How to Realize a Modernized Grassroots Social Governance?
Tags: 2017-07-26
How to Realize a Modernized Grassroots Social Governance?
Grassroots society is an important part of people’s day-to-day life and the foundation of social stability. A country needs a well-matched grassroots society for its modernization. In other words, the modernization of the grassroots society is an integral part of the modernization of the whole society. The modernization of the grassroots society itself has a modernized structure of social governance, and relies on it to realize a long-term stability and harmony of the grassroots society, as well as that of the society as a whole.

The Significance of Building a Modernized Grassroots Social Governance Structure
The construction of a modernized grassroots governance structure comes down to practices, which need a rationalized basis. Normally, there are two ways of rationalizing such practices: practice at the grassroots level, and policy-design at the top level. The former is to make practical exploration before proposing a relevant theory while the latter refers to a process that a general rule is summarized from the accumulated hand-on experience, which can withstand the long test of time. Therefore, to integrate the two is of great significance to construct a modernized grassroots governance structure.

But why should we explore such a structure? There are two reasons: first, one of the basic task of modernization is to construct a system or a mechanism that meets the requirements of a modernized society; second, modernization is an activity whose target can only be realized by strictly following the long-term plan and should never be subject to any policy adjustment. This feature is especially prominent in the latecomers of modernization. If there were some mind-blanking moments for the early modernizing economics, the latecomers have nothing new to worry about but to follow the beaten-path of their pioneers. Hence, institutional improvement is hugely important in this period of time and it is our mission and responsibility to explore a modern system and mechanism.

Thanks to the reform and opening-up, China has made a massive leap forward on the way to modernization. However, reform is not our goal, but the means to realize the modernization – to explore the modern and Chinese-specific path and mode of development and make them the yardstick of our long-term development.

As an up-rising star heading for modernization, China boasts a noticeable advantage in constructing a modern system and mechanism because there are many achievements and lessons of world civilizations available to drawing from, which will help avoid some pitfalls in the process. All countries succeed in modernization have established a series of advanced systems and mechanisms and keep sticking to them.

However, in real practice, we see many cases that the systems and mechanisms are altered very often. It is an alarming phenomenon. 

Although the ancient Chinese society has its own grassroots social governance structure, some of its content goes against the basic ideas of modernization in a globalized world. For this reason, a modernized grassroots governance structure itself is an indispensable part of a modernized society, without which the national modernization will be incomplete. A modernized society has a series of representations and a sound grassroots social governance structure is one of them. A modernized society at the macro level cannot be presented without a good structure of that kind. Therefore, we should review the grassroots governance issue from the perspective of modernization and the construction of a grassroots governance structure should not separate from the overall plan of modernization. To put it in another way, the construction of a modernized grassroots governance structure and that of a modernized society at the macro level are two aspects of the same issue.

Practices in Taicang City: Interaction between the Government and the Self-governed Organizations
The construction of a modernized grassroots governance structure needs experience from the grassroots. In recent years, many practices concerning grassroots governance are made, which provide sufficient materials for top level design. We believe that it is the best time for us to review the experience accumulated from grassroots practices and to find out problems and innovate the governance system. This paper analyzes the Taicang city’s practice “Interaction between the Government and the Community” and tries to illustrate some basic problems in grassroots governance structure.

The “Interaction between the Government and the Community” of grassroots society in Taicang started from 2008. Here are the basic practices:

1. Making two lists. Making the labor division according to the functions of the government and the self-governed organizations at the grassroots level. One list is about the legal responsibilities of the organizations and the other is some items on the government agenda that they should assist. This is to clarify the duties of the government and the self-governed organizations concerning the affairs at the grassroots level.

According to the law, the duties of the self-governed organizations at the grassroots level are as follows: managing the collective lands and assets; developing the village’s economy; safeguarding the legal rights and interests of the locals; handling regional public affairs and promoting programs for public good; conducting emergency drills to help the public save themselves and each other when emergency happens; mobilizing citizens (age 18-55) to donate blood; publicizing laws, regulations, and national policies; developing cultural education and disseminating science, and carrying out activities regarding socialist ideological and ethical progress; promoting and assisting the work of local agrotechnical promotion service organizations and technicians; organizing fitness activities for all; mediating civil disputes over domestic violence, abandonment of family members, and contractual right of land; protecting and improving the environment; providing social services; holding meetings to report governmental work to villagers (residents); supervising the villagers to follow the autonomy charter, and other regulations; preventing juvenile delinquency; protecting the rights and interests of women, the old and the disabled; and acting as the guardian of minors, and citizens with no capacity for civil conduct or limited capacity for civil conduct.

