Guangdong party boss Wang Yang has called on the public to cast aside the long-held notion that happiness is a gift from the party and the government.
'It is the people's right to pursue happiness and it is the party and the government's responsibility to do good for the people,' Wang told the opening of the province's 11th Communist Party congress yesterday. 'We should eradicate the wrong concept that happiness is a benevolent gift from the party and the government.'
Wang is considered a leading voice for reform and a contender for a seat on the Politburo's supreme Standing Committee this year.
The remarks represent a departure from years of propaganda that has urged citizens to view the party as a benefactor and provider of good fortune.
The theme echoes Wang's two-year-old 'Happy Guangdong' campaign, in which the province set up a happiness index and encouraged people to strive for joy in their lives.
The southern economic powerhouse has vowed in its five-year plan to slow growth to a more manageable 8 per cent from the 12.5 per cent rate of recent years while it focuses on helping people find 'real happiness'.
But residents criticise the Guangdong authorities for failing to provide enough jobs, social welfare, medical services and housing - which many argue are elements necessary to happiness.
'We should respect the people's initiative and allow the public to boldly explore the road towards happiness,' Wang said.
He also promised to improve party governance at the grass-roots level within five years. The push follows various episodes of local unrest, including an uprising over an illegal land grab in Wukan that led to the sacking of village officials and a free election for their replacements.
Wang said yesterday the province would strengthen its supervision and audits of party cadres, especially decision makers, and launch a big re-education campaign to crack down on corruption and improve party management.
Professor Hu Xingdou, a commentator at the Beijing University of Technology, said the Happy Guangdong theme was just an ideal.
'Without a constitutional government and democracy, a 'Happy China' will only be a fable,' Hu said. 'There are so many things authorities could do to improve the public's satisfaction, such as protecting civil rights, building a democratic country, fighting corruption, stopping illegal land grab and reducing taxes.
'Guangdong cadres don't have the ability to build 'Happy Guangdong' without a fundamental change in the political system. That's a matter of the whole country.'
Meanwhile, Guangdong announced a new regulation to require government departments to consult at least nine experts before any decisions that involve sensitive public issues, the Legal Daily reported yesterday. It said cadres who ignored the experts' opinions and caused policy setbacks would be subject to review.