An Emerging Civil Society: The Impact of the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake on Grassroots Civic Associations in China

China Development Brief

中文 English

This article, [1] by Shawn Shieh[2] and Guosheng Deng,[3] discusses several areas in which the earthquake impacted NGOs that may translate into long-term gains for civil society in China. First, the earthquake created an unprecedented opportunity for NGOs to participate, network and show their worth on a public stage that received the attention and appreciation of the media and government officials. Second, it led to the emergence of NGO networks that drew in other actors such as the media, international NGOs, government-organized NGOs (GONGOs) and even government officials. Finally, it has stimulated ongoing public debates over, and pressures to change, the restrictive fundraising and policy environment for NGOs. These findings show that civil society development is not simply a function of government policy or international funding, but also of large-scale crises that expand the public space and need for NGOs.

On May 12, 2008, a huge earthquake measuring around 7.9 on the Richter scale struck western China. The epicenter of the earthquake was located near Wenchuan, in the mountainous western part of Sichuan province, but the force of the earthquake was felt as far away as Beijing. The earthquake caused massive damage in the areas near the epicenter and led to a death toll estimated at nearly 70,000.   The earthquake came as a shock to a country preparing to host the summer Olympic games in Beijing, but the social response to the earthquake was just as unexpected. The days and months that followed saw a tremendous surge of support from society as volunteers, civic associations, enterprises, and media from across the country donated their time, money and materials to the earthquake relief and reconstruction effort. Only two weeks after the earthquake, public donations reached 30.876 billion yuan, roughly the same as total public donations made for the entire year of 2007.[4]   The response by volunteers and civic associations participating in the earthquake relief was also unprecedented[5]. While some of these organizations were international NGOs and government-organized NGOs (GONGOs), many were homegrown, grassroots associations or NGOs[6]. To drive home the significance of this grassroots response to the earthquake, some media reports touted 2008 as the “Year of the Volunteer” or “Year of the NGO.”

The widespread participation of volunteers and associations in the earthquake relief and reconstruction shows that civil society in China has made significant progress in recent years. In the past, crisis management was a top-down process monopolized and mobilized by the state, with little input from ordinary citizens. But just how much of a change in state-society relations does this grassroots movement represent, and can the advances made by civil society after the earthquake be sustained over the medium or long term? Studies of civil society responses to earthquakes and other crises suggest that, in the short term, crises often expose weaknesses in state and present an opportunity for civic associations to play a more active role. In some cases, such as in Japan, earthquakes led to changes in the laws governing civic associations[7]. In other cases, earthquakes had a more limited impact on state-society relations. While earthquakes led to greater public visibility and respect for NGOs, and more networking opportunities, the upsurge in NGO activity and volunteerism was not always sustained.[8]

In the case of China, recent research shows that crises can play a role in expanding space for civil society, citing NGO participation in the SARS, and HIV/AIDS crises.[9] Preliminary research on the Sichuan earthquake also suggests that civil society organizations were able to take advantage of the opening provided by the earthquake and play a role in assisting the government in rescue and relief operations[10].

This article explores the relationship between crises and civil society in more depth focusing on the Sichuan earthquake’s impact on Chinese NGOs. It is based on interviews with government officials, academics and NGOs involved in the earthquake relief and reconstruction efforts, as well as reports and surveys published by academics, the government, journalists and the NGO community here in China. The interviews were conducted by the authors who made several trips to Sichuan from December of 2008 to the summer of 2009 to assess the impact of the earthquake on NGOs over the last year.

In the next section, we first discuss the relationship between NGOs and civil society in the Chinese context, then examine the role that NGOs played in the earthquake relief, and the government’s response to the participation of NGOs over the last year. We argue that the earthquake had several important impacts on NGOs that may translate into more lasting effects on China’s civil society. One is that it illuminated and energized what had previously been a quiescent and fragmented civil society by providing an unprecedented opportunity and a public stage for NGOs to mobilize, network and demonstrate their worth. The rapid emergence of NGO networks right after the earthquake is of particular importance not only because it demonstrated the capacity of NGOs to engage in collective action, but also because it brought NGOs into contact with government-backed organizations (e.g. mass organizations and GONGOs), international NGOs and individual officials who joined in these networks. Finally, NGOs participation in the earthquake, and the challenges they faced, has stimulated pressures for change in the fundraising and policy environment for NGOs.

Civil Society and NGOs in China

We use the sociological definition of civil society as the associational realm located between the state and other constitutive parts of society such as individuals, families and firms. This realm is populated by nongovernmental, nonprofit associations and networks that are largely self-organized and self-governing, and are formed voluntarily by members of society to pursue their interests and values.[11]

Applying this definition of civil society to China is challenging and some have argued that China does not have a civil society.[12] They point out that many associations in China, including many that call themselves NGOs, are established by the government or have significant government backing. Many of the more than 400,000 associations that are registered with the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MOCA) and commonly recognized as NGOs are in fact GONGOs. MOCA regulations distinguish between three categories of NGOs: social organizations (shetuan); private non-enterprise units (minban feiqiye or minfei for short); and foundations (jijinhui).[13] GONGOs make up a majority of shetuan and foundations, and a substantial though smaller percentage of minfei.[14]

Civil society skeptics also point to the restrictive regulatory, political, and economic environment for NGOs in China. The regulatory system places many restrictions on NGO registration, organizing, and funding. NGOs that want to register with Civil Affairs need to meet certain requirements in terms of assets, staff, an office, a charter and so on.[15] NGOs are discouraged from registering if there is already a shetuan or minfei  registered in the same line of work.[16] Most importantly, NGOs must find a qualified government agency that is willing to be the NGO’s professional supervising unit (zhuguan bumen).   A willing professional supervising unit is difficult to find. In many cases, a supervising unit is already sponsoring another NGO in a similar line of work, or may be unwilling to be responsible for supervising an NGO. Given these difficulties, many NGOs have chosen to register with the Industrial and Commercial bureau as a for-profit business, or remain unregistered.

Even when an NGO is able to register with Civil Affairs or as a business, it faces other restrictions on organizing and fundraising. MOCA regulations prohibit NGOs from establishing branch organizations in other areas, making it difficult for NGOs to work in areas outside of their jurisdiction. The regulations also prohibit NGOs from engaging in public fundraising. Only a few GONGOs such as the China Red Cross Society (hong shizihui) and China Charity Federation (zhonghua cishan zonghui) are authorized to raise money publicly for disaster relief, and as a result they received the lion’s share of public donations after the earthquake[17]. As a result, NGOs have had to depend largely on private donations largely from overseas sources, and find it difficult to sustain their operations and develop professional staff due to funding difficulties. Finally, NGOs are viewed with suspicion by many authorities who do not understand what NGOs are or view them as anti-government organizations, and they are occasionally raided and even closed down by authorities for engaging in work that is perceived as sensitive.

