Saturday, February 2, 2019

The rising role of “hub-style” organizations as stewards of the party (pt. 2)

The following post is Part 2 of a guest blog by Ryan Etzcorn a Fulbright Research Fellow (2018-2019) and a graduate of the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies (MPP & MA).


Leaning on hub-style organizations to bridge the gaps: the theme of cross-sector coordination

If the attitudes and goals regarding hub-style organizations are sorted into themes, cross-sector coordination is the first.   Hub-style organizations have become a dominant force in the region’s discussion on future public welfare provision, and they bring with them a determination to scramble the boundaries between enterprise, government, and nonprofit activity in hopes for better integration and efficiency. In some ways, the core ideas behind this drive for intersectoral coordination resemble the “collective impact” wave in the U.S. in the early 2010’s, when leaders across sectors experimented with long-term, coordinated social solutions to some of their communities’ most intractable problems.But collective impact in the U.S. has since come under fire for (among other things) too often failing to provide a central “backbone” authority able to bridge differences among institutional partners. 

Social service leaders in Guangzhou and Shenzhen wonder less about who will coordinate a new and multisectoral harmonious society -- that’s clearly the Party's job. Despite the major differences between these cities, all agreed that “hub-style organizations” at the intermediary level are becoming the indispensable “bridge and belt” of a new era in Party-led cross-sector social welfare provision.

“Building capacity” for the nonprofit sector

The second dominant theme emerging in my interviews is a fixation on the role of hubs in “building capacity” for social organizations. This term has also long been a fixture in western debate and seems to take on new meaning in the Chinese context. Several SO leaders I talked to expressed suspicions that “building capacity” was a red herring for preparing SO to take on top-down government purchasing projects, but others working with hubs also occasionally emphasized the necessity of promoting resource diversification among social organizations.

Each interview with the leaders or staff in hub-style organizations expressed a desire to build genuine links between community members and institutions and to build a healthy social sector. During several of these same interviews, my counterparts even expressed an expectation that their hub would be granted more autonomy in their daily affairs once the MoCA and other government ministries had determined that fledgling hubs could graduate from a “development phase”, though it was unclear when that day might come. On the other hand, hub-style organizations in Shenzhen and Guangzhou invariably envisioned a future where social organizations were either contracting from the government or providing social services to supplement state goals.

Exchanging capacity for loyalty at China’s new hubs

To many in both these cities, there is no smooth bullet train to a future with secure resources, but a clear emphasis on government contracting persists among social organizations, hub-style organizations, and government officials. For many social organizations  in Guangzhou, the struggle for revenue diversity may look especially bleak. MoCA in Guangzhou has so far constructed a much more centralized and “systematic” approach to building social organization capacity through hub organizations, with selective support flowing down each administrative level starting from the municipal MoCA. In response to a MoCA directive to set up ten social organizations in every community (shequ) by the end of the year, one social organization leader said he saw this as hopeless due to the immense difficulty of finding enough competent and experienced professionals to staff new organizations in an industry notorious for weak remuneration.

In the view of the government-led hub-style organizations, the cure for civil society’s stunted growth lies less with easier registration requirements, open fundraising channels, or clearer tax incentives for charitable donations, and more with a constant drumbeat for professionalization. When it comes to administrative capacity, they may have a point. social organization leaders I spoke with complained of an explosion in paperwork over the last two years, especially if an organization was so foolish as to seek status as a “charitable organization.” Unfortunately, efficiency gains for government ministries captured by outsourcing administrative functions to hubs may be accelerating the administrative burden for grassroots groups as these intermediary organizations grow into a “second government.”  

In many ways, intermediary organizations play a vital role in civil societies across the world, but as my interviews have so far suggested, active discrimination by hub-style organizations plays a growing role in determining which versions of civil society are connected to critical revenue lifelines. In Guangdong’s resource-strapped social sector, hubs  offer a rare lifeline to “incubate” Party-friendly social organizations and “hatch” them out into society for greater roles in social welfare provision, but as the incubation kitchens reach capacity, they also double as a means for local governments to exclusively “kai xiao zao” (to open a special oven or  grant preferential treatment) in the name of stability maintenance. It remains to be seen how well these southern hatchlings will earn public trust, provide effective services, and bear witness to society’s structural challenges. 

