Sunday, March 27, 2011

The top 16 "public welfare" events of 2010

In a previous blog, I listed what I saw as some of “The Best and Worst of 2010 for China’s NGOs”.   In the their most recent issue (Winter 2010), China Development Brief came out with the top 16 major "public welfare" (gongyi) events.  The term “public welfare” is often used in China in place of nonprofit, civil society, or philanthropy. 

These top 16 events were selected from a survey of readers of three major media platforms that cover the “public welfare” or “civil society” sector in China: China Development Brief (with which I am working now), Social Entrepreneur magazine (published by the NGO, NonProfit Incubator or NPI) and NGOCN (NGOCN’s founder, Lu Fei, was profiled in an earlier post on this blog).   The list provides a window into what Chinese observers of the civil society sector think have been important trends.   Many, but not all, are events that I also listed in my Best and Worst List, which is a good thing because it suggests that I haven’t strayed too far from the perceptions of the Chinese NGO community.
The readers who responded to the survey were from all over China, including Hong Kong, and draw mainly from those working in the “public welfare” sector, but also include people working in government and business, students, and researchers.   Many are young, about 84% between 20-40 years of age, and about 42% are from Beijing and Guangdong. 
Here in order of the top vote getters are the 16 biggest “public welfare” events of 2010 with the percentage of votes in parentheses.  A number of these events were covered in my previous posts, including “The Best and Worst of 2010 for China’s NGOs” so I don’t go into them in detail.

1)  Jet Li revealing, in a September 2010 CCTV interview, problems he was having trying to register his One Foundation as a private foundation due to China’s restrictive registration laws, and rumors that the One Foundation might close (61%).
2)  The new regulations from the State Administration of Foreign Exchange that went into effect in March 2010 making it more difficult for grassroots NGOs to transfer foreign funds into their accounts (51%)
3)  The September visit by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet to discuss philanthropy with some of China’s wealthiest individuals (46%).
4)  The establishment in June of 2010 of the Public Welfare (or Philanthropy) Research Institute at Beijing Normal University.  The Institute is funded by the One Foundation and headed by a former Ministry of Civil Affairs official, Wang Zhenyao (45%).
5)  The announcement by the Ministry of Civil Affairs in July of 2010 requiring 15 national public fundraising foundations to turn the funds they had raised for the Yushu (Qinghai province) earthquake relief over to the Qinghai provincial government, provincial Red Cross and provincial Charity Federation.  This decision was criticized for harming the cause of philanthropy in China (43%).
6)  The participation of almost 60 Chinese NGOs in the UN climate change talks in Tianjin in October of 2010.  The NGOs issued a joint statement, and organized 20 joint activities.  It was the largest number of Chinese NGOs to participate in the area of climate change (40%).
7)   The slowness of the NGO response to the drought in the southwestern part of China  in the spring of 2010 provoked some discussion in the media, especially compared to the quick NGO response to the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake (35%).
8)  The establishment of the China Foundation Center in July of 2010 (33%).
9) The Green Choice Alliance, a group of 34 grassroots NGOs, among them Friends of Nature, Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs and Green Beagle, released two investigative reports in April and June on heavy metal pollution from the information and technology sector (32%). 
10)  The Qinghai Gesanghua Educational Assistance Association raised more than 2.59 million yuan online for the Yushu earthquake highlighting the use of new media platforms for NGOs to fundraise and carry out relief work (32%).
11)  The Yunnan provincial government piloting new regulations governing international NGO management.  The regulations came out in December of 2009 and were implemented in January of 2010.  These are the first regulations explicitly aimed at international NGOs (31%).
12)   The first New Public Welfare Carnival held in Shanghai in August and September of 2010, an event that brought together businesses, government, academics and NGOs to promote social innovation (30%).
13)  The notice by Beijing University cutting its association with the Peking University Women’s Legal Aid Center in March of 2010 (30%)
14)  Strikes by workers at Honda Motor Company’s factories in Guangdong starting in May of 2010 (30%).
15)  Cao Dewang, chairman of the Fuyao Group, gave the largest one-time donation in the history of the PRC to the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation to help poor farmers in the five drought-stricken provinces in southwest China (28%).
16)  The folding of “Friends” publication which was aimed at the gay, HIV/AIDS and public health community and had been publishing since 1998.  “Friends” closed because it lost its major source of funding from an international foundation (21%). 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Warriors of Qiugang -- environmental activism at its best

Last Saturday afternoon, I went to the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in the 798 Art Space in Beijing to see “Warriors of Qiugang”, a short documentary about a farmer-turned-environmental activist (to see the full documentary, go to  The film was directed by Ruby Yang who had won a Oscar for best short documentary for her earlier 2006 film, “Blood of Yingzhou District” about children in Anhui who had lost their parents to an AIDS epidemic in the province.  I had seen the earlier film and a friend of mine, an environmental lawyer in Beijing, had recommended “Warriors of Qiugang” so I was looking forward to the screening.  When I heard that Ruby Yang and Mr. Zhang Gongli, the farmer, were going to be in the audience and answering questions afterwards, that made the event even sweeter.

