Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, March 06, 2015

Civil Society in China

Long ago (25+ years) in a classroom not so far away, I remember assigning articles about the Chinese Catholic Church, Chinese unions, "neighborhood grannies," and related topics as part of teaching about civil society in China.

The take away from all that was that virtually no independent civil society was tolerated in China. As the educational, business, and cultural links between China and the rest of the world grew, new forms of civil society appeared. Independent civic groups, often funded by European or American foundations grew and some were tolerated.

The New York Times reporters and their headline writers imply that the current crackdown on independent civic groups is new. I'd say that the powers that be in the Communist Party are finally learning to control those new forms of civil society.

In China, Civic Groups’ Freedom, and Followers, Are Vanishing
These are perilous days for independent civic groups in China, especially those that take on politically contentious causes like workers’ rights, legal advocacy and discrimination… Such groups have long struggled to survive inside China’s ill-defined, shifting margins of official tolerance…

“The pressure on grass-roots organizations has never been this intense,” said Zhang Zhiru, who runs a labor rights group in the southern manufacturing city of Shenzhen in Guangdong Province…

Regulations that took effect last month in Guangzhou, a city in southern China, have intensified scrutiny of nonprofit organizations that receive foreign donations, and the central government has proposed legislation to tighten controls on foreign nongovernment organizations active in China…

The campaign has focused on groups deemed sanctuaries for dissent. From its cramped offices in the university district of northwest Beijing, the Transition Institute championed a mix of free market economics and support for the downtrodden, conducting research on the exploitation of taxi drivers, school policies that shortchange rural children and the environmental costs of the massive Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River. But the institute also attracted advocates of democratic reform, some of whom had prior run-ins with the authorities.

“We always hoped to eke out survival in tough circumstances,” said Mr. Yang, 43... now in hiding, who spent eight years in prison for holding informal discussions with a group of friends about multiparty elections and a free press. “But the more independent NGOs,” he added, referring to nongovernmental organizations, “especially the ones that criticize government policies or don’t help the government’s image, have encountered a policy of containment, even destruction.”…

The Communist Party says charities and other grass-roots organizations can offer much-needed social services in a nation strained by poverty and urbanization, and the number of such organizations has grown. But the party is also wary of citizen activism that it cannot control, and groups must be sponsored by a state entity before registering as nonprofits…

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