Local Administration

Local Administration

Governmental institutions below the central level are regulated by the provisions of the State Constitution of 1982. These provisions are intended to streamline the local state institutions and make them more efficient and more responsive to grass-roots needs; to stimulate local initiative and creativity; to restore prestige to the local authorities that had been seriously diminished during the Cultural Revolution; and to aid local officials in their efforts to organize and mobilize the masses. As with other major reforms undertaken after 1978, the principal motivation for the provisions was to provide better support for the ongoing modernization program.

The state institutions below the national level were local people's congresses--the NPC's local counterparts--whose functions and powers were exercised by their standing committees at and above the county level when the congresses were not in session. The standing committee was composed of a chairman, vice chairmen, and members. The people's congresses also had permanent committees that became involved in governmental policy affecting their areas and their standing committees, and the people's congresses held meetings every other month to supervise provincial-level government activities. In May 1984 Peng Zhen described the relationship between the NPC Standing Committee and the standing committees at lower levels as "one of liaison, not of leadership." Further, he stressed that the institution of standing committees was aimed at transferring power to lower levels so as to tap the initiative of the localities for the modernization drive.

The administrative arm of these people's congresses was the local people's government. Its local organs were established at three levels: the provinces, autonomous regions, and special municipalities; autonomous prefectures, counties, autonomous counties (called banners in Nei Monggol Autonomous Region (Inner Mongolia)), cities, and municipal districts; and, at the base of the administrative hierarchy, administrative towns (xiang). The administrative towns replaced people's communes as the basic level of administration.

Reform programs have brought the devolution of considerable decision-making authority to the provincial and lower levels. Nevertheless, because of the continued predominance of the fundamental principle of democratic centralism, which is at the base of China's State Constitution, these lower levels are always vulnerable to changes in direction and decisions originated at the central level of government. In this respect, all local organs are essentially extensions of central government authorities and thus are responsible to the "unified leadership" of the central organs.

The people's congresses at the provincial, city, and county levels each elected the heads of their respective government organizations. These included governors and deputy governors, mayors and deputy mayors, and heads and deputy heads of counties, districts, and towns. The people's congresses also had the right to recall these officials and to demand explanations for official actions. Specifically, any motion raised by a delegate and supported by three others obligated the corresponding government authorities to respond. Congresses at each level examined and approved budgets and the plans for the economic and social development of their respective administrative areas. They also maintained public order, protected public property, and safeguarded the rights of citizens of all nationalities. (About 7 percent of the total population was composed of minority nationalities concentrated mainly in sensitive border areas.) All deputies were to maintain close and responsive contacts with their various constituents.

Before 1980 people's congresses at and above the county level did not have standing committees. These had been considered superfluous because the local congresses did not have a heavy workload and in any case could serve adequately as executive bodies for the local organs of power. The CCP's decision in 1978 to adopt the Four Modernizations as its official party line, however, produced a critical need for broad mass support and the means to mobilize that support for the varied activities of both party and state organs. In short, the new programs revealed the importance of responsive government. The CCP view was that the standing committees were better equipped than the local people's governments to address such functions as convening the people's congresses; keeping in touch with the grass roots and their deputies; supervising, inspecting, appointing, and removing local administrative and judicial personnel; and preparing for the election of local deputies to the next higher people's congresses. The use of standing committees was seen as a more effective and rational way to supervise the activities of the local people's governments than requiring that local administrative authorities check and balance themselves. The proclaimed purpose of the standing committee system was to make local governments more responsible and more responsive to constituents.

The establishment of the standing committees in effect also meant restoring the formal division of responsibilities between party and state authorities that had existed before 1966. The 1979 reform mandated that the party should not interfere with the administrative activities of local government organs and that its function should be confined to "political leadership" to ensure that the party's line was correctly followed and implemented. Provincial-level party secretaries, for instance, were no longer allowed to serve concurrently as provincial-level governors or deputy governors (chairmen or vice chairmen in autonomous regions, and mayors or deputy mayors in special municipalities), as they had been allowed to do during the Cultural Revolution. In this connection most officials who had held positions in the former provincial-level revolutionary committees were excluded from the new local people's governments. Some provincial-level officials who were purged during the Cultural Revolution were rehabilitated and returned to power.

