The Unusual Situation of the Chinese NGO Sector as seen from a Newcomer’s Perspective

中文 English

This is the first article from CDB’s weekly Column ‘The Frontline Voices’, launched in September 29th, 2015. This column focuses on first-hand personal stories and insights from project officers in Chinese private foundations. Their articles shed light on the self-improvement of the project officers themselves, the operation of private foundations, and their impact on social issues and NGO development. We will be publishing translations of selected articles contained in the column during the following months.

(Editor’s note: The author of this article is a program assistant in his early twenties working at a private foundation. Despite his rather limited work experience, this sharp-minded and engaging young man points out the deeply ingrained flaws in the NGO sector and raises three questions worthy of serious thought – who are NGO practitioners, where should the Chinese NGO sector go, and how should NGO practitioners behave.)

At first I was very hesitant about writing this article. On the one hand, I don’t really have the right to criticize the NGO sector after working in it for only eight months. Such a limited experience might lead to inaccurate observations and biased judgments, and without any supporting data my views might not be adequately convincing. Furthermore my lack of seniority might make my suggestions unadoptable and unacceptable.

On the other hand, I believe that I am the very person who is in the best position to provide some comments on the NGO sector in China. As a new NGO practitioner who joined the sector right after graduating from university, I am able to put my views forward without the taint of career development considerations or of “realistic” thoughts induced by the pressure of the environment.

My uniquely fresh and idealistic perspective can hopefully stimulate a deeper understanding and thinking on the development of the NGO sector in China. This article does not aim to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the whole sector with data or to represent the voice of all young practitioners. Instead, it hopes to provide a brand new angle from which to observe the Chinese NGO sector and expound a new blue print for its development based on my personal thinking.


Since January 19th, 2015 when I joined a foundation in Beijing, the NGO sector has been filled with waves of heated discussions and enthusiastic action spurred on by external factors such as the rise of the “internet mentality”, big data, the draft of the Overseas NGO Management Law and Tencent’s 9.9 Philanthropy Day. Rather than being thriving and inspiring, in my eyes the sector is blundering, confused and shallow. This is due to Chinese NGO practitioners’ self-loathing, caused by their unclear self-identification both as individuals and as a group, their lack of a deep and systematic way of thinking, and their ‘ugly’ behavior that lies outside of global moral standards. All of these bizarre facts result from their incomplete human development.

Who am I—the confused self-identification of Chinese NGO practitioners

My first impression of the Chinese NGO sector is that it suffers from an inferiority complex, compared with the arrogance of the business sector.
During the “Philanthropy +: China Interdisciplinary Philanthropy Forum” this May, one foundation’s secretary general expressed his complete approval of the views of another guest speaker and added quite naturally “you must also have transferred from business to the NGO sector, right?” This was supposed to mean that it is impossible to have such profound opinions without previous experiences in business. I have since met similar people on various occasions. They always started off by expressing their enthusiasm and pride in the entrepreneurial path they had chosen. Then, tired of the profit-oriented and meaningless business world, they turned to the NGO sector to achieve their own social values.

This is a bizarre phenomenon. As an NGO practitioner, I feel that they were unable to abandon their old identities and instead created a new and seemingly superior identity– that of NGO practitioners who used to be businessmen. It is obvious that this behavior is intended to show their stronger professional expertise and moral standards. Professionalization is one of the most important driving forces of the reform of the Chinese NGO sector, while moralization is an inevitable identity curse of the sector. Apart from the fact that not all specialized resources come from the business sector, many commercial approaches are not suitable to the NGO sector. Their enthusiastic advocacy of the moral high ground is also at the origin of the sector’s “moral kidnapping”. Yet their yearning for professionalization and moralization reflects the unfortunate fact that the NGO practitioners’ identity severely lacks certain indispensable elements such as stable values, something that in turn is neither persuasive externally to other sectors nor attractive internally to NGO practitioners.

This confused identity certainly leads to a degree of self-loathing, and the NGO sector is weaker because of it. In a country where freedom is a luxury, the cultivation of civil society suffers from pressure from both government and capital. NGO practitioners should be the builders of Chinese civil society, but in fact they do not even know who they are, what kind of work they are doing and what type of society they are trying to achieve. In this context, NGO professionalization comes solely from the business sector. The mixing of philanthropy with business practices is bound to be yet another “Modernization Movement” that is destined to fail. The blind worship of the business sector can easily render the NGO sector an appendage without any independence and uniqueness.

