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Join Brookings Institution Scholar Cheng Li in the Field to Study Progress in China's Rural Village Elections

Cheng Li, director of research and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution's John L. Thornton China Center, was part of a small Carter Center delegation that traveled to China in March to advance the Center's programming efforts there. These include working to help standardize the vast array of electoral procedures taking place in local communities and foster better governance, as well as rural and urban community building and civic education about rights, laws, and political participation.

Listen to Cheng Li share his thoughts on the importance of rural village elections from the March 10, 2010, balloting in Hetao Village, Shizi Township, Yanjin County, Zhaotong Prefecture, Yunnan Province.

"Many experts believe that China probably is far away from political democracy because the huge population is farmers and not well-educated," said Li. "But these elections happen across the poorest villages in the country, where the annual income is around US$300 and the education level is very low. If they can do democracy, why not the entire country? So that impact will be overwhelming."

The Carter Center's work in China was originally made possible thanks to an unprecedented 1998 agreement with China's Ministry of Civil Affairs to gather election data with computer technology, educate voters, and train election officials. The project scope expanded to include such activities as helping amend election laws and assisting limited attempts at election reform beyond the village level in townships and counties.

Village elections for representatives on village councils and members of the local People's Congresses now take place in about 600,000 villages across China, reaching 75 percent of the population.

Today, the Carter Center's China Program also works to help the government be more transparent and accountable to citizens. It strengthens citizen participation in governance through greater access to information, online portals for debating public policy and advancing political reform, and scholarly forums on democracy, human rights, and rule of law principles on college campuses. All Carter Center programming is done in consultation with Chinese government agencies and designed to deepen reform measures on the government agenda.

While engaging Chinese government and promoting reform is subject to personnel and political factors, distributing information and facilitating discussion on political reform issues through the Internet is a 24-7 activity of the China Program. A Ministry of Civil Affairs official recently visited The Carter Center and commented that the Center's Web operation is probably more effective and influential than any activities launched by Western NGOs in China.

China Program websites include (Chinese language) and (English language), which seek to advance better governance and elections in China. The program also supports the Chinese-language National Information Network on Villager Self-Government, which facilitates the administration of local elections and the participation of rural residents in governance. To enhance citizen knowledge of their new rights of access to government information, the Center created, a clearinghouse with all of the new regulations and comparative studies of successful access to information practices in other nations.

Related Resources
Learn more about the Carter Center's China Program >
Read blog post: Delegation Observes Village Elections in China >

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