are reactivated, and all of the deputies are very active. Through the government’s open public budget, all interest groups also express their suggestions to a large extent and put forward amendments to the government’s various budgets, thereby understanding politics to a greater extent and improving the democratic political mechanism.
(2) It has raised awareness of the role of the government in serving the people and further promoted the milestone of democratic political construction. After the participatory budget began, the government’s public budget became more inclined towards public services, which improves the quality of life of citizens and suggests that the government’s work is closer to reality, improving the working style of officials and eliminating some corruption. The participatory budget is also equivalent to a “democratic school”, which enables citizens to understand their rights and the functions and obligations of the government to a greater extent, so that they can understand and respect each other, and make the political culture more stable while making citizens’ lives better.
Even though the results of the trial implementation of participatory budget in Wenjiao town are remarkable, there will be some difficulties if it continues to be steadily promoted in the same way.
(1) Although the trial implementation of a participatory budget in Wenjiao town has improved democratisation, it exists outside the system and lacks legal protection. Because the suggestions put forward by the public have no corresponding legal and institutional guarantee, the suggestions have no legal benefits. The initiative is still in the hands of the government. The follow-up on budget implementation and supervision is also still a big problem.
(2) The suggestions put forward by the public are weak and lack a certain degree of legitimacy in the face of the government which has a lot of political resources.
(3) From the data of the participatory budget reform in Wenjiao town in 2010, the quality of observers needs to be improved, especially as some deputies to the NPC are unable to adapt to the requirements of budget, review and supervision. For example, some deputies do not understand the procedures involved in the process of participatory budget, and they are still lacking knowledge of how to look at problems from a global perspective. The problems raised in the budget are not targeted.
(4) According to the data of the implementation plan, citizens can participate voluntarily, but most of the participants are government officials and legal representatives of enterprises. Additionally, the participation rate of ordinary citizens is not high, which shows that citizens’ participation consciousness is poor. This is a great obstacle to the implementation of participatory budgets in the future.
Ⅴ. The Next Improvement Direction of Participatory Budget
Based on the previous reform, we should create corresponding protection measures that address the problems in the reform. From the perspective of my understanding, we should rectify the following four points:
(1) Because the public’s amendment opinions are not protected by law in the participatory budget process, we need to create a certain system to improve and balance rights. The follow-up budget implementation and supervision should be jointly implemented and supervised by government officials and public representatives, and they must have equal rights.
(2) To improve the quality of government officials and the public, we should popularise more cases and lessons of participatory budgets, learn more about the advantages of the participatory budget for citizens and the government, and further promote the effect and durability of the participatory budget.
(3) Through using social media to promote and popularise the advantages of the participatory budget, citizens can have a deeper understanding of its benefits and then greatly publicise it. Appropriate research should be carried out to find out whether there are adverse factors leading to the decline of citizens’ participation rate, and to put an end to the manipulation of social interest groups and bad media. An exclusive department should be established to supervise, investigate and deal with issues, and specify the relevant strict system.
Through the study of the participatory budget in Wenjiao town, combined with my existing knowledge, I have a deeper understanding of the advantages of the participatory budget. I feel that this case is an effective one. In China, we should further promote the process of the participatory budget, make democratic politics more transparent and open, and let citizens participate more and understand politics better. However, the details need to be improved.
① Sha Jiansun, The Historical Manuscript Of The Communist Party of China 1921-1949, Central Literature Publishing House, 2006, page 180
② Chen Jiagang, Chen Yimin, Participatory Budget In Local Governance—A Case Study On The Reform Plan Of Xinhe Town, Wenling City, Zhejiang Province, Public Management Journal, 2008 (2)
③ Zhang Xueming, Deepening The Reform Of Public Budget And Enhancing The Effect Of Budget Supervision—Practice And Thinking Of Participatory Budget In Wenling, Wenling Theory And Practice, 2008 (2)
④ The Notice On Formulating The Implementation Plan Of Participatory Budget In Wenjiao Town In 2010, Document No. (2010) 7 of Wenqiao Town Committee of CPC