This was not Chinese politics as usual. For the next eight hours these citizens grilled local officials, learned about their town's budget, debated various proposals for bridges, roads, parks and sewage-treatment plants, and then voted (through a second, identical questionnaire) on which 10 to build. Usually, such decisions are reserved for Communist Party officials conferring behind closed doors. But cadres in Zeguo and its parent city, Wenling, have pioneered a more participatory approach, putting them at the vanguard of China's experiments in political reform. President Hu Jintao has vowed never to adopt "Western-style" democracy. "But events like Zeguo's referendum, though isolated, may someday form the basis for China's gradual political liberalization," says He Baogang, an expert on Chinese grassroots democracy at the University of Tasmania who was on hand to observe the proceedings.So Hu doesn't want "western-style" democracy, but he's willing to let town-hall meetings decide important spending matters. Hu buddy, this is how it starts. Don't try to stop it - you're just going to get hurt. Now, we shouldn't be wetting ourselves in anticipation of the reborn Republic of China, but these things are bound to spread.
By the way, does anyone find it ironic that the People's Republic is holding townhall meetings that are more democratic than Bush's Social Security meetings?