CCTV's News Investigation is one of the best practices of journalism in China. Recently they broadcasted an episode on the self-governance of villagers (村民自治). Two very interesting terms emerged from the interview: sea-election vs. sea-fishing (海选 vs. 海捞). I found it extremely difficult to translate the two terms. But I can explain. 海选 means one person one vote and emphasizes the right of electing officials (village-level only). 海捞, as the quote below defined, means that the elected official was selected from a wide range of possible candidates (literally it means being fished out of sea). It emphasizes the accessibility of candidacy. One significant aspect with the basic level democracy (基层民主) is that it allows a procedure of sea-fishing (海捞). The cost of being a candidate at the village level is much lower than that at the higher level (such as county, city, province, and nation), which allows almost any villagers to be able to enter into the game.
Chen Yongxi: After the election was done, the head of county came to us several times. He told us that a reporter from American Newsweek Magazine came to interview us. The vice director was Chen Zhong and he said you are like being fished out of the sea, so let's call you "sea-fishing". Then Head Fei said this word is not elegant. Not elegant. So I said how about "sea-election". He thought it is good so we decided to use this word.
Other grass-root understandings of democracy and politics are also enlightening. The following are two examples.
Zhang Xiaogan: I personally think that election must have a procedure. The procedure is democracy. Democracy is trouble. So election is a troublesome thing. I personally think so. Because procedure itself is democracy. No procedure no democracy.
Xu Qian: Things like the democratic awareness, the democratic ability, the idea of the rule of law, and the level of ruling by law, they all need to be improved in practices. It is like a person. If you don't let him walk, how can he learn how to walk? He must get skilled by practicing the skill of walk.
Social Media and Rural Communities
I am totally excited by this upcoming project that NUS is organizing. During the brainstorm meeting, I threw my brain into the storm and proposed a migrant worker study that tries to apply ICTs into supporting the long-distance relationship between the workers and their rural families. The more I think about it, the more I feel that my current research paradigm is challenged.
1. The inter-disciplinary nature of this project: Previously my experience of multiple disciplines is limited to my own exposure to theories and research from different disciplines. But the purpose of the studies is the same -- to answer a question or to test a hypothesis. This project includes people from the computing school, the design school, and the social sciences. The purpose of this project is not just about research. It puts more emphasis on applications.
2. The problem-solving orientation of this project: I have never done a research that really solves a problem or implements a solution. The factors I will consider are quite different here. I become less concerned about the cleanness of my design (e.g., internal validity) than the success of solutions. Dr. Hornick (Annenberg, UPenn) once said that the most sucessful campaign might be the most messy campaign that mobilizes all possilbe social forces.
3. Poor people still have social needs: Probably becasue of my acceptance of Maslow's hierachy of needs, I did not realize that I put physiological needs ahead of any other needs and assumed that without satisfying the physicological needs, no other needs should be considered. This is not true. Social needs such as love and belonging do not come after physicological needs . They exist along with the physiological needs. Therefore, we should use technolgoy to address these needs.
A final note: there is no useless reading. I do not know why I started reading books about Chinese rural communities during summer. I simply felt interested. Now the project comes. Now I see the value of reading all items from Baidu news search with the key word "peasants" for three months.
I am an Associate Professor at Department of Communication and New Media, National University of Singapore.