‘The process is so open’Chinese councilor visits American counterparts
The Washington City Council welcomed a few visitors from the Far East to its meeting Wednesday. Three men from China sat in on the council’s proceedings. One of them, Xiaogui Liao, was the equivalent of a city councilor in his native country, and he wanted to see how an American council functioned.
The visit was arranged by councilor Bob Shellmyer, who is friends with Xiaogui’s son, Junlin Liao. Junlin works at the University of Iowa Hospitals. Junlin informed Shellmyer that his father would visit him for a few months this winter and that he would like to observe a meeting of a municipal body in the United States, to see how it compared to his back home.
Xiaogui, Junlin and Junlin’s nephew Ding Liao attended the meeting. Ding is a university student at Indiana University at Pennsylvania (IUP). Xiaogui does not speak English, so his son interpreted for him throughout the meeting. Afterward, Xiaogui met the councilors and the city staff such as the city clerk, city administrator, city attorney and police chief.
Xiaogui said the meeting he witnessed Wednesday was much more transparent than the meetings of the executive board of the Yilu People’s Congress, which he served on for 23 years until his retirement in 2006. Yilu is a city of 14,000 people in Sichuan Province in the southwest part of the country.
“The process is so open,” Xiaogui said through his son who was interpreting. “It’s totally different here. In China, most of the decisions and arrangements are done behind closed doors. Some people have a disproportionate influence on those decisions.”
The meetings of municipal governments are normally closed to the public in China. However, Junlin said times are changing and that the recent meeting of the National People’s Congress was open to reporters. Xiaogui said he wished his country were open and democratic, similar to the Washington City Council he saw this week.
“Ordinary citizens cannot get into our meetings,” said Xiaogui. “Only the representatives can be there.”
In addition to serving on the Yilu People’s Congress, Xiaogui was a country doctor for 42 years and directed the Yilu Township Hospital for 27 years. He was trained in both Chinese and Western medicine. As a representative, he was sensitive to the needs of rural residents, blocking numerous tax proposals that would have significantly increased the financial burden on farmers.
When asked why he chose to become a representative on the People’s Congress, Xiaogui replied, “It is an honor to serve the people.”