The underdevelopment of the Chinese NGO sector is mostly due to the fact that it has not developed a sense of identity and independence, rather than being due to its short period of development or its low level of professionalization. An ideal civil society should have an independent NGO sector, something that cannot be built by a business sector or a government that do not identify with it. Thus, before the NGO sector can mature, the Chinese practitioners must face and answer a vital question- who are we? This question covers the values that form a foundation, the standards it should follow and its unique characteristics, namely, the core difference between “us” and “the others”, and our relationship with “the others”. Then, the work “we” do can be identified, that is, our identity can cover our understanding of NGOs and decide how “we” promote the NGO cause. The external environment will be hard to change in the short term. We need to discuss and determine a common identification of NGO practitioners based on personal thinking and self-reflection, at which point the growth of the individuals within it can stimulate the development of the NGO sector, and it will no longer be a mere appendage to any other sector.

Where am I going – the myths of Chinese NGO practitioners on their future direction

My second impression is that the Chinese NGO sector seems to always be in thrall to the latest trends.

In May this year at a forum, I witnessed the secretary general of a foundation delivering a speech on how charities seeking donations should learn from business fundraising, in which he analyzed donor behavior and stated his belief that charity is simply consumption, despite the fact that another foundation’s secretary general had already mentioned that most of the current donation is impulsive, with the transparency and operating capacity of a foundation or public raising organization being of low concern. All the same, none of the NGO leaders present refuted the speech.

The Tencent’s 9.9 Philanthropy Day gave a quick response to the concept mentioned in the speech. All the NGOs made great efforts to encourage donations from the public, catering to the current trend for impulsive donations under the attractive 1:1 matching donation model. None of them tried to change the donors’ behavior. It was not a charity carnival, but rather a consumption carnival in the name of charity.

Similar shallow thoughts and blind actions are quite common in the Chinese NGO sector. Both leaders and project officers turn a blind eye to the wasted opportunities to communicate with the public during these kinds of donation events, and the negative effects this has on an already damaged public life.

When donation becomes consumption and donors become consumers, NGOs, striving to survive, view people as ‘walking purses’. But asking for donations is not the same as just raising funds. It should be a dialogue based on common concern towards a social problem. Rather than igniting charitable hearts and moral concerns, NGO practitioners, employing their expertise, should illustrate the social problems and their possible solutions as well as providing supervision and feedback for donors. This dialogue will raise public awareness of social problems and cultivate a habit of donation, and eventually create a healthier and more rational environment for donations so that the donors can become responsible citizens. Stimulating emotions can be achieved simply by a moving story and the sharing of material in social platforms, while promoting rational behavior requires a far more complex design, stronger interdisciplinary cooperation, and patient waiting and observation.

Facing the choice between sense and sensibility, consumer and citizen, the Chinese NGO sector has proven perfectly its lack of a basic critical thinking ability and of ambition to solve social problems.

From Charity as consumption to the practice of Tencent’s 9.9 Philanthropy Day, Chinese NGO practitioners have embraced utilitarianism, the ideology of consumption and nihilism again and again. This has caused the degradation of the Chinese NGO sector, which has become a puppet guided by the addled trends of contemporary times. The NGO sector, as a significant operator in the public area, should be able to guide the people from its country and even the whole world to a better and brighter future, and correct contemporary faults. Yet, it often serves as a decoration of the business sector or as a tool of government because of its myopia and shortsightedness, which are easily satisfied with the status quo.

When we are furious about the harsh political environment, when we are depressed by the indifference of the public, have we reflected upon the fact that our own actions add to the misery and flaws of this world? Have we ever thought about the direction we are heading towards or where Chinese NGO practitioners are leading China and the world?
It is a shame that none of these questions are being answered.

How should I behave-the moral predicament of Chinese NGO practitioners

My third impression is that Chinese NGO practitioners are always caught in a moral predicament.