The local people's congresses and their standing committees were given the authority to pass local legislation and regulations under the Organic Law of the People's Courts of 1980. This authority was granted only at the level of provinces, autonomous regions, and special municipalities. Its purpose was to allow local congresses to accommodate the special circumstances and actual needs of their jurisdictions. This measure was billed as a "major reform" instituted because "a unified constitution and a set of uniform laws for the whole country have proved increasingly inadequate" in coping with differing "local features or cultural and economic conditions." On July 17, 1979, Renmin Ribao (People's Daily) observed: "To better enforce the constitution and state laws, we must bring them more in line with the concrete realities in various areas and empower these areas to approve local laws and regulations so that they can decide certain major issues with local conditions in mind." The law explicitly stated, however, that the scope of legislation must be within the limits of the State Constitution and policies of the state, and that locally enacted bills must be submitted "for the record" to the Standing Committee of the NPC and to the State Council, which, according to the 1982 State Constitution, can annul them if they are found to "contravene the Constitution, the statutes, or the administrative rules and regulations."

In 1987 the party and the government continued to stress the importance of bringing about popular "supervision" over, for instance, the pivotal county-level administration. The importance of maintaining close ties with the masses, listening to their opinions, being concerned with their welfare, and serving their interests was emphasized. Such concern was ensured with the adoption of electoral procedures as part of the 1979 reform package that called for instituting direct elections of deputies to the local people's congresses at the county level. Under the old procedure, the electorate's only choice had been to vote for a slate of candidates equal in number to the number of deputies to be elected. Additional reforms provided for a more open process of nomination, a secret ballot with a choice of candidates, and the possibility of primary elections. The new election procedures were also extended to the election of government officials and of delegates to high-level people's congresses. (All of these reforms taken together offered the potential, in those areas where they were adopted, for significant change.) Experiments reportedly also were taking place in certain medium-sized cities, beginning in 1986, to increase participation by citizens in political activities and decision making. In December 1986 Beijing municipal authorities announced that the mid-1987 municipal elections would allow more than one candidate to run for election for each seat available. This announcement came as extensive student demonstrations in key urban centers were demanding broader democratic freedoms.

Official efforts to improve government performance at the grass-roots level continued in 1987. They had as a precedent a set of regulations, first enacted in 1952 and 1954, covering the activities of what are officially referred to as "basic-level mass autonomous organizations." Such organizations included the urban neighborhood committees, subdistrict offices, people's mediation committees, and public security committees. These regulations had been reissued in January 1980 by the NPC Standing Committee in an attempt to strengthen the grass-roots organizations. In addition, the 1982 State Constitution had proclaimed the establishment of residents' and villagers' committees to ensure public security and preserve social order; to provide public health services and mediate civil disputes; and, most important, to carry information to and from government organs. Another significant reform at the basic level was the establishment of the administrative town (xiang) government to replace the commune. This reform freed the commune to function solely as an economic unit.

Another administrative reform directly related to economic modernization was the establishment in 1979 of the special economic zones, which included Shenzhen, Zhuhai, and Shantou, all in Guangdong Province, and Xiamen in Fujian Province. Supervising China's special economic zones were the Guangdong provincial committee, headquartered in Shenzhen, and the Xiamen Construction and Development Corporation. The Guangdong provincial committee controlled Zhuhai, Shenzhen, and Shantou and shared its authority over Shekou (a small port zone within Shenzhen) with the China Merchant Steam Navigation Company. The latter was a Hong Kong subsidiary of China's Ministry of Communications that had been empowered in 1979 to negotiate all foreign ventures in Shekou.

The special administrative region, another administrative unit, was developed to serve foreign policy goals. Article 31 of the State Constitution of 1982 empowers the NPC to enact laws to establish special administrative regions to accommodate local conditions. Hong Kong will come under this rule when Britain transfers its sovereignty over its former colony to China on July 1, 1997, as delineated in the Joint Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong, signed on September 26, 1984. Macao is slated to become a special administrative region on December 20, 1999, when Portugal is to transfer governmental authority over Macao to China, as stipulated in the Joint Declaration on the Question of Macao, initialed on March 26, 1987. In 1986 and 1987 the State Council's Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office was drafting the Basic Law for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, which would define Hong Kong's system of government. The new law was due for completion in 1988.


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