These restrictions however should not obscure an important trend over the last decade: the rapid emergence of grassroots NGOs and networks in China that better fit our definition of civil society. These civil society groups come closer to independent associations because they are formed voluntarily with little or no government support, and are self-governing. These NGOs span a wide range of activities. While some are created to address the narrow interests of their members, many are concerned with the broader public interest and see themselves as contributing to an emerging civil society in China. They include environmental groups; groups providing services to specific groups such as migrant workers, women, and the disabled; homeowners associations; volunteer groups; cultural and recreational associations, and professional associations[18].

There are no reliable figures for the number of grassroots associations in China, but estimates suggest the numbers are sizeable. They include a portion of the more than 400,000 social organizations registered with Civil Affairs. In addition, estimates of the number of “business” or unregistered NGOs range from a few hundred thousand to over a million if rural associations are included[19].   Some Chinese scholars of NGOs estimate that the number of “business” and unregistered NGOs may be as high as 1 to 1.5 million.[20] These NGOs began to emerge in China in the early 1990s with organizations like Red Maple Women’s Psychological Counseling Center and the environmental group, Friends of Nature. Over the last decade, their numbers have risen rapidly, and they constitute the clearest marker of an emerging civil society in China.

In assessing the impact of the earthquake on civil society in China, we focus on this community of NGOs. But we also caution that it is neither possible nor desirable to make clear-cut distinctions between NGOs and GONGOs. For one, GONGOs are themselves becoming increasingly independent, and cooperating more with NGOs, a trend that intensified after the earthquake as we will see in the following sections. Moreover, research on civil society and social movements in other settings, in addition to our own research on NGO networks that emerged in the wake of the earthquake, show that they are composed of a heterogeneous array of organizations and individuals, not solely NGOs. To understand the possibilities for the emergence of civil society in China, we need to allow for a associational space not defined by sharp boundaries between state, market and civil society, and from which civil society evolves in a fluid and interdependent relationship with state and market actors[21].

State and Society Respond to the Sichuan Earthquake

The Sichuan earthquake triggered a large-scale response by the Chinese government and society. The government mobilized over 130,000 PLA soldiers and paramilitary police to the earthquake region and started a flow of supplies to the region on the day of the earthquake.   Government ministries and departments, mass organizations like the Communist Youth League (CYL), and GONGOs such as the Red Cross sent search and rescue teams, supplies and mobilized volunteers and funds through their national networks. A week after the earthquake, the Sichuan provincial CYL estimated it had about 200,000 volunteers in the earthquake areas, about half of whom were university students.[22] In addition, Chinese and international media were allowed relatively free rein in the earthquake region.

There was also a significant societal response as NGOs, companies, and volunteers rushed to the earthquake-stricken region to offer help, or raised funds and materials to be sent to aid those affected by the earthquake. The NGO response was immediate,[23] visible and unprecedented,[24] and included a diverse collection of organizations: private foundations started by celebrities such as Jet Li’s One Foundation; established NGOs such as Friends of Nature, as well as many lesser-known NGOs that had been working on environmental issues, HIV/AIDS, poverty relief and education, and other issues prior to the earthquake; and informal groups of volunteers formed in response to the earthquake[25]. One group surveying the NGO response one week after the earthquake counted more than 50 participating NGOs, and numerous volunteer groups and teams.[26] Other sources gave estimates ranging between 100-200 Chinese and international NGOs.[27] The Beijing Normal University survey team came across 263 NGOs and volunteer groups but claimed the actual number was even more.[28] More importantly, the earthquake led to an upsurge in NGO and volunteer networking and organizing, and the emergence of new groups and organizations, which are described in more detail below.

NGO Partnerships and Networking

An important dimension of the NGO response to the earthquake consisted of partnerships that NGOs engaged in with local governments, mass organizations, and GONGOs. Such partnerships were critical to the effectiveness and success of NGOs due to their lack of legitimacy and organizational capacity.   In order to enter the earthquake zones to help in the relief and reconstruction effort, these NGOs had to reach out to governmental and quasi-governmental partners that possessed both legal status and a national network.

In the initial stage of the earthquake relief, a number of local governments were overwhelmed and welcomed help from NGOs and volunteer groups, even allowing some NGOs to raise funds publicly on behalf of the Red Cross. Some township governments served as communication platforms for NGOs, volunteers, and the army.[29] In a township in Mianzhu county, several NGOs with the support of township officials established a Volunteer Coordination Office that turned into a gathering place for NGOs.[30]

The Beijing Normal University survey of 64 participating NGOs shows a substantial number relied on governmental ties to enter the earthquake area. As Table 1 shows, 41 NGOs (or 61%) relied on ties with either their own local government or the local government in the earthquake area. This number may actually underestimate the importance of government ties, because some of the other categories such as “personal ties” or “other” may have involved individuals associated with the local government or GONGOs such as the local Red Cross. Indeed, the report goes to state that one of the main characteristics of NGO participation was their reliance on personal ties with individual government officials, or with GONGOs or mass organizations such as the Women’s Federation and Communist Youth League, in order to enter the quake areas.

Type of organization Personal ties Local government from their own area Local government in quake area NGO network Other
All organizations 23.8% 14.1% 50% 48.4% 12.5%
Registered NGOs 20% 20% 62.9% 48.6% 5.7%
NGOs registered as businesses 33.3% 16.7% 66.7% 66.7% 33.3%
Unregistered NGOs 9.1% 0% 27.3% 45.5% 18.2%
Individual-based 50% 0 25% 25% 0%

TABLE 1: Channels used by NGOs to enter the earthquake area based on a survey of 64 NGOs. (Source: Beijing Normal University survey, emailed to the authors by Professor Tao Chuanjin on December 18, 2008)

Another important dimension of the NGO response to the earthquake was the rapid and extensive networking that occurred between NGOs, GONGOs, informal volunteer groups, and enterprises. As the Beijing Normal University survey shows, networking was a common means by which NGOs participated in the earthquake relief. Nearly 58.6 percent of the more than 70 NGOs surveyed were operating in Sichuan with three or more NGOs, and only about 28.6 percent operated alone[31]. Table 1 also shows that NGO networks provided an important platform for NGOs and volunteers seeking to participate in the earthquake relief. NGO networks were almost as important as local governments in helping NGOs enter the earthquake zones. Of the 64 NGOs surveyed, 48 percent relied on NGO networks to enter the earthquake zones, compared with 50 percent that relied on help from local governments in the earthquake zones and 14 percent that relied on help from their own local governments. Not surprisingly, the survey shows that “NGOs registered as businesses” and “unregistered NGOs”, two categories of grassroots NGOs, tended to rely more heavily on NGO networks than “registered NGOs”, a category which includes a mix of GONGOs and NGOs.

