context: While Beijing hesitates about national rural revitalisation strategy, a debate appears to be surfacing about village governance. Party media recently urged cadres to stop looking at the countryside as a stepping-stone for promotion and settle in as responsible officials. But a rather different proposal for administration of villages has now appeared, possibly indicating uncertainty about what sort of political changes might accompany rural revival and whether high-tech governance is workable everywhere.

A commentary in Xiangcunfaxian argues that ‘grid governance’ may not be suitable for all rural localities. Such governance is a system in which command centres lie at the district and county level, platforms in townships, and staff in village groups; each member of the grid is equipped with a terminal which allows them to upload affairs to be processed into the system which then divides these into categories to enable better problem-solving.

While its overall aim, says the commentary, is to channel difficult problems that townships cannot handle to districts and counties, adoption of the system has weakened the older village governance system. Village leaders and cadres, elected by the village, tend not to have authority or resources, and so rely on the public for support. For officials to obtain resources to solve problems they must enter the state system, (grid members are essentially technocrats) which undermines traditional face-to-face governance and changes the relationship between rural cadres and the people. In urban governance, affairs are many, but in rural areas, tasks can be irregular and the grid system encourages idling because often days pass before an important challenge arises.

Governance should be kept simple, the commentary concludes, with a recognition that some areas in the east have substantial migrant populations and therefore are suited to grid governance, but other rural units may not be. Governance, it says, should be tailored to local conditions.