The Death of a Chinese Democrat – Hannah Beech
Liang Yumin killed himself, after village-level bureaucrats made his life hell. His offense? Being democratically elected to replace them
What I remember most about the four farmers who showed up at TIME’s Beijing bureau back in 2001 was the new shirts they wore. These men were trying their best to blend in to the well-dressed crowds in China’s capital. But one look and you could tell they were just poor peasants in new clothes: They were given away by their callused hands, dirt under their fingernails and the identical creases on their straight-out-of-the-box shirts ” the quiet-spoken apple grower named Liang Yumin still had a piece of cardboard tucked under his collar.
I had encountered these men a few weeks before in the course of reporting a story about flawed village elections in China. Beijing had been touting the success of grassroots democracy, and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter had lauded the local balloting. But many of the polls were plagued by irregularities, and in Qixia, whence TIME’s visitors had come, 57 village chiefs elected in 1999 found local Communist Party secretaries unwilling to hand over power. After two years of trying to wrest power from the old headmen, the 57 quit en masse.[Full Text]