The Family Village: the "Guanxi" of Chinese Grassroots Elections

Michelle Phillips


Since their inception in the 1980s, local village elections in the People’s Republic of China have received moderate critical attention. Unsure whether they are a “silent revolution” changing the Mainland’s political atmosphere or just another propaganda campaign of the Communist Party, Western scholars have monitored them in many parts of the country to offer their criticism and advice. However, what has been distinctly lacking from all these studies is an in- depth analysis of the role of media in these elections. Anthropologists worldwide attest to the importance of a media system in participatory politics, both in giving the common people a voice and keeping the government accountable. Moreover, media and propaganda have always been intimately connected with government in China – both in imperial times and since the Communist Party took over. I hope to supplement the current scholarship on these elections with firsthand fieldwork conducted in four villages surrounding Beijing. In combining Western modes and official Communist slogans, the local Chinese actively form a unique meaning system with their media. Using low- tech media (such as posters and loudspeakers), village committees and citizens strive to promote the image of a close-knit “family village” during elections and in all government practices. Indeed, officials and citizens alike

insisted that close 关系 “guānxi,” or connections/relationships, were central to winning elections and running a village well. Hence, the Chinese are integrating their own cultural practices into their government and media, in an

attempt to make sense of a society changing at a lightening pace.


Media; Grassroots Elections; “Guanxi”

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