As for the local government, it should make a list of the 78 items on its agenda that require assistance from the self-governed organizations at the grassroots level while strictly following the laws and related documents released by the governments of higher levels. It should also keep the 40 or so items that conform to the laws and documents, and cancel over 30 items, which include: assisting the maintenance of law and order; juvenile protection; drug control and precaution, and drug abstinence in community; assisting gambling investigation and punishment; temporary resident management; safety protection and security administration for rental housing; kennel management; conducting fire control publicity and training, and fire control for public activities; rural highway construction, maintenance and management; establishing a sound safety responsibility system of the ships of the administrative village and individuals; the registration and inspection of family planning and the floating population; the collection of social maintenance fees; social preferential treatment and relief; supporting rural residents in five aspects (food, clothing, housing, transportation and burial); offering minimum living allowance to urban residence; urban and rural social relief work; issuing the certificate of adoption; the protection of basic farmland; land survey; establishing labor security service station for the basic guarantee in rural area, organizations for mediating labor disputes, and service points of price supervision; supervising, educating and managing rural and urban dwellers who have been deprived of their political rights; protection of ancient village resources; managing the ground satellite receiver within the jurisdiction; public health and infectious disease prevention and control; AIDS prevention and control; Organizing vaccination for villagers and residents; drug quality supervision; census of agricultural and economic pollution sources; authorized tax collection of rental housing and service tax collection of home decoration; youth education such as supervising and urging school-age children to attend school; elimination of illiteracy; setting up working groups of production safety; holding safety production activities, and implementing relevant measures; handling emergencies such as drought and animal epidemics; political and military service registration; enhancing public’s awareness of meteorological disaster prevention and organizing emergency drills. Except for the above items, the government should commit the 78 items to the self-governed grassroots organizations. The entrustment agreement should be signed by the town government and these organizations. For affairs out of the 78 items, the government has no right to require for the organizations’ assistance, and the organizations themselves can reject such requirements, if there should be any. But for their legal obligations, they must perform their duties according to law; where these organizations are to assist in the management of government matters, the government should pay for their help; where the law does not endow the organization any responsibility and obligation, but their assistance are needed, the government should buy their service.

2. Signing responsibility agreement. On the basis of equal consultation, the government and the self-governed organizations sign the Management Agreement, which specifies the responsibilities of the self-governed mass organization, the projects that these organizations need to assist the government and the requirements, the administrative guidance and financial support that the government must provide, and the agreement fulfillment evaluation and liabilities for breach. The agreement, when signed by both parties, comes into effect and is to be managed as a contract. The power comes along with responsibility; and funds come with affairs. Funds are provided to efforts that are made to cooperate the government.

3. Mutual performance evaluation. The government and the self-governed organizations conduct two-way evaluation. This means the way of evaluation changes from the top-down one-way practice (the government evaluates the grassroots self-governed mass organizations according to the quota set at the beginning of the year) to the two-way mode. The responsibilities of the two parties are specified beforehand, and the rights and obligations are equal.

The meanings of the government and the self-governed organizations’ interaction campaign in Taicang lie in: 1) It has a good understanding of the two responsible subjects, i.e., the government and the grassroots self-governed mass organizations. Handling the relationship between these two parties embodies the understanding of the big picture of the grassroots society. The government and the public’s interaction campaign is initiated for this idea. 2) After clearing the grassroots affairs, it helps clarify the respective functions of the government and the grassroots social organizations in the grassroots society. Disambiguating responsible subjects would inevitably help fulfill responsibility. 3) The government and the grassroots self-governed organizations sign agreements and their relationship is managed in a contractual fashion. 4) The relationship between the government and the grassroots self-governed organizations is no longer one-directional. Two parties have consultation, cooperation and coordination, which is beneficial to cultivating a keener sense of responsibility, stimulating motivation and mobilizing initiative. 5) The government and the grassroots self-governed organizations cooperate equally and jointly to manage the affairs in the lower-level society well. Though being trivial and specific, these affairs are also very important. They affect people’s daily life directly. The government and the people’s interaction campaign shows that the government and the grassroots self-governed organizations coordinate soundly and do the work in the lower-level society well, creating a classic model that mobilizes motivation of different sides and does the job well.


Thinking on the construction of the modern structure of the grassroots social governance

At the critical point of modernization, the institution construction is highly important to China. We need to adopt a new system and mechanism to manage our society, so as to achieve sustainable development and long-term stability. To build up the structure of grassroots social governance is to pursue a modern new grassroots social management system. We can claim that China is qualified for the requirements to construct the modern system and mechanism after the reform and opening up and the construction of a socialist society with Chinese characteristics.