Many of these networks included a mix of NGOs (both domestic and international), GONGOs, informal volunteer groups and enterprises, a reminder of the heterogeneity of grassroots networks and thus the difficulty of trying to make clear-cut distinctions between grassroots associations and those with government backing. A few days after the earthquake, a joint declaration called on NGOs to unite in the earthquake relief and was supported by more than 160 organizations nationwide.[32] A number of Beijing’s leading NGOs and private foundations such as Friends of Nature, Green Earth Volunteers, and Nandu (or Narada) Foundation played leading roles, as did GONGOs like the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation and the China Youth Development Foundation. On May 14th, another network involving four Shanghai NGOs, a magazine and Jet Li’s One Foundation, set up a small group to gather supplies donated by enterprises, and transport them to Sichuan.[33] Other regionally-based NGO networks came from Guizhou, Shaanxi and Gansu.[34]

Of all these networks, the most important were the Sichuan NGO Earthquake Relief Coordinating Office (hereafter, the NGO Coordinating Office) (minjian jiuzai lianhe bangongshi); and the 512 Voluntary Relief Services Center (hereafter, the 512 Center) (512 minjian jiuzhu fuwu zhongxin). These networks were organized primarily by NGOs, took on more institutionalized forms, and thus show the potential for grassroots NGO networking in China.

The NGO Coordinating Office got its start on the day of the earthquake and lasted for about a month before closing down in early June. On the night of May 12th, several NGOs in Sichuan and Yunnan issued an appeal for NGOs to join in a joint relief effort and used the internet to contact NGOs, volunteers and other groups.[35] The main organizers were three NGOs from Sichuan, one from Yunnan, and another from Guizhou.[36]   The primary purpose of the NGO Coordinating Office was securing needed materials and supplies and distributing them to the regions affected by the earthquake through a virtual network of NGOs. During the month of May, the NGO Coordinating Office worked with more than 100 NGOs, volunteer groups, and enterprises around the country getting needed materials into the earthquake region. This network also served as a platform for information sharing. Beijing Zhendanji, a volunteer youth group, and the Yunnan-based NGO Development and Exchange Network (also known as set up a “NGO Relief Action” blog and a newsletter to get information out to network members about the need for supplies, and NGO relief activities.

The second NGO network, the 512 Center, also emerged in Chengdu and is still operating. The Center was based in the office of a registered NGO, Chengdu Urban Rivers Association (CURA). According to organizers of the 512 Center, the Center was not established until May 15th, but a number of the NGOs involved were already coordinating on the day of the earthquake[37]. They found that in the chaos following the earthquake, volunteers and NGOs were looking for information about where to go and what they could do to help. The 512 Center was established primarily to provide information and training to these NGOs and volunteers. On May 14th, realizing the existence of an NGO network was bound to be sensitive, the Center’s organizers informed local officials who they knew personally about their intention of establishing the Center and faxed them the list of the organizations and groups involved. Then on May 15th, a group of 21 NGOs met in CURA’s office and agreed to establish the 512 Center. The main organizers were Chinese NGOs, though they were joined by a few international NGOs with offices in Sichuan.

While there was some overlap between the 512 Center’s network and the NGO Coordinating Office’s network, their missions were different as explained by one of the organizers of the NGO Coordinating Office. “Our mission was very single-minded: getting materials and sending them out to the affected areas. The 512 Center’s mission is to provide information for NGOs and volunteers, so really two different networks with two different missions”.[38]

Since May 15, members of the 512 Center have held regular meetings. By June, soon after the NGO Coordinating Office closed down, the 512 Center’s members gathered to discuss whether to keep the Center going. Most of the members voted to continue the Center, and signed onto a memorandum of understanding where they agreed that the Center would continue its work as a project (xiangmu)[39]. The Center also went through a restructuring whereby decision making power was given to a core group of NGOs. The remaining members retained privileges such as attending meetings, participating in the Center’s activities, and getting minutes of the meetings and other information from the 512 Center. By June of 2009, the number of NGOs listed as members of the Center’s network had risen to over 40, but it was also sharing information on a regular basis with more than 80 other NGOs and foundations from around the country.

The internet served as a powerful tool used by NGOs to organize, and helps to explain how these networks came together in such a short period of time. As Guobing Yang, who has written about internet activism in China, points out,

Much of the civic organizing [after the earthquake] was done through web sites, mailing lists, blogs and online communities. For example,, a major information hub for Chinese NGOs, set up a special bulletin board for the NGO relief office in Chengdu to post announcements. The internet proved crucial for timely, extensive, and in-depth coverage. Large websites, both commercial and government-owned, set up special earthquake sections.[40]

The internet was used by a number of environmental and education NGOs in Beijing to launch a “Green Ribbon” campaign the day after the earthquake to raise money and conduct blood drives. That same day, 57 NGOs issued a joint statement calling for NGOs to collaborate in providing disaster relief.[41], and through regular newsletters emailed to its supporters.    The internet figures prominently in the two NGO networks described above, and made it possible for them to extend their reach nationwide.   In the case of the NGO Coordinating Office, most of the networking, and organizing and distribution of supplies, was carried out online. The 512 Center also does most of its coordination and information sharing through its website,

The composition of these networks, and the speed with which they formed, are important to our argument that the earthquake energized what was already a nascent, and relatively independent civil society. First, these networks were organized and made up largely of NGOs and volunteer groups, showing that China’s grassroots associations are capable of forming horizontal networks that are relatively independent of the Chinese state[42]. They thus provide evidence that grassroots associations in China have not been captured by vertical, corporatist ties as some have argued.[43] Secondly, NGOs and other groups involved in these networks came from diverse sectors and issue areas, indicating they were bound by “weak ties” which are seen as more conducive to the development of a civil society[44]. “Weak ties” characterize relationships between different small groups, in contrast to “strong ties” which characterize family and kinship groups. “Weak ties” are thus seen as contributing to the development of broader, less self-interested, and more socially engaged attitudes that cut across social cleavages.[45]