This blog is not an official site of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State. The views expressed in this blogpost are entirely Ryan’s and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State, or any of its partner organizations.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The rising role of “hub-style” organizations as stewards of the party (Pt. 1)

This post is part 1 of a guest blog by Ryan Etzcorn, a Fulbright Research Fellow (2018-2019) and a graduate of the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies (MPP & MA). 


By the end of 2018, I grew pretty comfortable with the bullet train commute between Guangzhou and Shenzhen. The past 40 years of Reform and Opening Up have transformed this corridor into one of the most important economic regions in the world. Throughout the Pearl River Delta, regional leaders take every opportunity to parade their proud tradition of leadership in manufacturing, technology, and record-breaking infrastructure. In this corner of China, the obsession with “breakthrough innovation” has advanced to feel like a regional pastime. But to some of the region’s Party-state leaders and private “social entrepreneurs”, breaking down barriers of time and space for more GDP is not enough. Instead, these leaders have re-dedicated themselves to a paradigm shift which seeks to erode sectoral barriers between government, business, and charity for the provision of “public benefit” (gongyi). 

In both Shenzhen and Guangzhou, social workers, business leaders, leading government officials, and academics are collaborating in WeChat groups, conferences, and salon discussions and using the same slogans to emphasize a more coordinated era of “public governance.” It is time, they say, to heed Xi Jinping’s call for “collective community building, collective governance, and collective sharing” and use it to replace the tired government/business/nonprofit sectoral boundaries of bygone eras and foreign origins. Under the leadership of the Party, “participatory” community governance will finally be realized, starting with Guangdong.

As both a researcher and practitioner, I arrived in August of 2018 on a research fellowship to explore how new developments in Chinese policy and law were propelling changes in the fabric of its civil society. Before that, in the years leading up to the paired release of the Charity Law and Overseas NGO Law in 2016, I spent two years of a graduate program at the University of Michigan examining Chinese civil society from several angles, including archival work and interviews with grassroots organizations across China. The passing of those two highly anticipated laws came and went and I chose Guangzhou and Shenzhen to study their implementation.

For me, the rationale for wanting to study new “public benefit” (gongyi) developments in Guangzhou and Shenzhen felt obvious. Both are situated under the same national and provincial laws and regulations. Other Guangdong cities have been notable for standout social policy experimentation, but the province's top rank in philanthropic giving has much to do with its two mega cities. Guangdong also boasts special funds for social organization capacity building and trails only Jiangsu Province in the sheer number of social organizations that have been registered to date.  

Both Shenzhen and Guangzhou have more in common with each other than either does with most other Chinese cities, and yet some contrasts in public welfare delivery regimes remain profound. The much older city of Guangzhou is known in the region for more than 450 state-engineered “family integrated social service stations” providing wrap-around services that are administered by China’s largest legion of social workers. In comparison to Shenzhen, Guangzhou is importantly recognized for the more exclusive role that government plays in resourcing and fostering social organizations.  

The younger, sleeker Shenzhen is known as a hotbed for major technology firms and real estate investment. Huge tech companies and Hong Kong cross-border flows provide more diverse options for social organization funding, even while the Ministry of Finance has pushed special pilot efforts to rationalize and strengthen government procurement of social services. Shenzhen also sprang into action early with one of the first local governments in China to capitalize a series of community foundations. Along with Shanghai, Beijing, and Chengdu, Shenzhen’s government has subsidized social impact investment pilot projects, subsidized fixed costs for social enterprises, and even issued social impact bonds.  Although clear differences persist, the backdrop they provide makes commonalities in policy design even more notable and potentially telling for broader trends in the PRC.

Shaping a sector: introducing “hub-style organizations”

Amidst the blur of WeChat zines and conference forums I attended since Fall 2018, an obvious pattern of institutional leadership emerged across both cities. Surprisingly, it wasn’t quite the government itself nor the grassroots groups holding the microphone or building most of the WeChat groups. Instead, it looked like I was witnessing a takeover by the organizations “in between”. In China’s current social sector, to be a “hub-style organization” (shuniu xing zuzhi) has become a term of pride that resembles a notion of being higher up in a sort of institutional “value chain”.

In the past month, I spoke with leaders at state-backed “social organization institutes”, city-wide social organization  associations, the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MoCA), grassroots groups, and leading “mission-oriented” consulting groups in both Shenzhen and Guangzhou. My first rounds of interviewing distinguished two major types that were viewed as key for building financial capacity and sustainability among grassroots groups: quasi-governmental associations and incubator bases. Both of these hub categories are managed on some level by government institutions or other quasi-state institutions, such as the All-China Federation for Women or the Communist Youth League.

