According to recent law, villages in China are “self-governed” by villager committees, whose members are elected by villagers and held accountable to villager assemblies and representative assemblies. Previous studies have focused on the legal institutions of self-government, assuming that, if allowed to operate properly, these will enhance both direct villager participation in governance and the representation of villager interests. In contrast, this paper focuses on local understandings and ideals about political roles and relationships, as constructed and enacted through everyday political claims and practices. The paper draws on recent, qualitative research in four villages in Yunnan, southwest China. During this research, my research partner and I discovered that neither cadres nor villagers used the word “represent” to characterise the role – or even the ideal role – of members of village government. Furthermore, villagers could not explain what villager representatives do or what “representative” in the title “villager representative” means. This leads me to ask, “How do locals conceive the work-roles and responsibilities of village cadres, and cadres’ relationship with villagers? Is the unfamiliarity with the word “represent” merely a linguistic issue, or does it point to a different conception of the cadre-villager relationship? In addressing these questions, this paper aims both to enrich our understanding of village self-government in China and to contribute to theorising about political representation.
About the Speaker - Tamara Jacka is a Senior Fellow in the Department of Political and Social Change, with research interests in socio-political change and gender relations in contemporary China. Her recent publications include Contemporary China: Society and Social Change (co-authored with Andrew Kipnis and Sally Sargeson, Cambridge Uni. Press, 2013), Women, Gender and Development in Rural China (co-edited with Sally Sargeson, Edward Elgar, 2011), and Rural Women in Urban China: Gender, Migration and Social Change (M.E Sharpe, 2006). This paper draws on fieldwork conducted as part of an ARC-funded project on Women’s Political Participation, Representation and Well-Being: Learning from China’s Villages (Chief investigators: Sally Sargeson (Lead) and Tamara Jacka).
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