Finally, if as Robert Putnam argues, spontaneous and voluntary cooperation in a community is facilitated by social capital, defined as features of social organization such as trust, norms of reciprocity and networks of civic engagement, then the rapid emergence of these networks suggest that China’s NGO community possessed a substantial stock of social capital prior to the earthquake.[46] This observation runs counter to some studies that characterize the NGO community as atomized and fragmented[47], and shows that the effect of the earthquake on NGOs has been less a revolutionary one, than an evolutionary one. Guobin Yang makes a similar observation in noting, “the unprecedented scope of citizen participation [following the earthquake] was not a surprising turn of events, but rather the logical outcome of more than 10 years of small-scale but persistent grassroots citizen activism since the mid-1990s.”[48]

The Government’s Response to NGO Participation: Institutionalizing Cooperation and Changing the Policy Environment for NGOs

Whether the resurgence of civil society in the wake of the earthquake can be sustained depends critically on the government’s response to the participation of NGOs, volunteers and their networks. In the year following the earthquake, the government’s attitude and policy toward NGOs has been mixed, but on the whole, there are encouraging signs that the earthquake has prompted Chinese authorities at both the local and national level to reconsider their views of and policy toward NGOs.

At the local level, the earthquake forced local authorities to work together with NGOs, often for the first time. Their responses have varied, but generally they have been willing to institutionalize arrangements with NGOs that they feel will help in the post-earthquake reconstruction[49]. They were most open to NGO participation during the first week when the government’s management capacity at the local level was severely weakened by the earthquake, and NGOs and volunteers, including those from overseas, poured in with few restrictions.[50] In the months following, local authorities in the earthquake area recovered their capacity and strengthened their management over NGOs and volunteers as concerns emerged about improper fundraising activities, and volunteers and organizations entering with adequate training or a clear sense of how they could help, or engaging in sensitive activities.[51] In the city of Dujiangyan, volunteers were seen to be helping organize angry parents who had planned to present a petition to local authorities concerning the death of their children who had been killed by the collapse of poorly-constructed school buildings.[52]

In response to these problems, local authorities have worked out a modus operandi allowing NGOs and volunteers that are qualified to remain in the area. If NGOs or volunteers want to work in the earthquake areas, they now need a vehicle permit issued by government, and introduction letters from higher-level government authorities, the Red Cross, or the Communist Youth League.[53]   A number of NGOs we visited in June of 2009, more than a year after the earthquake, were still carrying out projects in the earthquake areas, but they stressed that NGOs that wanted to work in the area had to have a clear plan, work closely with local authorities, and demonstrate their effectiveness. They also stressed the importance of being proactive in reporting their activities to local governments as a way of maintaining good relations. NGOs that tried to carry out their activities without informing local governments or getting their approval were more likely to be told to leave the area[54]

At the national level, the earthquake prompted cooperation between GONGOs and NGOs in the area of funding, and a reconsideration of policies that may alleviate some of the structural impediments facing NGOs in China. In an important change from past practices, GONGOs such as the China Red Cross Foundation and the China Poverty Alleviation Foundation have begun to disburse funds to support NGO projects. Because NGOs cannot fundraise publicly, almost all of the record-shattering 65.252 billion yuan in public donations raised for the earthquake in 2008 went to government departments and GONGOs.   Some GONGOs found they had more than they could effectively spend and decided to invite NGOs to bid for post-earthquake reconstruction projects.[55] In June 2008, the China Red Cross Foundation gave 20 million RMB through a public tendering process to more than 10 NGOs for post-earthquake reconstruction projects. In August 2009, a coalition of seven foundations, some private and some GONGOs, contributed over 20 million RMB through a public bidding process for reconstruction projects. Most of this went to NGOs.[56]

The earthquake also led to debates about removing some of the obstacles to fundraising and registration that currently constrain NGOs. One of these is the restrictions on public fundraising that allowed government agencies and GONGOs to gain a near monopoly on funds raised from the public for the earthquake relief. The government’s monopoly led to expressions of dissatisfaction towards government and charity institutions, and triggered debates about who could raise funds publicly, how fundraising could be made more transparent, and how publicly raised funds could be spent.[57]   These debates have prompted Chinese policymakers to consider revising the regulations concerning disaster relief and NGO management to enlarge the role of NGOs.[58] The most direct effect of this crisis may be the promulgation of the “Regulations on Social Fund-Raising Management.” The State Council and related government agencies have already issued a series of provisional documents to regulate public fund-raising, and in 2009, the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MOCA) began drafting new regulations governing public fundraising.

In addition, after the earthquake, MOCA finished drafting the “Charity Law” which is now being examined by the State Council, and has renewed efforts to revise the regulations governing registration and management of shetuan, minfei and foundations. According to official sources, there are indications that the revisions will lower the threshold for NGO registration, especially for private foundations, minfei and industrial associations.[59]


The Sichuan earthquake was a watershed event for China’s associational sphere. It triggered an unprecedented display of public spiritedness, charitable giving, volunteering and networking in Chinese society. The extensive horizontal networking among a diverse community of NGOs and other volunteer groups, in particular, produced the strongest evidence we have to date of a nascent civil society that has not been captured by a corporatist state. By civil society, we refer back to our definition of an associational sphere that is organized voluntarily by members of society to pursue their values and interests, and self-governing. According to this definition, civil society associations do not necessarily have to assume an oppositional role vis-à-vis the state. Indeed, as the above discussion showed, cooperation and partnerships with the state were an important part of the NGO response. The rapid emergence of NGO networks is also an indication of the social capital that has accumulated over the past decade or so in China’s associational community. This reserve of social capital is impressive given long-standing problems in the NGO community, such as weak organizational capacity, lack of legitimacy, and fragmentation, in addition to the constraints imposed by an authoritarian state that remains suspicious of NGOs. As scholars of civil society point out, this social capital should not be seen as leading to democratization. But the display of social capital in the societal response to the earthquake shows that NGOs are able to come together to address broader issues that transcend their own parochial interests[60].

