(Ex-Teacher of La Mart College of Technology, Sydney)
In post-reform period, Chinese state is creating and sponsoring NGOs in order to transfer to them certain functions that it used to perform itself under the command system of the socialist era. NGOs in reform-era China represent both challenge and continuity in state-society relations. It is easy to observe the semi-official nature of some NGOs and the state’s tight formal control of the sector demonstrates the evidence of continuity. The officially organized NGOs are comprehensively dependent on the state agencies that created them and behave more like subordinate units of the agencies than independent entities. Actually, Private entrepreneurs are depended on official patronage for access to bureaucratically allocated resources, political protection and socio-political legitimacy. On the other hand, It is also easy to notice a change in the predominantly popular culture of the other NGOs and a certain degree of autonomy (regarding marginalised interests like HIV, same-sex relationships etc.). There are genuinely bottom up NGOs that set their own agenda and seek to influence government policies and try to bring important issues to public attention.
The arbitrary use of administrative power by the state agents, bureaucratic control over the resources, constant fluctuation in government policies and an ineffective legal system, have all contributed to an uncertain environment for NGOs in China. Many popular NGOs have engaged in entrepreneurial activities with their contacts in the government. The state’s failure to discipline the agents and bureaucrats; whose protection and complicity enable NGOs to evade supervision and engage in inappropriate activities to generate finance. Actually, a vast majority of NGOs are interested mainly in finding ways to exploit state-controlled resources for their own benefit, rather than playing the political role conventionally ascribed to civil society. There are various ways for NGOs to advance their interests, such as forging patron-client ties with officials, operating through networks of personal relations that cut cross the state-society divide or providing political support to the state in exchange for its sponsorship.
The self-serving entrepreneurialism of the NGOs (sometimes as part of sponsoring agencies) has apparently been a fairly common problem. Although scholars are still debating about the nature of the Chinese state entrepreneurialism and corporatist state control over NGOs in post-reform era; but the nature of state- civil society interaction can be summarized as “dependent autonomy”. As per “fragmented authoritarianism”, the state has retained its dominant role in socio-economic sphere and the authority below the very peak of the system has become more fragmented and disjointed as a result of economic reform.
A research on the NGOs carried out in 2000 shows that popular NGOs active in the field of women’s rights, tries to hide the cases from mass media because it would directly criticize the local authorities and police, whose goodwill is important for their existence. Many NGOs consider their relationship with government agencies and officials as the most important of all their relationships. Many officially organized NGOs at local levels are simply tools for local government agencies to create agency slush funds.
Various qualitative and quantitative studies of China’s political culture have identified a number of features that are not conducive to collective action and civil society activism. These include elitism, fatalism, and lack of cooperative spirit and...