The Development of Civil Society in China
A look at new research on philanthropy, social entrepreneurship, and impact investing in China.
Since the Wenchuan Earthquake of 2008, there has been an increasing interest in the philanthropy and impact investing sectors in China. China’s economic miracle and the huge rise in GDP over the past ten years under the leadership of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao is well documented. This period will go down in Chinese history as an age of great industrialization and urbanization. It has lifted hundreds of millions of people from poverty, improving living standards of a vast new urban middle class, creating more billionaires than anywhere in the world except the US, and turning China into the world’s largest manufacturing center. Furthermore, thanks to the new elite class, travel, trade, and the Internet, China is now deeply and irreversibly connected to the rest of the world.
China may be number one in foreign exchange reserves, but in per-capita income terms, it is still a developing country lagging behind the majority of the world. While the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) can perhaps no longer be described as a party of utopian ideology, but more a party of material interests with a pragmatic agenda, it is acutely aware of the increasing demands of civil society for justice and accountability, as well as for higher levels prosperity for all. It is also acutely aware that it needs to boost its domestic economy and develop the poorer inland areas, but the implementation of these measures is far from certain and there is much call for reform.
Thomas Gold describes China’s plight as follows: “China is vibrant, undisciplined, and rollicking, yet simultaneously arbitrary, polluted, and oppressive … its leaders and citizens are grappling with a relentless onslaught of unprecedented challenges, while also trying to construct and consolidate institutions to manage the new order ” (Thomas Gold, Countries at the Crossroads).
From March to August 2011, I was based in Beijing, China, conducting research on philanthropy, social entrepreneurship, and impact investing for my Stanford honors thesis. In the attached research report, I have included sections from this thesis. The report provides a brief historical look at social organizations in China and a breakdown of the different types of organizations that constitute social organizations in China. It also looks at the way in which civil society has developed and how different organizations have formed to try to address society’s problems. One of the biggest challenges in the development of the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors in China is the lack of transparency and accountability. Various organizations have arisen to try to combat this challenge as is described in the report. Finally, I give a brief overview of some of the emerging players in the philanthropy and impact investing sectors. I hope you enjoy the read.