The earthquake also shows that a distinct associational sphere is, by itself, insufficient for a fully functioning civil society which also requires a supportive political and social environment. This environment includes a state that can provide order and create the political and regulatory framework within which civil society organizations can pursue their goals in a nonviolent manner, and a society where associations have access to the media and to funding from economic elites, and recognition and support from other political and social groups.[61] China’s long history of authoritarian rule has of course created a political and social environment that constrains, and sometimes represses, rather than supports civil society.   Without substantial changes in this environment, NGO networks such as the 512 Center will find it difficult to sustain its operations. In this regard, one of the most important consequences of the Sichuan earthquake has been to make many in the Chinese state, media and society aware, for the first time, of the value of NGOs and volunteers, and the structural constraints that limit what they can do in event of a disaster. The performance of NGOs and volunteers in the earthquake relief demonstrated that they could play a constructive role in building a “harmonious society,” and has stimulated discussion and pressure within policymaking circles for easing the regulatory bottlenecks constraining NGOs and charitable foundations.


[1] This article first appeared in the no. 65 (January 2011) issue of The China Journal.
[2] Formerly Associate Professor of Political Science at Marist College, Poughkeepsie, NY. Currently Editor of China Development Brief (English), and Visiting Professor, IES Beijing Center, Beijing Foreign Studies University.
[3] Professor and Director of the Center for Innovation and Social Responsibility in the School of Public Policy and Management at Tsinghua University.
[4] Xijin Jia, “Chinese Civil Society After the May 12 Earthquake”, English transl. on Policy Forum Online 08-056A: 22 July 2008,
[5] Guobin Yang, “A Civil Society Emerges From the Earthquake Rubble,” YaleGlobal Online,, 5 June 2008; Amy Gadsden, “Earthquake Rocks Civil Society,” Far Eastern Economic Review, June 2008.
[6] Throughout this article, we use NGOs as a shorthand for these associations, also referred to as civil society organizations (CSOs), non-profit organizations (NPOs), or community-based organizations (CBOs).
[7] Robert Pekkanen, “Japan’s New Politics: The Case of the NPO Law,” Journal of Japanese Studies 26:1(Winter, 2000), pp. 111-148.
[8] Alpaslan Orzedem and Tim Jacoby, Disaster Management and Civil Society: Earthquake Relief in Japan, (Turkey and India: I. B. Tauris and Co., Ltd., 2005); Paul Kubicek, “The Earthquake, Civil Society, and Political Change in Turkey: Assessment and Comparison with Eastern Europe”, Political Studies, Vol. 50, No. 4 (2002), pp. 761-778
[9] Jonathan Schwartz and Shawn Shieh (eds), State and Society Responses to Social Welfare Needs in China: Serving the People, (London and New York: Routledge, 2009).

[10] Jessica Teets, “Post-Earthquake Relief and Reconstruction Efforts: The Emergence of Civil Society in China?”, The China Quarterly, Vol. 198 (June, 2009), pp.330-347.

