Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, May 20, 2013

Uninvited civil society

Most textbooks make a point of arguing that Communist Party control of Chinese civil society is key to maintaining the party's power position. What if civil society is not controlled?

Social Media in China Fuel Citizen Response to Quake
The rapid grass-roots response to the [April 20 earthquake] reveals just how far China’s nascent civil society movement has come since 2008, when a 7.9-magnitude earthquake in Wenchuan, not far from Lushan, prompted a wave of volunteerism and philanthropy. That quake, which claimed about 90,000 lives, provoked criticism of the government for its ham-handed relief efforts…

2013 Lushan earthquake
Like the government, which honed its rescue and relief efforts after the Wenchuan earthquake, the volunteers and civil society groups that first appeared in 2008 gained valuable skills for working in disaster zones. Their ability to coordinate — and, in some instances, outsmart a government intent on keeping them away — were enhanced by Sina Weibo, the Twitter-like microblog that did not exist in 2008 but now has more than 500 million users.

“Civil society is much more capable today compared to 2008,” said Ran Yunfei, a prominent democracy activist and blogger, who describes Weibo as a revolutionary tool for social change…

Although [Li Chengpeng, a sports commentator from Sichuan turned civic activist] acknowledges the government’s importance during such disasters, Mr. Li contends that grass-roots activism is just as vital. “You can’t ask an NGO to blow up half a mountain to clear roads and you can’t ask an army platoon to ask a middle-aged woman whether she needs sanitary napkins,” he wrote in a recent post…

Analysts say the legions of volunteers and aid workers that descended on Sichuan threatened the government’s carefully constructed narrative about the earthquake. Indeed, some Chinese suspect such fears were at least partly behind official efforts to discourage altruistic citizens from coming to the region…

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