Bench meeting an innovation practice of China's grassroots democracy
YINCHUAN -- Every afternoon in the last few days, Yang Jianxin took his notebook and went to the public space of Hongya Community to chat with residents who basked in the sun there.
Hongya Community is located in Longde County, northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. It is the largest centralized resettlement area for labor migrants in the county and has nearly 6,000 urban and rural residents.
Over the years, the community has developed a unique grassroots democracy practice, "bench meeting," under which Party cadres and the masses sit on the bench in front of residential buildings or in garden pavilions instead of in meeting rooms to convey government policies and discuss public affairs of the community.
In June, Yang became the first Party chief of the Hongya Community. He was immediately attracted by the flexible grassroots governance method as soon as he arrived there.
"Residents are reserved to express their opinions in a formal conference room," Yang said. "In bench meetings, grassroots officials communicate with residents in a relaxed atmosphere, and people are more willing to voice their ideas about the public affairs of the community."
Not long ago, Yang organized a bench meeting in a garden pavilion of the community to brief residents on the report of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) held last month.
"Up to 80 residents attended the bench meeting. People were most concerned about the part related to people's livelihood. I couldn't simply read the report to them. Instead, I interpreted it in plain language based on the actual changes in the community," he said.
Lyu Guojun, 59, moved to Hongya Community eight years ago. He said he likes the bench meeting as it works as a platform to connect with grassroots voices directly and allows him to learn about the big things he cares about.
"The recent bench meetings were mainly about the 20th National Congress of the CPC. I want to hear the country's plans and find out what changes they will bring to our lives," he said.
In the past, the most common problems reported by residents during the bench meetings were life difficulties and a poor community environment, said Zhang Hongsheng, Party chief of Hongya Community, who has been working at the grassroots level for years.
"In the past two years, we have been providing assistance to the residents in poverty caused by diseases and accidents," Zhang said. "Since 2018, the local government has allocated more than 40 million yuan (about 5.63 million U.S. dollars) for improving the community infrastructure and environment, such as building gardens."
"The community has also opened a labor market and a farm produce market nearby, making it more convenient for people to find work and live," said Zhang. "People's voices have been heard and valued. They are satisfied to see these changes."
Besides the bench meetings, people across China have explored many different pragmatic practices of democracy based on local characteristics.
"Through these down-to-earth democratic practices, the people's interests have been coordinated and contradictions have been effectively resolved, which has injected a steady stream of impetus into the development of China's democracy," said Song Xiongwei, a professor with the Party School of the Central Committee of the CPC.