Despite the polluted, overcast, chilly conditions, I hopped on my bike and rode out to the 798 Art Space and got there about 10 minutes late.  The film had already started, and the auditorium was almost packed, but luckily I found a seat up front, opened up my Windows document on my phone and started to take notes.

The film is in some ways a familiar story for those of us steeped in environmental horror stories in China.  The story is about Qiugang village which is located on the banks of the Huai River in Anhui.  The village’s land and waterways are being laid to waste by several highly-polluting factories next door.  The villagers are fed up by the pollution and the health problems it is causing, and protest in 2003 but are beaten up.  Enter Mr. Zhang whose land is very close to one of the factories.  He sues the factory in 2004 and again in 2005 but loses each time, though in an interview he did with me afterwards, he said the factory did settle with him by paying him 500 yuan (about U.S.$65 a year at that time) for three years, but refused to stop its operations.  In 2007, Mr. Zhang and Qiugang are helped by Green Anhui, a local environmental NGO, which gets their story to the local media.  The villagers then decide to write a petition to the local authorities asking them to close the factories down.  The local authorities balk until Mr. Zhang, with the help of Green Anhui and other environmental NGOs in Beijing, bring the story to the national media which in turn attracts the attention of the Ministry of Environmental Protection.  Mr. Zhang's message is that the factories should be closed down because they are in violation of existing environmental laws and regulations.  Under pressure from the national authorities and Mr. Zhang who keeps up the campaign, local authorities eventually order the factories closed in 2009.  The factories are now in the process of being torn down.

The film brings out some important elements of activism in China.  It shows that ordinary farmers do care about the damage caused by environmental pollution and are willing to take risks to do something about it.  It depicts the role of NGOs in educating individual activists about the laws, and bringing their stories to the media and national authorities.  It shows how the media and national authorities can be occasional allies in the fight to enforce China’s laws in favor of social and environmental justice.  The combined efforts of these actors can sometimes lead to good results even in an authoritarian state.  We see a similar pattern in the environmental campaign against the Nujiang River dam project which ended up being suspended in 2005 (see Andrew Mertha's brilliant account in his book Water Warriors). 

After the film, I had a chance to go out to dinner with Ruby Yang and Mr. Zhang and offered to escort Mr. Zhang back to the train station so I could interview him.  He told me many of the people in his village and many of the local officials in his area had seen the film.  Now that he had achieved a level of fame, he didn’t seem to think the local authorities would cause him any trouble.  I hope he's right.

When I dropped him off at the train station, he took out his camera and showed me pictures of the factory being razed.  He said there would soon be trees and grass there, and that they've seen some small fish again in the river and waterways.  He sounded hopeful.

Friday, March 18, 2011

How to read this blog

I realize that blogs are by their nature spontaneous and unstructured.  There’s no beginning or end.  It’s the difference between a swimming pool where serious swimmers are doing laps, and a pool that is crowded with frolicking kids.  Books are the former, and blogs are the latter.  You just dive in somewhere in the middle and start exploring.  Being the type that likes order and organization, though, I thought I’d try to go against the nature of a blog, to create an unblog if you will, by organizing it a bit more like – gasp! – a book.  If someone were to ask me how they should read my blog, and to help them organize the blogs into chapters, here’s what I might come up with.  I'll be updating this post to reflect future postings.  (True blog aficionados are welcome to ignore this post and just dive in.)