[11] Gordon White, Jude Howell, and Xiaoyuan Shang, In Search of Civil Society: Market Reform and Social Change in Contemporary China (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996); Andrew Watson, “Civil Society in a Transitional State: The Rise of Associations in China,” in Jonathan Unger (ed.), Associations and the Chinese State: Contested Spaces (Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 2008); Muthiah Alagappa (ed.), Civil Society and Political Change in Asia: Expanding and Contracting Democratic Space (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004), Ch.1.
[12] On the debate over civil society in China, see White, Howell and Shang, In Search of Civil Society, Ch.1; Timothy Brooks and B. Michael Frolic, Civil Society in China (Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 1997); Shawn Shieh and Jonathan Schwartz, “State and society responses to social welfare needs in China: an introduction to the debate” in Schwartz and Shieh (eds.), State and Society Responses; Yiyi Lu, Non-Governmental Organisations in China (London and New York: Routledge, 2009), ch.2.
[13] The relevant regulations are “Regulations for registration and management of social organizations”, “Provisional regulations for registration and management of private non-enterprise units”, and “Regulations on management of foundations”. The first two regulations were issued in 1998, while the foundation regulations came out in 2004. English-language versions of these regulations were accessed from China Development Brief,
[14] For examples of GONGOs see the directory of NGOs in Nick Young, 250 Chinese NGOs: Civil Society in the Making, (Beijing: China Development Brief, 2001).
[15] See the regulations in fn 12.
[16] See Article 13 in the Regulations for registration and management of social organizations, and Article 11 in the Provisional regulations for registration and management of private non-enterprise units.
[17] “Donation for 5.12 Earthquake Disaster Relief Sets Record”, China Philanthropy Times (special issue of All-China Charity Conference), 12 December 2008 (accessed from China Charity Information Center’s website,
[18] See Watson, “Civil society in a transitional state” for a typology.
[19] See Wang Ming, “The Development and Present Situation of NGOs in China”, Social Sciences in China, Vol.28, No.2 (Summer, 2007), pp.99-100, and Watson, “Civil Society in a Transitional State,” pp.36-38.
[20] Deng Guosheng, “The Hidden Rules Governing China’s Unregistered NGOs,” The China Review, Vol.10, No.1 (Spring, 2010), p.188.
[21] Watson, “Civil society in a transitional state,” p.15.
[22] Zhai Yan, “‘512’ Sichuan dizhen NGO zhenzai diaocha baogao” (Investigative report on NGO disaster relief in the “512” Sichuan earthquake), Zhiyuande Liliang (The Power of Volunteering), No. 4 (2008), pp.5-9.
[23] A Beijing Normal University survey shows that most NGOs arrived in the first few days. See Wang Ming, et. al. (eds.), Wenchuan dizhen gongmin xingdong baogao (Report on civil society action in the Wenchuan earthquake) (Social Science Academic Press, 2008), pp.6-7.
[24] NGOs and volunteers had participated in other natural disasters and crises such as the 1998 Yangtze river flooding, SARS, and the snowstorms in central China in early 2008, but on a much smaller scale. See “Apres le deluge,” China Development Brief (Online:, accessed June 10, 2009);, and chapters by Kaufmann, Laliberte and Schwartz in Schwartz and Shieh, State and Society Responses.
[25] Maureen Fan, “Citizens’ Groups Step Up In China,” Washington Post, 29 May 2008, p.A1; Wang Hui, “NGO zhenzai xingdong sumiao” (Quickly tracing NGO actions in the earthquake relief), Zhongguo Fazhan Jianbao, no. 38 (Summer, 2008).
[26] Zhai Yan, “512 Sichuan dizhen baogao”.
[28] Wang Ming, et al., Wenchuan dizhen baogao, p.6.
[29] Interview with an international NGO director, Beijing, 10 May 2009.
[30] Wang Hui, “NGO de jiti liangxiang – dizhenzhongde NGO lianhe xingdong” (The collective light of NGOs: coordinated action among NGOs in the earthquake”), Zhongguo Fazhan Jianbao, no.39 (Fall, 2008).
[31] Wang Ming, et. al., Wenchuan dizhen baogao, p.9.
[32] A name list of the NGOs, GONGOs and companies that signed onto the declaration can be found in Wang Ming, et. al, Wenchuan dizhen baoggao, Appendix 7.
[33] These examples were drawn from Wang Hui, “NGO de jiti liangxiang”; Zhai Yan, “512 Sichuan dizhen baogao”; Wang Ming, Wenchuan dizhen baogao; Jia Xijin, “Chinese Civil Society.”
[34] Wang Ming, Wenchuan dizhen baogao, pp.9-11. A name list of the NGOs can be found in the appendices of this report.
[35] Jia Xijin, “Chinese Civil Society”; Wang Hui, “NGO de jiti liangxiang”; Interviews with 4 NGOs involved in the network, Chengdu, 8-9 January and 25 June 2009.
[36] Interview with one of the NGO organizers, Chengdu, 8 January and 22 June 2009.
[37] Interview with one of the NGO organizers, Chengdu, 8 January 2009.
[38] Interview with 512 Center coordinators, Chengdu, 9 January 2009.
[39] The Center’s members felt it would be too sensitive to call itself an organization (zuzhi) because it was not registered and would be considered essentially an illegal organization. Interview with 512 Center coordinators, Chengdu, 9 January 9 and 22 June 2009.
[41] Wang Hui, “NGO zhenzai xingdong sumiao”.
[42] Because NGOs played a leading and majority role in organizing many of these networks, we believe they qualify as horizontal networks, bringing together actors of similar status and power (Putnam, Making Democracy Work, p. 173).
[43] B. Michael Frolic, “State-led Civil Society,” in Brook and Frolic (eds.), Civil Society in China; Kenneth Foster, “Embedded in State Agencies: Business Associations in Yantai,” The China Journal, No. 47 (January, 2002), pp.41-65.
[44] Previous NGO networks in China, such as the Anti-Domestic Violence Network and the China Rivers Network, have been small and limited to one sector.
[45] Putnam, Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Italy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), p.175; James L. Gibson, “Social Networks, Civil Society and the Prospects for Consolidating Russia’s Democratic Transition,” American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 45, No. 1 (January, 2001), pp. 53-54
[46] Putnam, Making Democracy Work, p.167.
[47] Tim Hildebrandt and Jennifer Turner, “Green Activism?: Reassessing the Role of Environmental NGOs in China,” in Schwartz and Shieh, State and Society Responses, pp.100-101.
[48] Guobin Yang, “A Civil Society Emerges.”
[49] For an interesting case, see Tong Jianfeng, “Two Years After the Wenchuan Earthquake: The Bittersweet Honeymoon of NGOs and Government,” Nanfengchuang, 10 May 2010 (English translation accessed on China Elections and Governance,, 19 May 2010).
[50] “CPC official praises NGOs’ role in relief work,” China Daily, 22 May 2008, p.2.   Howard French and Edward Wong, “In departure, China invites outside help,” New York Times, 16 May 2008.
[51] “Notice on Enhancing Management and Use of Wenchuan Earthquake Disaster Relief Funds and Materials”, Office of the State Council,
[52] Zhang Jianfeng, “Zhenqu NGO”.
[53] Interview with a NGO director, Chengdu, 9 April 2009. “Zhengfu yu NGO zuzhi jiankude mohe” (The difficult readjutment between the government and NGOs),
[54] Zhang Jianfeng, “Zhenqu NGO”; interviews with three NGOs, Chengdu, 8 January and 22 and 25 June 2009.
[55] Part of the impetus for this initiative came from private foundations such as Narada (Nandu) Foundation led by Xu Yongguang, former director of the China Youth Development Foundation (a GONGO), who has been a leading supporter of NGOs (Interview with an NGO leader receiving funding from the Red Cross, Chengdu, 22 June 2009).
[56] Interview with a GONGO official in charge of the public tendering, Beijing, August 2009.
[57] Zheng Yuanchang, “Lessons Modern Chinese Charity Workers Can Take From Society’s Response to the Wenchuan Earthquake,” China Nonprofit Review, Vol.3 (2008), pp.130-141.
[58] Interview with the Director of the Social Welfare and Charity Promotion Division of MOCA, 10 May 2009.
[59] In a recent interview on the Charity Law, the head of MOCA’s Promotion of Social Welfare and Charity Division, Wang Zhenyao, gave special attention to the role played by grassroots associations. “Minzheng bu sizhang Wang Zhenyao touru ‘cishan fa’ yijing songdao Guowuyuan”(MOCA Division chief, Wang Zhenyao reveals that the Charity Law has been sent on to the State Council), Gongyi shibao, 2 November 2009, (Accessed 6 November 2009).
[60] See Omar Encarnacion, “Civil Society Reconsidered,” Comparative Politics (April, 2006), pp.364-367.

[61] See the discussion in Alagappa, Civil Society and Political Change in Asia, pp.32-40.

