Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Discouraging civil society

The Communist Party in China has long held that there was little or no need for organizations beyond the Party. A current crackdown on independent organizations continues to express that line.

China's crackdown on nonprofit groups prompts new fears among activists
The Chinese government in the past several weeks has intensified a subtle but steady tightening over the country's freewheeling civil society sector…

China's Communist rulers have long had an ambivalent attitude toward non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, seeing them as necessary, and often helpful... but also viewing them with profound suspicion. The government is particularly wary of groups that receive foreign funding.

Despite the long-running tensions between NGOs and the government, activists, lawyers and others said the latest moves against the civil society sector appear more sustained and serious than earlier cyclical crackdowns…

"I think they want a civil society with Chinese characteristics," said Nicholas Young, a Briton who once ran the online NGO newsletter China Development Brief but was forced to leave China in 2007. "And they want it to be 'civil' in the Chinese sense -- light, not antagonistic and not pushing the envelope too far."

[T]here has long been a kind of tacit understanding that NGOs would be tolerated as long as they didn't stray too far into political activism or criticizing the government. But as Young said, "You never know where the line is, and it does shift."

Added Wan Yanhai, head of the Beijing Aizhixing Institute of Health Education: "I think there's no clear boundary between a political and a non-political organization. And there's no clear boundary between action-oriented and advocacy."…

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