A grid chief of Zhili Township (left), a volunteer of the Ping'an Charity Alliance (center) and a law enforcement officer patrol the streets in town on August 7 (XINHUA)
Covering an area of 140 square km, Miami, the second largest city in Florida in the United States, is home to a population of 450,000. Yet, in Zhili, a small town in east China's Zhejiang Province, the same amount of people live and work in an area of only 25 square km.
Such a high population density has brought challenges for the local government, which only has about 200 full-time staff. But the government is managing its job capably with most people living and working in peace and happiness. In recent years, the Zhili Government has explored innovative measures, such as dividing the area and creating smaller administrative units, promoting management reform to assume more of the responsibilities of higher levels of government and mobilizing the participation of other social forces.
Firefighters conduct daily trainings at the fire alarm squadron in Zhili in 2018 (COUTESY PHOTO)
As the capital of the manufacturing of children's wear in China, Zhili's thriving economy has attracted some 35,000 migrant workers from across the country, which, while a boon for local development, has also caused social problems. For example, during the 1980s, Zhili was described as a place surrounded by gold as well as trash.
In efforts to resolve these issues, the local authorities decided to implement a new, streamlined management structure. In 2014, the government divided the town into 313 small administrative units, called grids, each of which was equipped with at least one chief in charge of overseeing safety in production, collecting taxes and maintaining the environment, among other responsibilities.
"To fill the personnel gap, we hired over 600 staff as chiefs of the grids," Sheng Ge, Vice Mayor of Zhili, told Beijing Review. According to Sheng, each chief is responsible for about 100 public institutions, such as factories, shops, markets and schools. Each of the chiefs is equipped with a work phone that has an app listing all the criteria to be examined as well as recording their daily footprint.
"The first thing I do when I start work every morning is to open the app. I need to record each aspect of the factories, shops and other public places that I am in charge of, such as whether the fire exits are blocked, extinguishers expired or whether workers live and work in the same place," Wang Zhipeng, one grid chief, said.
According to Wang, some problems can be corrected on site. But some, however, cannot be solved immediately, such as replacing aging electrical lines. "For factories with such issues, we report to higher-level chiefs and usually the factories will be asked to suspend operations pending ratification."
"Among all the duties of such chiefs, ensuring the safety of production is the priority," said Sheng. "There is an old saying in Zhili, a thief might steal some of your things, but a fire will destroy everything you own," he added. Governments are right to worry about this. In 2013, two fires broke out in Zhili resulting in the deaths of 26 people.
"We are determined to avoid such disasters in the future and to strengthen the supervision of workshops and factories." Sheng said. Time is a witness to the efficiency of such strict supervision. Five years have passed and no major fires have occurred.
Besides improving management, the local authorities have also concentrated on raising people's awareness of fire prevention. A fire experiencing hall was set up at the township's science and cultural center last July, aiming to help citizens learn how to minimize fire risks and some escape methods and emergency techniques. It is also a place where schools visit to educate their students in fire prevention.
"It is an interesting place and I learned new things, like that people should bend down when escaping a fire," Shi Yutu, a primary school student said after visiting the hall. "Many fires are caused by small incidents. I will tell my father to put out his cigarette butts after smoking," Shi added.
A volunteer (right) helps a resident (center) process her forms at the administrative service center of Zhili in 2018 (COUTESY PHOTO)
The Zhili government has also assumed more responsibilities in recent years since reform in power allocation. "Our objective is to provide services for people in all aspects," Sheng said.
In the past, life in Zhili was inconvenient, especially for migrant workers who had to return to their hometowns for administrative services. "Years ago, we had to go back to Shenyang when applying for a passport. It cost over 10,000 yuan ($1,428) including transportation and work expenses, and took five days to apply for a passport in our hometown," one migrant worker from Shenyang, northeast China's Liaoning Province, told Beijing Review. "But it is more convenient now. The application procedures can be completed in Zhili, and it takes only 10 minutes."
Many people in Zhili are delighted to see the improved services offered by the local government. "It used to take me at least a month to apply for a business license. Now it can be finished in two days," a local man named Li said.
According to statistics from the local government, more than 215,000 cases have been accepted so far in 2018, with more than 1,280 processed daily. "In China, it is rare that a township-level administrative center has such a full set of convenient services. Zhili has been at the forefront of reform and opening up in this regard," said Lou Zanfeng, director of the Zhili administrative service center.
Copyedited by Laurence Coulton
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