Social organization associations, social organization “institutes“, and charity federations collectively make up the first category that are mostly registered as civil non-enterprise units, though they actually function as directly-reporting auxiliaries of specific bureaus or departments within the MoCA.[1] Though they mostly exist at the city level, district versions also exist in both Shenzhen and Guangzhou. Each of the three types in this category also served as a “platform” by convening social organizations, producing research and propaganda for social organization consumption, disseminating data on the sector, or providing free training services. Social organization associations in particular are being increasingly tasked with serving as a depository for annual reports required of all registered organizations, where the data is pooled and later conveyed to the MoCA.

Incubators make up the second category and are established by local government initiatives at the city, district, and sub-district levels in both Shenzhen and Guangzhou. They also represent a more collaborative approach combining state subsidies, operating contracts with civil non-enterprise units, in-kind donations from local businesses, and training services from professional consulting firms like NPI. Without fail, every incubator felt obliged to stress that participation in an incubator space does not merely provide office space, but also includes opportunities for training and “resource docking” opportunities (fundraising training, grant-writing, or help with government procurement applications).

For many organizations, these hub organizations are key forums both for demonstrating loyalty to the Party and gaining access to critical resources. Both categories of hub-style organization are charged with promoting “Party-building” among their member institutions, and those grassroots organizations that are amenable to creating Party committees and networking those committees are systematically favored by evaluation criteria and access to hub-provided resources. Service-oriented (non-advocacy) organizations with missions that match local government goals are also favored by incubators that provide subsidized resources. Even social organization interviewees that expressed wariness toward government cooptation earnestly wished they could get a coveted spot in an incubator, if only for the substantial benefits, like free rent or help with registration. The problem now is that most incubators have been at capacity for two years or more in these two cities, with long waiting lists for entry.

In part 2 of this blogpost, Ryan will discuss how “hub-style” organizations are being utilized by the Party-state, covering two main themes: cross-sector coordination and “building capacity.”

This blog is not an official site of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State. The views expressed in this blogpost are entirely Ryan’s and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State, or any of its partner organizations.

[1] Social Organization Associations and Social Organization Institutes operate under the the Social Organization Management Bureau at the municipal-level MoCA for each city, though the social organization Institute in Shenzhen was initiated by a combination of the social organization Association and Charity Federation, which are directly supervised by MoCA. According to interviews and official info, the Guangzhou Charity Federation is directly supervised by the Emergency Relief & Charity Affairs Office at the municipal-level MoCA. In Shenzhen, the Charity Federation is directly supervised by the municipal MoCA, but not by any particular office of the municipal MoCA, like in Guangzhou.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

The year 2018: China’s civil society past, present and future

At first glance, the new Terminal 2 at the Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport comes across as a elegant technological marvel. It has a polished, ultra-modern feel with high ceilings, open spaces, sparkling storefronts and the latest in high-tech digital hardware. But as you walk through it, you realize there isn’t much life inside. The floors are a cold, gleaming granite and the commercial space is filled with stores selling luxury brands, a few restaurants and coffee shops, and one convenience store. The lower your income bracket, the fewer places you have to hang out, which is a problem if you’re seeking to create a welcoming, inclusive environment for travelers. There is none of the vibrant energy you find in other airports in other parts of Asia or Europe or the U.S., with hip restaurants, bars and stores catering to travelers of more modest means.

Terminal 2, like many other of the new structures being built in China, could serve as a metaphor for the kind of civil society China is building, one that is carefully constructed from the top down and looks beautiful on the outside but lacks the energy and life that comes from the engagement of individuals and groups having ideas to express and problems to address. Both Terminal 2 and China’s present civil society are like someone’s utilitarian fantasy or nightmare. Why would someone construct structures like this, a society like this? I would suggest the impetus has more to do with conveying strength and imposing order and control and less with expressing or satisfying human needs and desires.

