Let me break down the article into several parts to avoid being too long in one entry.
If you ask me about a new word or new concept I learnt from the dinner, it will be a very normal and not-noticeable phrase – elected officials. I know this seems strange for people in U.S. Let me tell you why.
The dinner was of a lot of fun. We chatted many topics, and I didn’t notice significant difference from my chat with people from business world. People in the business world (I mean from U.S) talked a lot about politics, and people in the politics world talked a lot about business. :-)
I did the comparison between the “elected officials” and officials in China. We talked about democracy processes and how can it be, or is it feasible in China at all. The first step of democracy, as many people believe, is election.
I shared my experience about the only meaningful election I attended in China – the election of the Property Owner’s Committee in my residential area. (I did vote for some time, but it was a joke since I never heard about the names on the list, and it seemed every one didn’t know them, so the voting is a random vote).
In my residential area, like many others in Shanghai, we have residential committee who represent the resident to govern the affairs of the area. This seems a start of the democracy process in China. For me, this start is quite significant. Only after people learnt to exercise their democracy right within a small area (like a residential area of 10 thousand people) well, can we manage bigger elections. Let me tell you how did that go.
In my post named Democracy in Residential Area in April 2006, I described the election committee. Sounds good, isn’t it?
Later, whenever they have a community meeting, I will make sure I attend – just to witness how democracy practice in the area really goes, and form some basic idea about the direction of China’s future.
To my disappointment, I found there is still a long road to go for people to really understand, appreciate, and practice democracy well, even in an area as small as a residential area.
Fighting instead of Talking
The biggest issue people face in the committee was, There are two or three groups of people who both insist that the other one or two groups of people have to left the committee before they could move on.
There are people who represents people who refused to pay the management fee due to dissatisfaction about the management company. There are people who insisted to pay because they believe those who didn’t pay hurt their interest. There are people to believe the right approach is giving more clear standard to the management company for them to perform and keep the current company for the stability of the service, and the other group believe by getting rid of the current company is the only choice.
The form is a democratic format, but the problem is, after being educated in a non-democratic system that there must be only one correct answer to anything, not so many people really appreciate the different point of view, and they put their energy in fighting. In the last meeting I attended, they fight with each other – I mean physically fighting – hit people on the nose or head – just like this.
When I heard their talking, I found there are some representative’s mind is still as old as in culture revolution – they believe class fighting is still the most important thing. Not many people – I just saw one person, but I was astonished. I realized the physical world can change dramatically, but people’s mind, especially for massive audience as big as China, it takes not years, instead, many generations to change. I predict the change will eventually happen – just like it took me three years (since my trip in U.S. in 2004) to start to think about it – not fully understand yet. I know it really takes time.
Back to the elected official topic. For the whole government to be elected, there is a long way to go. The problem is, there are not enough research about whether it is feasible and what is the time table. “Election” is not as simple as election. It needs education, awareness, knowledge, experience, and tolerance – a lot of things to make it really work. How to archive it? I believe the democratic practice in a residential area is a good start. Maybe the only way to learn to follow a democratic process is to really do it. Although there is chaos at the very beginning, it seems the only way people learn about it.
What do you think?