After participating in the “Philanthropy +: China Interdisciplinary Philanthropy Forum” this May, I published the article “Critique and reflection: Interdisciplinary Philanthropy without Speculative Values ” on We Thinker (a Wechat public account), criticizing the kind of philanthropy which crosses over into business while lacking any reflection on values, and the tendency of charity to turn into consumption. I did it just to get these ideas off my chest and I did not expect any large-scale attention. A few days later however, a friend told me that a well-known Wechat public account had also published it (the article has since been deleted). Since there is a notification saying “do not reproduce without permission from the author” at the end of the published article, I contacted the editor at We Thinker, who told me that this well-known Wechat public account is not authorized. With a Baidu search, I found the article had three more unauthorized reproductions, one cultural review website and two Cantonese foundation websites, one of which even put the We Thinker editor as the author.

Being well aware of the poor status of intellectual property protection, I am still quite astonished that the first IP infringement I suffered came from NGO practitioners. That is when I understood the difficulties faced by NGOs working in the field of the defense of rights, which are caused not only by pressure from the government but also by the deeply tainted NGO sector itself.

Chinese NGO practitioners object to the idea of moral kidnaping while losing their own moral purpose, acting beyond global moral standards just because it is a common practice in China. Their moral predicament does not lie in being morally kidnapped. They can easily repute this with reason and professional development, namely showing that NGO practitioners are not a group of moral supermen with flawless morals, but just professionals with expertise regarding society building in the public area. Chinese NGO practitioners are a group of people who reject moral kidnapping and then act according to their primitive impulses exactly like everyone else. They cannot efficiently confine themselves to the basic moral values of the contemporary world. The IP infringement and fraudulent donations from some NGOs during Tencent’s 9.9 Philanthropy Day demonstrate the fact that the transformation of the Chinese NGO sector from pre-modern to modern is not yet finalized, and the individual initiatives of NGO practitioners are unable to change this fact. The most undeveloped area of the Chinese NGO sector is its own construction. As mentioned previously in this article, it should start with developing the identity of NGO practitioners.


You may wonder whether my impression of the Chinese NGO sector is entirely negative. Of course it is not. But when the people working in NGOs are wrong, nothing else can be right. Chinese NGO practitioners are not yet a group of wise, learned and determined people with great ambitions. I cannot resist expressing my concerns about the flaws of my fellow NGO practitioners as we strive for a common goal together. A better society is not born out of paeans and a healthier Chinese NGO sector will not prosper through a small circle of insiders just paying each other compliments.
If I have offended anyone, please do not hesitate to refute me.



开栏语】作为行业资源汇聚之地,基金会总是能吸引更多目光,然而过往基 金会发出的声音大多来自深孚众望的公益大佬与意见领袖,中基层项目官员成为沉默的大多数。本周开始,中国发展简报微信将推出“倾听一线的声音”专栏,每周 推送一篇来自国内非公募基金会一线项目官员的公益观察或个人故事。我们期望,通过展示他/她们的所思所想、所见所得,看到项目官员如何成长、基金会如何运 作、又如何对社会议题和行业发展产生影响。


【编者的话】 本周推送的首篇文章来自一位刚入职某基金会不满一年的90后项目官员,虽然如其所说“资历尚欠”,却以研精覃思下的少年锐气,将刀锋指向了公益行业沉疴难愈的顽疾。公益人是谁、公益人往何处去、公益人该如何自处,他这三大哲学式发问,值得每位从业者深思。





但另一方面,我又觉得,身为新人,恰恰是最有资格说出我眼中的中国公益问题所在。正是因为资历尚欠,所以锐气犹存,未染上小圈子内的唯唯相恭、诺诺无言 的习气,而一个毕业后即加入公益事业的年轻人,他看事物的视角既不带有由个人职业发展决定的职业色彩,也不带有被由个人现实生活宰制的社会色彩,一种别样 的新鲜的理想主义视角也许能激发更深次的认识与更多面的思考。此篇短文,不为以数据说话来对公益行业做整体全局性的诊断,也不为“以己度人”为所有公益新 人代言,指望以一己之思发出年轻公益人的声音,而是用自己这八个月的经历与感受侧写出从一个全新的角度所见的中国公益,用个人思考阐释一个关于中国公益发 展的新的蓝图。