This civil society present represents a significant departure from civil society past which is the civil society that was emerging prior to the new era ushered in by the supreme architect-in-chief, President Xi Jinping. While control and repression by the state was a part of life before Xi, grassroots groups of different shapes and sizes found soil to take root in and grow, like weeds in a well-tended lawn. It was a stunted civil society but nevertheless one with a human core. More importantly, it was a civil society building the necessary foundation to begin a dialogue with the state on the country’s future. There were environmentalists taking on air pollution and monitoring Chinese investment overseas, public interest lawyers representing workers stricken with pneumoconiosis and Falun Gong practitioners, performance art by feminists and anti-discrimination activists fighting against sexual harassment and discriminatory hiring practices, labor activists training workers on labor law and collective bargaining, and NGOs calling for equal access to education for migrant children.

Under President Xi, civil society has undergone a makeover and the product as it appears in the year 2018 is as impressive as it is disheartening. Terminal 2 comes to mind when surveying civil society present and the civil society that might come to pass – civil society future. The building blocks for this makeover are now familiar to many and have been documented in this blog over the last few years:

n  the passage of more restrictive laws and regulations governing foreign NGOs, charity, social organizations, religion, volunteers;

n  the provision of state funds to outsource services by social organizations and the creation of government-supported incubators and development centers to guide “social construction”;

n  the closing down of independent civic groups engaged in activism and advocacy and house churches, and the arrest of human rights lawyers, feminists, labor activists, environmentalists, and ministers over the last four years;

n  the requirement for all social forces to submit to the orthodoxy of Marxism-Leninism and the leadership of the Communist Party

I witnessed these changes in my many conversations with activists and NGOs in China in 2018. Some activists had headed underground for cover. Others were seeking to remake themselves by registering as social organizations working on community and charitable issues like providing services to migrant families or helping the elderly and disabled. Many NGOs, unable to get support from overseas donors due to restrictions imposed by the Overseas NGO Law, had difficulty finding funding. To my surprise, many were now relying heavily on funding from the government. Other more pragmatic types were looking to start new business models like social enterprises. Still others continued to hold out either because they chose not to go after government funding or because they were on a blacklist and were unable to register as a social organization, which was a prerequisite for applying for government funding. A common refrain I heard from my NGO friends was, “At least we’re alive. We see that as a victory.” 

Their persistence is a bright spot in an otherwise dismal year. In one of the biggest crackdowns on labor groups, police and security forces rounded up workers, students and labor activists involved in the Jasic Technology factory protests in the southern metropolis of Shenzhen. Many of the students were self-identified Marxists from top universities like Beijing University and Renmin University. There were also a few elderly Maoists who joined the mix.

The Jasic case epitomizes the moral bankruptcy of the Xi regime which seeks to impress, control and terrorize yet has no ideological or moral core of its own. The striking irony of Xi’s “new era of socialism with Chinese characteristics” should not be lost on anyone. A regime that is building the most formidable Marxist edifice of the 21st century rejects the Marxist appeal of students and Maoists to support workers in their struggle against capital.

I’d like to end my last post of 2018 on a bright note with a reminder that next year marks the 100th and 30th anniversaries of two important historical mileposts in the development of China’s contemporary civil society: the May 4th Movement of 1919 and the June 4th Movement of 1989 respectively. Civil society future has a long way to go to recapture the moral core of these movements, but let’s hope it can take baby steps in that direction in 2019.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

The Chinese state’s repression of Jasic workers and their supporters, and the international response

Today is International Human Rights Defenders Day, and tomorrow December 10 is International Human Rights Day, so it’s only appropriate that we use this opportunity to remember the Jasic workers and their supporters and explore ways to work for their release.

I was in the process of preparing a list of the 32 individuals associated with the Jasic case who have been in custody, detained and/or disappeared but then two days ago, Human Rights in China provided a valuable public service by issuing an urgent appeal on behalf of the Jasic workers and their supporters, along with a better, more up-to-date list.

The Jasic case will be remembered as an important event in the annals of Chinese labor history, less for what Jasic workers achieved on the factory floor and more for their success in mobilizing wider social attention to the workers movement and for the ferocious repression by Chinese authorities and police.

How the Jasic case got this big

The details of the Jasic Technology case are by now well known. Over the past two years, the factory had asked workers to step up production and changed the scheduling system to redefine leave and thereby reduce workers’ overtime pay. They also imposed a new disciplinary system to ensure workers fell in line. As early as July 2017, a handful of Jasic workers went to the local Labor Bureau to submit a complaint about management practices. Jasic management made some superficial changes but not enough to address the workers’ concerns.