1. The division of functions between the government and the society in the grassroots society. The trend is becoming increasingly clearer in the modern society that the government, the market and the society co-govern together. This may be the basic features shared by countries dominated by any ideology. China has chosen the path of socialist market economy. The government is transforming from a versatile one to one with limited liability. A society with Chinese features is taking shape. As economic functions are not the main functions of grassroots society, while a multitude of affairs fall into the social scope, the regulations of market economy system are of little significance to the operation of the grassroots society. From the campaign initiated in Taicang, we can see what the government’s responsibility is, where the realm of society is, and how the government and the society interact. Either in community building or in social conflicts mediation, it’s important to facilitate cooperation between the government and the society, not to back off from or shoulder off responsibility or to pin down who is more of the culprit. The key is to clarify their own responsibilities and the responsible subject, and to improve the relationship between the two parties. These will be the important content of the grassroots governance structure.

2. Cooperation and co-governance between multiple parties. In our research we find that cooperation and co-governance between multiple institutions are better demonstrated and more necessary in the grassroots society. Subjects who participate in the social governance include the government and the social organizations. Even individuals are a part of the cooperation and co-governance. It can be put in this way that the government plays a more eminent role in the macro level, while subjects other than the government have more weight in the grassroots society, the more micro level. In the micro scope, everything is important but not easy to handle. But the government can’t manage every affair in every aspect. In the grassroots society, it may be more necessary as well as more important to mobilize different social subjects to exert self-organization and encourage volunteering activities to highlight self-consciousness and self-discipline. Social subjects other than the government have much more roles to play in the grassroots society.

3. Exploring the grassroots society’s initiative. We didn’t fully recognize the society’s initiative. The initiative refers to a society’s self-organization and self-consciousness. In the lower-level society, we see individual self-consciousness, one for all, all for one activities, volunteer work, and community services everywhere. The grassroots society is rich with exploitable resources. A rational society must be the one that motivates all positive powers and mobilizes the whole society’s initiative. Hence, it is of vital importance to explore the society’s initiative to construct a good grassroots governance structure. Imagine, if the so-called modernization were to eat well, live well, dress well but have no freedom, no autonomy, no initiative and no ability to choose, most people would not like this modernization and it would not conform to the idea of modernization. Therefore, we must fully exploit the society’s initiative in the course of exploring modern grassroots governance structure.

4. Cultivating grassroots social organizations. Social organizations are an important component of the society and an important pole of cooperation and co-governance between different parties. They are the main subjects responsible for society governance and social affairs. In reality, we often see that the government tries to cultivate social organizations while buying services. The demands of purchasing service and the cultivation of service provider are present at the same time. Or some services are in dire need, while the execution subjects are still immature. As a result, it often becomes awkward that the cultivation of responsible subjects is done with a project. Consequently, there must be a problem of cultivating social organizations in constructing grassroots social governance structure. 

The growth of social organizations is also risky, especially the so-called “color revolution” in some countries a few years ago. Some organizations which are known as social organizations played a disgraceful role, and this merits our cautions. However, we can’t give up eating for fear of choking. That a great number of social organizations are active in every respect of social life will be the basic characteristic of the modern society, especially in the lower-level society. Therefore, we should cultivate social organizations in the regulated and lawful framework, which can play its due role and conform to China’s reality.

5. The correspondence between the administrative authority and the fiscal power. Reasonably speaking, the responsibility should be in accordance with the financial power. The power comes along with responsibility; and funds come with affairs. However, as the government has long been responsible for all social affairs, the relationship between the government and the society is like the superior to the subordinate, the former dictates what the latter should do, assesses the latter and holds the latter accountable. Now the government and the society forge cooperation in the lower-level society, which is a huge shift, especially for the government, as it is a shift of character, position, conception, and function. If the government truly shifts its functions to management and service, the management should be rigid and the service should be superb. As it is that a large quantity of affairs that need the full responsibility or support of the grassroots society come with the problem how to balance the affair power and the financial power, the responsibility and the right. The government has the upper hand in handling this relationship. The government should lead the society voluntarily and construct the equal relationship between responsibilities and rights in its process of transforming functions.

Zou Nongjian
Senior researcher of ZMT. Dean of the Social Development School of Nanjing Normal University, Professor, Doctoral Advisor.

Note: This article is excerpted from “How to Realize a Modernized Grassroots Social Governance – The Study and Thinking on the Government and the Self-governed Organizations Campaign in Taichang”, published in Jiangsu Social Science, No. 6, 2016.