自2015年1月19日加入北京某基金会始,我所感触到的中国公益圈,是一波又一波被外在因素所刺激的言说与行动热潮,从互联网思维兴起到大数据时代来 临,从《境外NGO组织管理法》的提上议程到腾讯“9•9公益日”。深入其中,看到的却并非一个全然生机勃发和春意盎然的图景,反而能明显地感知到中国公 益的机体不可避免地患上了这个时代的通病——燥热、迷茫而又浅薄。在我看来,这一病症的病因可用三个字概括——低、浅、陋,“低”为中国公益人缺乏明确的 自我与群体定位而致的自我贬低,“浅”为中国公益人缺乏深刻而全面的思考而流于浅薄,“陋”为中国公益人缺乏世界文明的基本价值观念和以之为指导的底线准 则而致的行事丑陋,所有的怪现状都源于人的未完成。






这是一个很奇怪的现象,明明当下已是公益人,却依然难以抛弃旧有的身份印记,仍要在一个身份群体内部自造一个优越于他人的身份标识——“由企业转行的公益人”。 不难看出,此行为的用意在于凸显自身更高的专业素养与道德素质,前者是当下中国公益转型的最重要的驱动力之一——专业化,后者是中国公益圈历来难以摆脱的 身份魔咒——道德化。姑且不论专业化资源并非全部来自于商业,商业的诸多方式方法也不适用于公益,也不谈对自我身份道德性的鼓吹是道德绑架的源起,单说这 些转行的企业公益人士对于道德化与专业化的诉求其实反映了一个无奈和悲哀的事实,即“公益人”这一身份内部的必要建构元素如稳固的价值准则和丰富的身份内 涵的严重匮乏,从而难以形成对其他行业(对外)的说服力和对内部从业者(对内)的吸引力。


中国公益发展水平低下,绝不仅仅是因为发展时间短与专业化水平低,更多是因为在其发展过程中没有生成主体意识。一个理想的公民社会的形成离不开一个具备 独立主体地位的公益行业,这个与商业和政府部门迥异的行业的建设不能指望一群对行业缺乏认同的外来“和尚们”。因此,在行业建设之前,中国公益人必须直面 并回答“我是谁”这一生死攸关的问题,它包 含了哪些价值构成了“我”的根基所在,哪些准则是“我”所必须遵守,哪些特质是“我”的安身立命的根本等问题,其所欲回应的是“我”与“他人”的核心区别 何在,也决定了“我”与“他人”的关系。在明确了“我是谁”之后,才可以明晰什么是“我”的事业,也就是“我”对自身公益人的身份建构蕴含了“我”对公益 的理解,也决定了“我”如何推进公益事业。当我们无法短时间内改变公益所在的外在环境时,就需要凭借个人化的思考与内省建构和丰富公益人的身份内涵,而后 以公共讨论和行业规范达成对于“公益人”这一身份的普遍共识,最终以人的建设推动事业的前进,使公益不成为任何行业的附庸,使公益成为公益,使人成为人。




也是今年5月,在某个论坛上,我听到台上某基金会的秘书长大谈慈善募捐应向商业筹款学习,大谈应向商业学习如何研究捐款人捐款习惯等等,进而又谈到慈善 就是消费。而当天虽有基金会秘书长已提到当下捐赠大多数为冲动性捐赠,普通民众并不看重一个基金会或公募组织的透明度和运作能力等因素,但当时诸位公益界 领军人物、国内一线基金会大佬们竟无一人反驳这种言论。


在当下中国公益界,这种浅薄的思维与盲动的逻辑已经极为普遍。无论是公益圈大佬们,还是一线项目官员们,似乎都看不到这种在消费主义主宰下的募捐形式将怎样浪费募捐这一宝贵的公共对话机会,也看不到它将怎样摧毁早已残破不堪的公共生活。消费主义将人矮化为消费者,本身即是对于人的异化,将募捐等同于消费,也就意味着公益组织为了自身的存活不再将捐款人视为人,而是一个个“会行走的钱包”。如果将捐款人视为人,就应该明白募捐的意义远不止于善款的募集,更是一场基于共同关注的社会问题的人与人的对话,募捐人应超越传统的善心善行的道德话语体系,运用理性与专业能力向捐款人展现社会问题现状、设计解决路径并展望预期图景,与之同时还要为捐款人提供监督与反馈机制, 这一过程的意义在于以募捐行动实现公共对话,提升捐款人对社会问题的理解并养成理性捐赠的习惯,从而营造一个更为健康和理性的募捐环境,让捐款人在这一行 动中成为勇于承担责任的公民。诉诸情感只需要一个催人泪下的故事和一群消费者的朋友圈分享,而诉诸理性则无疑需要更为复杂而巧妙的环节设计,更为密切的跨 界合作和行业协作,更为耐心的等待与观察。在面对情感还是理性、消费者还是公民这一对选择时,中国公益界完美地证明了自己既缺乏基本的价值思辨能力,也没 有解决时代难题的雄心与勇气。