谢世宏 邓国胜
汶川地震救援中民间组织和志愿者团体的大量涌现,是引人关注的亮点。作为长期关注和研究中国公民社会的学者,本文的两位作者从2008年12月到2009年夏天,对参与救灾和灾后重建的政府官员、学者和NGO人士进行了实地采访,并对学界、政府、媒体和NGO发表的相关的报道、调研报告等文献进行了全面的梳理,他们从NGO的跨领域网络联合,官办组织(GONGO)与NGO的合作,政府与NGO的互动关系,NGO参与赈灾对政府政策的影响等不同方面进行了观 察和分析,据此探究汶川地震对中国NGO产生的影响,对本土公民社会发展状态和环境做出了乐观的判断。尽管实际参与赈灾的组织根据自己的亲身经历,感受各 异,来自学界的其他观点也可能存在差异,但并不妨碍对此进行交流与分享。
本文根据英文原文(载于THE CHINA JOURNAL, NO. 65, JANUARY 2011)摘译而来,省略了大部分文献来源和注解。
2008 年5月12日发生的汶川大地震造成了近7万人遇难,财产损失巨大,震感甚至波及距离遥远的北京,使中国这个紧锣密鼓地迎接奥运的国度举国震惊。然而,大灾 引发的社会反应更是出人意料:大量的志愿者、民间组织、企业和媒体涌现出来,捐赠时间、金钱和实物,共赴国难,为救灾和重建尽力。仅在灾后两周内,公众捐款就超过300亿元,迅速与2007年全年的公众慈善捐款总额比肩。
志愿者和民间组织对救灾行动的空前参与,同样出人意料。除了一些国际组织和官办组织(GONGO),本土草根组织的身影也大量出现在灾区一线。有媒体热烈地 将2008年称为“志愿者元年”,或者“公民社会元年”,以此强调这种民间响应救灾的重要价值。志愿者和民间组织对救灾的广泛参与,表明中国公民社会近年来已取得重要进展。在过去,危机管理乃至上而下的机制,由国家控制和动员,少有普通民众的参与。在汶川赈灾过程中发生的这场草根运动,预示着国家与社会的 关系正在发生多大程度的变化?
我们认为,地震对中国NGO产生了几个重要影响,有可能在未来转化为对中国公民社会的长期影响。它为此前处于静态和分散的公民社会进行动员、形成网络和证明自己的价值提供了前所未有的机遇。NGO网络在震后的快速出现尤为重要,不仅表明NGO有能力开展集体行动。同时,地震导致NGO和政府背景的官办组织 (包括群众团体)、国际组织以及加入这些NGO网络的政府官员个人发生了联系。最后,需要强调的是,NGO参与赈灾,并挑战它们所遇到的问题,还对触发本 土组织的筹款和政策环境做出改变产生了压力。
为评价地震对中国公民社会的影响,我们将重点放在草根组织上面,但应该注意的是,在NGO和GONGO之间简单地做出划分并不明智,也不可能。(部分)官办 组织自身正在变得更加独立,愿意与NGO合作。在震后,这个趋势正得以加强。公民社会在大多数地方是由多样化的组织和个人构成,要贴切地理解正在兴起的中 国公民社会,就需要不囿于国家、市场和公民社会截然划分的三分法,去探究这个传统定义之外的结社空间,从中发现公民社会与国家和市场正在形成动态的、相互依存的关系。
汶川地震引发了中国政府和社会的全面反应。政府动员了13万军队和武警官兵投入救灾,各部门,群众团体和官办组织,如红十字会运送救灾物资,派遣了搜救团队,并通过它们的全国性网络动员资金和志愿者。震后一周,根据四川省共青团的估计,动员了20万志愿者进入灾区,其中半数为大学生。此外,国内外媒体进入灾区也相对自由。社会方面的反应也非常大,NGO、公司和志愿者大量进入灾区提供帮助。各类NGO反应迅速,前所未有。一项调查认为,灾后一周有超过50 家NGO作出反应,另外还有大量志愿者团体加入进来。其他的研究指出,大约有100~200家国内外NGO参与救灾。北京师范大学的调查得出的数字是 263家,他们同时还认为实际的数量要高于这个数字。更为重要的是,地震使NGO和志愿者网络以及新的组织和团体大量涌现。
在最初阶段,地方政府在巨大的救灾需要面前不堪重负,张开双臂迎接NGO和志愿者团体助其一臂之力,甚至允许一些组织以红十字会的名义公开筹款。一些乡镇政府为NGO、志愿者和参与救灾的军队搭建联络平台。在绵竹的一个镇,在当地官员的支持下,几家NGO建立了一个志愿者协调办公室,后来,这个办公室成为 NGO的汇集之地。
北京师范大学针对64家参与赈灾的NGO的一项调查发现,其中有相当数量的组织是借助与政府的关系进入灾区。如表1所示,41家组织是依靠他们与机构所在地 政府,或者与灾区当地政府的关系进入灾区。这个数量可能低估了政府关系的重要性,因为其他项中如“个人关系”或者“其他”也可能涉及个人与地方政府或者 GONGO如红十字会的关系。实际上,这项研究说明,NGO参与赈灾的一个重要特征,正是依靠他们与政府官员、或者与GONGO以及群团组织(如妇联和共 青团)的个人关系。
表1:救灾NGO进入灾区途径情况的统计 (根据对64家 NGO的调查)
23.8% (15)
14.1% (9)
50% (32)
48.4% 31)
12.5% (8)
超过70家(近58.6%)的受访NGO在四川是与3个以上的组织合作开展赈灾活动,只有28.6%的组织独立开展活动。 表一的内容还表明,网络为寻求 参与赈灾的组织和志愿者团体提供了重要的平台。在协助NGO进入灾区方面,这些网络的作用几乎并不亚于地方政府。在64家受访的组织中,有48%的组织依 靠这些网络,近似于依靠政府进入灾区的组织比例(50%)。并不出人意外的是,调查表明,相比(正式)注册的组织(包括官方和非官方背景的组织在内),工商注册和未注册组织更倾向于依靠NGO网络进入灾区。
很多此类网络的成员汇集了国内、国际NGO、GONGO,以及企业和非正式志愿者团体,这正好提醒我们注意,草根组织网络的构成具有异质性和多样化状态,也 说明很难将草根组织和具有政府背景的组织截然分开。地震发生几日后,NGO发出了一份联合声明,呼吁联合应对灾情,得到了全国160多家组织的响应。几家北京的组织如自然之友、绿家园志愿者和非公募基金会如南都基金会,以及几家GONGO(如中国扶贫基金会,中国青少年发展基金会)带头发出倡议。
四 川民间救灾联合办公室在地震发生当天开设,并在近一个月的运行后,在六月初停止运营。5月12日夜晚,几家四川和云南的NGO发出呼吁提请联合行动,并通过互联网进行联络。办公室的主要目标是通过NGO的网络,筹集所需的救灾物资并向震区运送发放。四川民间救灾联合办公室办公室与全国一百多家NGO和志愿 者组织以及企业进行了合作。同时,也作为信息分享平台发挥作用。北京震旦纪和云南NGO发展交流网建立了一个NGO救灾行动博客,刊发通讯,向网络成员发 送相关资讯。
