A new phenomenon in the 1980s at the local government level was the implementation of the electoral system in the countryside. In the cities, it was tried out in 1980 but soon given up because the candidates elected did not please the party. The democratically elected village cadres are "relatively successful in securing popular compliance with state policies in return for defending villagers against the illegal predatory exactions of township and county officials, on whom they no longer need to depend for their positions."(Goldman, 13) The estimate of the percentage of villages holding their own elections was 10 percent by 1999 (Goldman, 13). In 1990, Deng Xiaoping also saw to the passage of a law on administrative procedure, which "gave ordinary people the right to bring suit against rapacious, arbitrary officials. Villagers, for example, began bringing suit against local officials who had confiscated their land for village industries or projects. In 1995 alone it was reported that 70,000 citizens filed suit against government agencies and officials" (Goldman, 14).
Although there has been much reform, most of it was accomplished by the directives of individuals. Deng Xiaoping's death in 1997 further weakened the party's authority as he had carried out many policies by relying on his personal prestige and this style---emphasizing personal rule over institutional procedures---was carried on by his successor Jiang Zemin, who had already become the party chairman seven years before Deng's death, when Deng officially "stepped down," although Jiang complied with his wishes in real policies. By now, the Communist party's power has been significantly weakened. The "paradox of the post-Mao era is that an expanding, dynamic economy has undermined the authority of the political leaders who have made it possible. Despite some limited political and legal reforms, there is an increasing dichotomy between China's economic growth and its increasingly fragmented party-state. As long as such a contradiction exists, China will be haunted by the specter of political instability" (Goldman, 16).
Increasingly, the party "has difficulties regulating an increasingly complex and fluid society in which the relationships between state and society are in flux" (Goldman, 21). China's expanding business class has its interests "served by maintaining its present relationship with officials. The subordinate status of the rising economic forces--the self-employed, collectives, clans, and small and large scale private businesses--has been reinforced by the party's efforts to co-opt their associations and head off any challenge to the political system. Even the non-governmental associations, which are self-financing, function under some sort of official supervision. Professionals and academics, some of whom--lawyers, doctors, engineers, and educators--are establishing private practices, also have set up smaller, more flexible groups, which have replaced the official professional federations as their main source of association. Yet the degree of even influential nongovernmental groups of professionals and academics is delineated and policed by officials." (Goldman, 17-18) Even so, associations established under official supervision have been more assertive of their members' views than their sponsors' (Goldman, 17-18). We do see a degree of pluralism, although this pluralism stopped at direct criticism of the state. Several chapters in Perry Link's Popular China (e.g., chapters 2, 3, 5, and 6) reflect on this pluralism in the mass media.