从“慈善消费化”的言论到“9.9公益日”的实践,中国公益人一次次地拥抱着功利主义、消费主义与虚无主义,这种庸俗的行为成功地让中国公益实现了自我 降格,沦为对这个时代不加反思的盲从者,也成为腐坏的时代精神驱动下的木偶。公益,作为公共领域内的重要实践,本应具备指引和促动一国国民乃至全世界人类 走向一个更为良善和光明的未来的作用,本应积极矫正诸多现代性的顽疾从而寻求一条超越之路,却一次次地因格局狭小、目光短浅而又安于现状成为商业的门面装 点、政府的工具之用。在我们愤怒于政策环境的恶劣,在我们哀叹于普罗大众的冷漠,我们有没有思考过自己的行动是如何加重这世上的苦难与罪恶?我们有没有想 过我们自己将向何处去,中国公益人又将带中国和世界向何处去呢?





今年5月,在参加完“慈善+:中国跨界公益论坛”后,我在微思客(一家青年思想微信公号)上发表了《批判与反思:价值思辨缺位下的跨界公益》一文,着重 批判了没有价值思辨的跨界公益和慈善消费化倾向。因为只是一时不吐不快,所以也未太多关注,以为只是小众传播一下,也许根本不会引起公益界的注意。

可是几天后,公益圈内朋友告知我一个公益界内颇具声望的微信公号转发了此文章(现此文章已被删除)。因首发于微思客的文章已标明“未经作者本人或微思客 编辑同意,不得随意转载”,我于是联系微思客编辑,其表示从未授权给这家公号。我又在百度上搜了搜这篇文章,除了与微思客有合作关系的凤凰网转载后,还有 三家网站转载,其中一家文化评论网站,两家广东的基金会网站,其中一家还将作者写作了凤凰网的编辑名字。

我当然清楚中国版权保护的可怜现状,知晓“郭敬明们”赖以生存的土壤是多么五毒俱全,但还是十分惊讶自己的第一次中枪竟然是拜公益圈的同行们所为。一时 突然理解了中国权利型NGO之所以举步维艰,不只是因为政府的打压,更是因为社会的腐化早已渗入骨髓,连NGO同行都不能幸免。

中国公益人们一方面反对外界对于其自身的道德绑架,另一方面却走上了道德脱敏之路,竟可以因为中国如此便认为我也可如此,完全无视世界文明的基本价值底 线。中国公益人的道德困境不在于道德绑架,强横无礼的道德绑架完全可以用公共说理和专业化发展予以反驳,即公益人不是一群道德感爆棚的道德超人而是一群有 着专业能力的公共领域内从事社会建设的普通职场人。中国公益人的道德困境在于这一群拒斥道德绑架而又在实践中处处诉诸普通大众的原始道德冲动的人,却往往无法实现对自己有效的基于现代文明的基本价值的道德约束。身为公益小兵的我被侵权也罢,“9•9公益日”部分公益组织骗捐也罢,都反映了这一基本事实——中国公益界还没有完成从前现代到现代的公益理念的转型,中国公益人身在其中也无法形成个人主观能动对于客观现实的规范作用。在中国公益圈,最大的蓝海领域不是别的,正是这个行业的自我建设,而这如前文所讲,首先要从个人化的公益人身份建构开始。





如有得罪之处,欢迎反驳,不必海涵。 作者 冷锋 不具名基金会项目助理 本文版权属于中国发展简报“倾听一线的声音——项目官员眼中的基金会与行业”研究项目。


Translated by Li Yuanhui

Reviewed by CDB

No related content found.