Editorial: Hearing the Voice of Civil Society Amid the Turmoil

China Development Brief, No. 52 (Winter 2011)

中文 English

In this Winter 2011 editorial, the editors of China Development Brief make reference to a number of the articles published in this special Winter issue.

A Retrospective of the Public Interest Sector in 2011

The year 2011 is drawing to an end. In this year the international community has been overwhelmed by events which have taken place in the name of revolution, movements or riots. They are the kinds of unrest which signals the end of an era. These upheavals have been spawned by the financial crisis which began in 2008, the economic crisis, and the political crisis precipitated by the European debt crisis. They have been numerous and complex.

China is never lacking for news and major incidents, and it was again politics which was in the headlines in the early part of the year. However, it was two young girls that may take the front page.

On the 23rd of July in the southeastern city of Wenzhou there was a bullet-train crash which a two-year-old girl named Yiyi fortunately survived. China is a developing country with an increasingly powerful voice in the international arena. At the same time its high-speed railway is seen as a key strategic link that must be improved.

Then in September in Guangdong province a girl by the name of Yueyue was crushed by two cars, one after the other. Eighteen passersby saw the incident but acted as if they had not. Although this kind of indifference and pretense has already become commonplace in China, Yueyue’s death touched a nerve among the Chinese who had seemed to be desensitized.

Against this bleak backdrop, civil society has shown signs of positive growth. Even though scandals have erupted time and again, they can be seen merely part and parcel of the mainstreaming of public interest work that has been taking place in recent years. With the growth of the internet, social media and microblogging, individual citizens have carried out a number of successful public interest activities, offering an alternative approach to organized public interest activities. [Editor’s Note: By “organized public interest activities,” the editors mean activities carried out by organizations such as NGOs.]

In the discourse on innovation in social management, there have been positive changes in the space in which civil society organizations exist and in their legitimacy. The public interest sector has collectively called for “a pay raise; rather than a public interest sector built on blood and sweat”. This kind of personal expression itself heralds future institutional changes. [Editor’s Note: Here, the editor’s language makes reference to the titles of some of the CDB articles in this issue.]

The development of Chinese civil society is inextricably linked to China’s social reality. In the area of AIDS prevention, because of problems such as the financial crisis and the lack of participation of grassroots organizations, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has been suspended. The majority of civil society and public interest organizations lack channels for speaking via mainstream media channels, or are not permitted to speak. Apart from “happy public interest work”, everybody can participate in micro public interest activities. There is still a lot of hardship and sacrifice in the sector. Apart from the contribution of good will from the middle classes and intellectual elite which doesn’t affect their own quality of life, this society still needs NGO partners that follow ideals and can be progressive.

In the past year, the public was given an inaccurate picture of what was really happening in the public interest sector through an image created by the media. As a communication platform within the sector and an NGO media outlet, looking back at the end of the year, the China Development Brief does its best to provide a forum for some of the voices that have hitherto been repressed or drowned out.

2011年又近尾声。这一年国际社会以革命、运动或者骚乱之名出现的事件应接不暇,颇 有末世熙攘的意味,和这些乱局相连的是自2008年以来的金融危机、经济危机和由欧洲的债务危机导致的政治危机,纷呈复杂,不一而足。中国从不缺少新闻和 大事,今年又是政治年前期,但两个小女孩足可以成为中国2011年的封面人物。
7月23日温州动车相撞事故,一个名叫小依依的2岁女孩幸运生还。作为一个 在国际上越来越有发言权的发展中国家,高铁同时也被视为中国必须把握的战略关键环节。而9月广东的小悦悦被2辆车先后碾过,18个路人视而不见。尽管冷 漠、欺诈似乎已经成为中国的常态,但是小悦悦之死还是触动了中国人已经麻木的神经。
在这一片衰色之中,公民社会却呈现了良性成长的兆头。即使是 “丑闻”迭出,都不过是最近几年公益主流化的延续,因为互联网,尤其是微博等新媒体的助力,公民个人的公益行动取得了一个又一个的阶段性成果,成为组织公 益之外的另一种尝试。在社会管理创新的话语之下,民间组织的生存空间和合法性已经出现令人欣喜的变化;公益领域集体喊出了“不要血汗公益,要加薪”的呼 吁,这种自我表达也将成为制度变革的前声。
中国公民社会发展是嵌入到中国的现实之中的。在艾滋病防治领域,因为国际金融危机和草根组织参与性少等问题而导致全球基金一度中断;民间公益组织大多还不会在主流的频道上发声或者不能发声;除了快乐公益,人人可以微公益,这个领域依然存在苦难和牺牲。除了中产阶层和知识精英在不影响个人生活品质之下奉献的 善意,这个社会仍然需要秉承理想、负重前行的NGO伙伴们。
过去的一年,公众通过媒体再造的公益领域镜像和真实的世界有了差距,作为业内的交流平 台和NGO媒体,在年末回顾之时,《中国发展简报》希望能尽力传达一些被遮蔽和被淹没的声音。

Translated by Edward Barton

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