In May and June of 2018, these Jasic worker activists took a different approach to improving labor relations in the factory. They found that Jasic did not have a enterprise union as required by law, and approached the local Pingshan district union to ask about setting up an union and holding democratic elections for union positions. Jasic management took steps in June to set up a union and hold elections but then manipulated the elections for union posts by assigning their preferred candidates to run. While the Pingshan union originally supported the worker activists, they did nothing when Jasic management hijacked the election process. In the end, none of the worker activists who had proposed setting up a union were elected. In July, these activists continued to solicit the support of other workers about the need for a democratically-elected enterprise union. Jasic management responded by firing six of the activists in mid-July.

The Crackdown

At this point, things got out of hand as the worker activists began to share information on social media about their problems at Jasic and failed efforts to establish a democratically-elected union.  Supporters from diverse groups – university students, former Jasic employees who had been fired or pressured to leave, workers from other factories, Maoists – began to show up at the factory gates calling for reinstatement of the fired worker activists.

The hardline police response that followed escalated the conflict. On July 20, the police seized 20 of the protestors and held them at the police station overnight. The protestors were released the next day and went back to the factory to continue the protests along with other supporters. On July 27, the police formally detained 29 of the protestors. This news brought attracted more supporters from different cities to support the workers and those who had been detained. On August 24, police seized about 50 more supporters, detaining some or placing them under residential surveillance, and interrogating others. Most of these people were later released.

On September 3, we heard news of the first formal criminal charges filed against those on this list. Four of the Jasic worker activists were charged with “gathering a crowd to disturb social order” which carries a maximum prison sentence of five years. On September 8, Fu Changguo, a staff member at the labor NGO, Dagongzhe Center, was formally arrested under the same charge. No other criminal charges have been filed against any of the others.

From this chronology of events, we can see that if Jasic management had made a good faith effort back in June to set up a democratically-elected union and started negotiations with workers to address their concerns, this case would not have escalated to this level.

Jasic as a labor rights and human rights case

Jasic now stands as the biggest case of police repression against workers and their supporters since the central government’s crackdown on labor groups in Guangzhou on December 3, 2015. The Jasic case is already turning out to be larger in scope than the 2015 crackdown which resulted in the formal detention and trial of three labor NGO staff for “gathering a crowd to disturb social order.”  The police have already formally arrested four Jasic workers and one labor NGO staff on the same criminal charge, and seized at least 27 others, mostly university students and NGO staff.  Some of these have been disappeared, others have been detained and still others placed in residential surveillance. News about the workers and their supporters is being continually updated online by the Jasic Workers Support Group.

The police have also taken a harder line against suspects in this case than in the 2015 crackdown. This may be in part because of the participation of university graduates from top universities in Beijing and Nanjing, which raises the specter of a worker-student coalition, but also because police seem to be taking a harsher line against collective protests. Multiple violations of procedural safeguards for suspects and detainees have been reported by the friends and family of the detained, many of whom have not been able to see a lawyer. Lawyers need authorization from family members to take on a case, and according to the reports of HRIC and other informants, police are putting pressure on family members not to give authorization and on lawyers not to take on Jasic cases. 

Like the 2015 case, Jasic has become both a labor rights case and a broader human rights case, highlighting violations of the right of workers to freely organize and form a union, as well as citizens’ rights to freedom of assembly and due process under the law.

How the international community can help

The international community has an important role to play in mitigating the effect of the repression against Jasic workers and their supporters. Fortunately, many organizations and individuals have already begun to raise their voices in protest. Foreign media have covered the repression as it has grown in scope, notifying the international community of new developments. International human rights groups have publicized urgent appeals to foreign governments and the broader international community calling for the release of the workers and their supporters. Foreign scholars have called their universities to stop exchanges with Chinese universities and academic conferences.

More can still be done. International human rights and labor unions organizations can bring the Jasic case up at the UN and ILO which have mechanisms and special procedures for reporting violations of international labor and human rights principles. Foreign diplomats can make their governments aware of the human rights violations in this case and raise them at meetings with their Chinese government counterparts. At a more personal level, foreign diplomats can, whenever possible, visit affected family members to show support and send a message to the Chinese police that the family members will not be intimidated.