My Inaugural post posted on October 1, 2009 where I introduce myself and my reason for writing this blog

Defining NGOs in China 1.0, posted on June 28, 2010
Yu Keping on government-led civil society in China, posted on October 23, 2009
Important trends among Chinese NGOs, posted on August 26, 2010
The best and worst of 2010 for China’s NGOs, posted on January 12, 2011

Three NGOs in Nanjing, posted on November 30, 2009
Discussing the future of China’s NGOs, posted on July 22, 2010
Grassroots activism and public-private partnerships in the Hudson Valley, posted August 1, 2010
Challenges for grassroots NGOs, posted from Asia Catalyst on March 11, 2010
Shaping the future of grassroots NGOs, posted from Asia Catalyst on March 7, 2010

Is it getting a bit chilly for NGOs? posted on March 8, 2010
The Oxfam HK case, posted on March 8, 2010
Notice on  administration of donated foreign funds, posted on April 9, 2010
Peking University Women's Legal Aid Center loses its affiliation, posted on April 13, 2010
Shutting down of NGOCN’s website, posted on April 20, 2010
Why the chill in the air for NGOs?  posted May 12, 2010
An exchange between Meg Davis of Asia Catalyst and Shawn Shieh on regulation of Chinese
NGOs, posted on November 9, 2010
Regulating NGOs: why the schizophrenic year for NGOs?, Part I, posted February 7, 2010
Regulating NGOs: why the schizophrenic year for NGOs?, Part II, posted February 9, 2010

The 2008 Sichuan earthquake and China’s NGOs, posted on February 24, 2010
NGO Participation in disaster relief in China, posted from Asia Catalyst on April 27, 2010
Visiting NGOs along the faultline: Sichuan to Qinghai, posted August 4, 2010
Visiting the Global Village project in Daping, posted on August 8, 2010
Profile of Gao Guizi, coordinator of the 512 Voluntary Relief Center (Sichuan), posted on
September 21, 2010
Volunteering at Global Village's "Lehe Jiayuan" project in Daping, posted on October 18, 2010
Global Village's LOHO Community project in Sichuan -- excerpts from a volunteer's blog,
posted on November 14, 2010

Profile: Lu Fei, founder of NGOCN (Yunnan), posted on November 1, 2009
Profile of Chen Yongsong, founder of EcoNetwork (Yunnan), posted on December 15, 2009
Profile of Xu Yongguang, secretary general of Nandu (Narada) Foundation (Beijing), posted on
January 24, 2010
Profile of Ma Yinling, founder of (Yuexi county) Poverty and Development Research Center,
posted on September 3, 2010
Profile of Gao Guizi, coordinator of the 512 Voluntary Relief Center (Sichuan), posted on
September 21, 2010
The passing of Liang Congjie, China’s environmental and civil society pioneer, posted on
November 1, 2010

On what Obama can do for NGOs on his visit to China, Posted November 14, 2009
Talking to some NGOs in Sichuan, posted on August 15, 2010
Can Bill Gates and Warren Buffett start a philanthropic revolution in China?  Posted October 1,
Volunteering at Global Village's "Lehe Jiayuan" project in Daping, posted on October 18, 2010
Good news for 2011: Starting up China Development Brief (English), posted on January 27,
Getting involved in the nonprofit community in Beijing, posted on January 4, 2011
Global Village's LOHO Community project in Sichuan -- excerpts from a volunteer's blog,
posted on November 14, 2010

XuYongguang’s talk at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of China, posted on March 7, 2010
Profile of Xu Yongguang, secretary general of Nandu (Narada) Foundation (Beijing), posted on
January 24, 2010
Can Bill Gates and Warren Buffett start a philanthropic revolution in China?  Posted October 1,2010

Thursday, March 17, 2011

It's been a while...

I realize it’s been some time since I’ve posted and wanted to explain my long absence from these pages.  One reason (ok, excuse) is that I’ve been busy getting the China Development Brief translation project going.  One part of this project is to bring together a community of volunteer translators who can help in translating selected CDB articles for a special report we are putting together on Philanthropy and Civil Society in China.  I’m pleased to say that the response has been wonderful.  So far, 34 people have signed up to translate the articles from Chinese to English.  They are a diverse group, students, scholars, NGO practitioners, and professionals, all with advance bilingual skills.  I’m also working on the website which will be linked to the Chinese-language CDB website,  I hope to have the entire special report ready by June of this year.

My other excuse is the internet in Beijing which has been acting up as a result – I’m just guessing here, but I think it’s a pretty good guess – of the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, and the call for a similar uprising here in China, using the internet and various social media sites as a springboard.  The authorities here are understandably on edge and have made it very difficult to access internet sites outside of China.  Gmail is very, very sporadic now, and my VPN provider which I thought would never be blocked was.  As a result, I’ve not been able to access my blog until today.

I promise to put more blog postings up soon.  My next one will be a blog about how to read this blog.