到2009年6月,列入5?12民间救助服务中心网络名单的组织超过40家,还和其他80多家组织和基金会保持信息沟通。互联网的作用巨大,如杨国斌(编者注:美国哥伦比亚大学亚洲与中东文化系教授)指出的,民间动员(在震后)通过互联网完成,邮件组,博客和在线社群运用普遍。例如,NGO发展交流网为成都的联合救灾中心建立了一个电子公告牌,用于发布资讯公告。互联网成为实时、广泛和深入覆盖的关键平台。一些商业和政府的大型网站,建立了专门的救灾栏目。几家环保和教育NGO在北京发起了绿丝带行动,筹集资金并动员捐血。同一天,57家组织发表联合声明,呼吁共同参与救灾行动。互联网使这些组织的行动扩及全国。对民间联合救灾办公室而言,大多数物资的分销是通过互联网进行的。5?12民间救助服务中心也通过自己的网站( )完成大部分协调和信息分享工作,并定期将电子通讯发给支持者。
这 证明中国的草根组织并未像某些观点所认为的,被垂直的关系所统合。其二,与地震以前出现的NGO网络规模较小,而且限于同一活动领域不同,参与赈灾网络的 组织来自不同的领域,关注不同议题,这说明它们是依靠有利于公民社会发展的“弱连接”(weak ties)结合而成。“弱连接”的特征是不同类型的小组 织互相联结,不同于依靠家庭和亲族关系联结而成。 因此,“弱连接”被视为更加有助于孕育更为广泛的、非自利的社会进取精神并弥合社会裂隙。
最后,正如罗伯特·普特兰所认为的,社区内自然形成的志愿合作是由社会资本所推动(他将社会资本定义为信任、互惠的规范、以及公民参与的网络),因而这些网络的快速出现表明中国的NGO社群在震前已经具备了相当的社会资本储备。这一观察正好与一些研究所得出的,中国NGO社群仍处于原子化和碎片化状态的判断 相反。杨国斌也提出了类似的观察:“(震后)出现的大规模的公民参与前所未有,这并非令人意外的转折,而是自90年代中期以来持续演进超过10年的小规模 公民行动的符合逻辑的结果。”
公民社会紧随震灾后的复苏是否能够持续,关键还在于政府对参与的组织、志愿者及其网络的态度和反应。在震后一年,政府的态度和政策是喜忧参半,但总体上来自政府的信号是鼓励性的。地震促使政府在地方和国家层面重新考虑对NGO的政策。在地方层面,地震促使一些地方政府与NGO进行合作(这在很多地方是头一 回)。不同地方政府的反应当然并不相同,但总体上是愿意将灾后重建合作的相关安排制度化。
多数情况下,在震后第一周,当地方层面的管理能力遭到重创之后,政府对NGO的参与持开放态度。NGO和志愿者,包括海外志愿者,几乎未受到太多的限制就能 进入灾区。在其后的数月内,震区的地方政府恢复了管理能力,加强了对NGO和志愿者的管理。有些NGO出现筹资混乱,志愿者以及其他组织缺乏足够的培训,不明白自己能够发挥的作用,或者介入了敏感活动等问题。在都江堰,有志愿者为愤怒的家长提供帮助。家长们计划向地方政府请愿,因孩子因教学楼质量低劣倒塌 而遇难要一个说法。
地方政府对这些问题采用了惯常的回应措施,允许符合要求的NGO和志愿者继续留在灾区。它们需要出具政府发放的进出灾区的车辆通行证,以及上一级政府、红十字会或共青团的介绍信。我们在2009年6月采访的几家组织,在地震发生一年以后,仍然在震区开展项目。但他们均强调,NGO要在灾区持续活动,需要有清 晰的计划,与地方政府保持紧密联系,并证明自己的工作富有成效。他们还强调,主动向当地政府汇报工作,以此保持良好的关系也非常重要。如果试图绕过当地政府、或者未能获得同意的情况下,很可能会被要求离开。
由 于NGO不能进行公募,为汶川地震筹集的有案可查的650多亿捐款进入政府和GONGO的账户。一些GONGO发现他们筹到的钱超出了自己有效的花钱能 力,决定以招投标的方式邀请NGO申请重建项目的资金。2008年6月,中国红十字会拿出2000万,资助十多家NGO。2009年8月,7家基金会联合 起来,提供了2000多万的重建项目资助款项,这些资金大部分通过公开招投标的方式进入NGO运作。
当 然,不尽人意的地方是对公众募款的限制,使政府和GONGO获得了近乎垄断的筹资地位。这引发了谁可以进行公募、募集的资金如何透明、公募来的资金如何花的争论。这些争论促使决策者思考重新修订救灾和NGO管理方面的政策。国务院和相关政府部门发布了一系列的临时性规定去规范公众募款活动。2009年,民 政部开始起草新的规章。此外,在震后,民政部完成了《慈善法》的草案起草工作,现已送交国务院审核,而且还再次启动了对社团、民办非企业单位和基金会管理条例的修订工作。根据来自官方渠道的消息,有迹象表明,修订后的规范制度将降低NGO,特别是非公募基金会、民非组织和行业协会的注册门槛。
汶 川地震是中国结社领域的一个分水岭事件。它引发和展现了中国社会前所未有的公众精神和大量的慈善捐赠、志愿服务和网络化行动。不同领域的NGO社群进行了 广泛的横向联合,表明发育中的中国公民社会并未被国家所统合。公民社会组织并不必然与国家形成直接的对立,实际上,正如上文的讨论所表明的,与国家合作乃是NGO的一个重要部分。快速出现的NGO网络,也表明在过去十多年来,中国NGO社群已经积累了相当的社会资本。这令人印象深刻。在NGO社群长期面临 诸如组织能力弱、缺乏合作、合法性欠缺的情况下,加之政府心存疑虑采取了限制性政策,在这样的情况下,这些社会资本并不会直接导致民主化的产生,但它也表明NGO有能力联合起来,超越自身局限的范围去应对和解决更为广泛的问题。
汶 川地震同时还表明,一个自成一体的结社领域并不足以保证公民社会全面发挥作用,支持性的政治和社会环境也非常必要。这样的环境包括:国家提供秩序,使公民社会能够在其创立的政治和规范框架内以非暴力的方式追求自己的目标,组织能够通过媒体自由表达,能够通过经济精英获得资金,并得到其他政治和社会团体的认 可和支持。中国有着威权主义的悠久历史,长期以来形成的政治和社会环境,限制而且有时候对公民社会形成了压制。
(付涛译。本文作者谢世宏,中国发展简报英文主编,北京外国语言大学访问教授, ;邓国胜,清华大学创新与社会责任研究中心主任、教授。)

Shawn Shieh was formerly Associate Professor of Political Science at Marist College, Poughkeepsie, NY. Currently Editor of China Development Brief (English), and Visiting Professor, IES Beijing Center, Beijing Foreign Studies University. Guosheng Deng is Professor and Director of the Center for Innovation and Social Responsibility in the School of Public Policy and Management at Tsinghua University.

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