Foreigners naturally wonder whether their actions would be helpful or backfire and make things worse for the people they are trying to help. Many Chinese activists are now making it clear that intervention on the part of the international community is helpful. They note that the Chinese government is sensitive about its international image and cite a number of cases where international attention has ameliorated the treatment of Chinese activists, their families and lawyers.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

My latest initiative: starting up Social Innovations Advisory to strengthen civil society in China and Asia

In March, I wrote a blogpost about my move in February of this year from Hong Kong where I had a great gig as the Deputy Director of Development and Operations at China Labour Bulletin. Since then, I keep meeting people who ask me where I am and what I’m doing with my time, so I thought I’d send an update.

I’m now living in Guangzhou remaking myself as a consultant for international NGOs operating in the greater China and Asia-Pacific region. I’ve registered my own consulting company, Social Innovations Advisory, Ltd, in Hong Kong to help NGOs interested in doing innovative and impactful programming and reporting in the region. While I spend most of my time in Guangzhou, I make regular trips to Hong Kong and neighboring countries for meetings and other business.

Below are some of the consulting projects I’ve taken on this year:

1.     Researching and writing the China Philanthropy Law Report for the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL), and regularly updating ICNL’s China page for the Civic Freedom Monitor.

2.    Developing short info graphs, timelines and FAQs to explain the civil society and philanthropy environment and laws in China for ICNL.

3.    Regularly updating the Council on Foundation’s Country Note for China.

4.    Contributing an assessment of China’s legal environment for civil society for a policy brief on global civil society written by Professor Helmut Anheier of Germany’s Hertie School of Governance in preparation for the G-20/T-20 in Argentina.

5.    Writing an article, “Remaking Chinese Civil Society in the Xi Jinping Era” for ChinaFile.

6.    Participating in a two-week fact-finding mission to interview human rights NGOs in Palestine and Israel about restrictions on access to funding, and drafting a 20-page advocacy report, for the International Federation for Human Rights (Fidh).

7.     Writing a thought piece on strategies for expanding the space for civil society in the Asia-Pacific for Innovation for Change-East Asia’s retreat for civil society leaders and intellectuals.

8.    Carrying out a survey of active labor organizations in China for an international NGO and writing a report with recommendations on how foreign companies can engage with and support those organizations.

9.    Organizing a forum for an international NGO to discuss and come up with recommendations on changing their strategy in China/Asia.

10. Conducting and writing an evaluation of a civil society project in China for a U.S. funder.

11.  Helping NGOs to conceptualize and draft concept notes and full proposals for large European Union and U.S. government grants.

Stay in touch and let me know how I can contribute to the global effort to strengthen civil society, labor and philanthropy. I can be reached by email at or, by Skype using my Skype ID profshawn, or by phone or WhatsApp through my China number +86 18565377724.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

How Xi Jinping is remaking China's civil society

This was the original title of my recent article in ChinaFile. I had asked the editor to change it to "Remaking China's Civil Society in the Xi Jinping Era" because I thought it was more accurate. After all, Xi Jinping is not remaking China's civil society single-handedly. There were many others who could take credit. And one could argue, as Renmin University professor Kang Xiaoguang did in his recent article, that the remaking of civil society began under Hu Jintao who was the first General Secretary to recognize social organizations for the first time in his speeches on "social management" around 2010.  At the time, social organizations felt that this was a recognition of their contributions to society, and a sign that the Communist Party was further opening up to them. But Kang implies that the party leadership was instead setting civil society a trap; in recognizing the contributions of social organizations, they were actually saying that they had come up with a blueprint for controlling them.  That blueprint was for them to operate under the leadership of the party and supervision of the government. Social organizations were to get more support from the government in terms of registration and funding. But in return they would have to give up their autonomy and independence. Social organizations could only provide services, they could not engage in advocacy and claim to represent their constituents. Only the Communist Party and its subordinate government agencies could do that.

Following this logic, Hu Jintao set out the blueprint and Xi Jinping then made that blueprint a reality by cracking down on rights activism and advocacy NGOs, pushing through a series of laws and regulations, such as the Charity Law and Overseas NGO Law, calling for social organizations to set up party groups and providing more funding and support for social organizations that engaged in service provision.

So while it is true that Xi Jinping was not single-handedly responsible for remaking China's civil society, he was the one that made the reconstruction of civil society a reality. He did not do it alone and had plenty of help from the millions of civil servants who worked under him. But he was the one to take the blueprint and make it come alive.

