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Tuesday 22 Aug 2017 | 12:01 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 22 Aug 2017 | 12:01 | SYDNEY

Call for questions: Civil society in China

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11 January 2012 14:39

Using questions from you, Peter Martin and colleagues are conducting interviews for The Interpreter with Chinese academics and journalists. Previous installments in this series here and here.

Next week, Nathan Beauchamp and I will conduct an interview for The Interpreter with Jia Xijin, an expert on Chinese civil society and citizen participation. Jia is Associate Professor at Tsinghua University's School of Public Policy and Management and Deputy Director of the School's NGO Research Center. Interpreter readers can submit questions for Jia here: blogeditor@lowyinstitute.org .

Civil society in China is a major talking point for those trying to evaluate the nature of China's modern political system. While some look to civil society in China as a potential agent for political change, others argue that the party/state's dominance in China and perhaps even Chinese culture itself have hampered the development of civil society.

In China's Maoist period, civil and public life was dominated almost exclusively by the Communist Party, a situation made possible as a result of the CCP's absolute control over political and economic resources in China and its provision of welfare for many of China's citizens. The onset of economic reforms after 1978, however, stimulated the growth of a wide variety of social groups which expanded to fill the vacuum let by the retreat of the state: student groups, debating societies, trade unions, labour groups, women's associations and so on. Despite official restrictions, these groups proliferated, especially in academic centres, brining an unprecedented degree of open debate and pluralism in the People's Republic.

When this openness culminated in the protests of 1989, however, the development of Chinese civil society suffered a substantial setback. Restrictions on independent social organisations were strengthened in the wake of the June 1989 crackdown and continued to be strengthened periodically throughout the 1990s.

Despite these tightened restrictions, civil society continued to grow and develop throughout the 1990s. Indeed, the sheer complexity of China's developing market economy and practical restrictions on the reach of the state have made it impossible to shape Chinese society to the extent the CCP would like to. It has relied, instead, on a complex web of legislation which attempts to regulate the development of social organisations and occasional crack-downs on religious or political groups such as Falun Gong which it deems too dangerous to tolerate. 

We're excited to see your questions about civil society in China. You can submit your questions here: blogeditor@lowyinstitute.org .

Photo by Flickr user Stuck in Customs.

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