China Leadership Monitor

From Selection to Election? Experiments in the Recruitment of Chinese Political Elites

INTRODUCTION

It is extremely unusual in China for candidates who are vying for elected posts to openly engage in campaigning, lobbying, public debates, personal attacks, and vote buying.1 However, that is exactly what happened recently—not among political elites in Beijing but in a documentary film covering the election of student leaders at a primary school in Wuhan. In this newly released, award-winning film, Please Vote for Me (Qing wei wo toupiao), director Chen Weijun meticulously documented the entire two-week-long campaign and election process, featuring a trio of third-graders chosen by their teacher to run for the position of class monitor.2 The film revealed the motivations, behaviors, and various kinds of “dirty tactics” used by schoolkids in campaigning. The children involved, of course, were heavily influenced by the adults around them.

The phenomena explored in this documentary film may or may not be indicative of the future trajectory of Chinese politics. It is also important to note that these dirty tactics do not necessarily bear any relevance to the behavioral patterns exhibited by the upcoming generation of Chinese elites. What this episode does show is that the idea of elections has gradually and quietly penetrated Chinese society, even directly affecting the lives of school children.

During the past decade, grassroots elections, or more precisely village elections, have regularly taken place in China’s 680,000 villages.3 In addition, elections have occurred more regularly at high levels of leadership. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has adopted or consolidated some electoral methods to choose the members of the Central Committee and other high-ranking leaders. Under the official guidelines of the CCP Organization Department, major personnel appointments are now often decided by votes in various committees rather than solely by the committee’s Party chief.4 In the past two years, the term “decision by vote” (piaoju), has frequently appeared in Chinese discourse on political and administrative reforms.