Now after traveling around China and surveying the damage, seeing the social organizations engaging in advocacy and rights protection that are no longer active, and the many social organizations that now get government funding to provide community services, I see that I may have gotten my title wrong after all. Maybe it should be "How Xi Jinping is Remaking China's Civil Society." 

Monday, August 27, 2018

The Draft Regulation for Registration and Management of Social Organizations

On the first week of this month, the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA) issued an important draft regulation governing the registration and management of social organizations (the official Chinese term for nonprofits) for public comment. The draft Regulation for Registration and Management of Social Organizations, and instructions for sending in comments, can be accessed using the links below. The deadline for sending in comments in September 1.

ChinaLawTranslate has an English-language translation of the regulation here.

At this writing, the word is that the MCA has received only around 100 comments, so if you know any Chinese NGOs, encourage them to submit their comments in the next few days.

Some Background

This draft regulation will replace the three previous regulations that formed the core of the regulatory system for social organizations: the "Regulations for the Registration and Management of Social Groups" issued on October 25, 1998; the "Provisional Regulations on the Registration and Management of Civil Non-enterprise Units" issued on October 25, 1998; and the "Foundation Management Regulations" issued on March 8, 2004. Note: The draft regulation has replaced the term "civil, non-enterprise units" with the much improved "social service organizations".

Given the rapid changes in the NGO sector in China, including the passage of the Charity Law in 2016, these regulations were seen by many observers as outdated and in serious need of revision. In the last half of 2016, we finally saw drafts of revisions to all three regulations issued for public comment, but then silence for two years before this draft regulation appeared this month.

Given the very short time frame allowed for public comments, the draft regulation has already stimulated quite a bit of discussion in the sector, including calls to slow down the drafting process to ensure that different views are heard.

For those interested, NGOCN has two posts here with feedback on the draft regulation:

CDB has also collated a number of posts about the draft regulation here in Chinese,

There have also been some forums organized about the draft regulation. Here's a Weixin post that has been getting quite a bit of attention citing the views of Yang Tuan, a long-time and respected observer of the sector, and other analysts and observers of the sector.

Some Impressions and Comments

I've only had the chance to skim through the regulation, and the various discussions, but here are some quick impressions and comments based on what I've been reading.

First of all, I'm surprised they came out so quickly. I was on record that I didn't think we'd see a draft this year, so now I'm going to eat my words. I’m also surprised that MCA is only allowing about four weeks for public comment given the importance of the draft regulation.

Second, the draft regulation is going in the right direction in terms of creating a more enabling environment for NGOs, but the details of the regulation are fraught with a number of problems, including inconsistencies with the Charity Law. Below are some problems that have been raised:

The draft allows direct registration (e.g. registering with Civil Affairs without needing a PSU) for four categories of social organizations: 1) chambers of commerce and trade associations; 2) science and technology groups; 3) charitable, public welfare organizations; and 4) rural and urban community organizations. One complaint is that the definition of the third category- charitable, public welfare organizations – is overly narrow, even more so than the definition of charity and public welfare spelled out in the Charity Law, and that the definition should be broadened.

Another problem is Article 4 which prohibits social organizations from engaging in “for-profit business activities. This seems to be overly restrictive and not in line with the Charity Law which has a more expansive view of the activities social organizations can engage in. Article 9 of the Charity Law states that charitable organizations may not have a “profit-making purpose,” which implies that profit-making activities would be acceptable as long as they support a charitable purpose.

In another improvement, the draft regulation allows social organizations to set up branches, but not “regional branches” so apparently branches can only be set up in the administrative area in which that social organization is registered, but this is not clearly stated.

The draft regulation makes it more difficult for smaller foundations to register. The minimum registered capital for foundations of 8 million RMB was raised above the 2 million RMB amount required in the previous regulations, and the 2016 draft regulations. Also the 2016 draft regulations allowed foundations to register below the provincial level, a move that would have helped smaller, community foundations. This draft regulation now states that foundations can only register at or above the provincial level.

There is quite a bit of language in the draft regulation about the need for social organizations to establish Communist Party organizations, and carry out Party activities. Social organizations are required to prepare the conditions, and provide a workplan, for setting up party organizations. None of this language requiring Party organizations was in the Charity Law or in the previous regulations.

The draft regulation also spells out very specific, and onerous, penalties for social organizations that violate their legal responsibilities, and allows law enforcement wide discretion in investigating violations. Language clarifying limits on law enforcement investigative powers should be included to protect the legal rights of social organizations and their staff.