Saturday, June 11, 2016

2016: the Year of Regulation and a New Future for Civil Society?

Outside China, we look to the past as a guide to China’s future. Here in Hong Kong we continued the wonderful tradition of commemorating the 27th anniversary of the June 4 massacre in Tiananmen Square with the usual candlelight vigil in Victoria Park. In Taiwan, where the Democratic Progressive Party now controls the presidency and legislature, the Legislative Yuan commemorated June 4 for the first time. Memory is used in the service of keeping alive the dream of a democratic China. 

Inside China, the Communist Party has chosen to brush out the past, or perhaps  more accurately to use the past as a guide to what should be avoided in the future. It is more interested in shaping the future, in particular the future of China’s civil society, in a way that will strengthen CPC rule and prevent the reoccurence of the 1989 movement. Memory is used in the service of keeping alive Xi Jinping’s “China dream” - a dream rooted in the future rather than the past.

The year 2016 could be said to be the year that future starts. It is the Year of Regulation when two national laws regulating the nonprofit, NGO, social organization sector were passed within the space of two months – the Charity Law in April and the Overseas NGO Law in May. These are the most consequential nonprofit laws passed in the history of the PRC.  Before this, you have to go back to the more esoteric Public Welfare Donations Law (PWDL, 公益事业捐赠法) passed in 1998 for a national law regulating the nonprofit, social organization sector. In contrast to the more narrow PWDL, the Charity Law and Overseas NGO Law are more detailed and comprehensive in scope. The former defines the scope of domestic nonprofit, charitable work in China, and regulates the establishment and operation of domestic charitable organizations and the sources and uses of charitable property and services. The Overseas NGO Law regulates the operations and activities of overseas nonprofit, non-governmental organizations and their represenative offices in China.

If these two laws had been the only legislation passed this year, one could still legitimately claim 2016 as the Year of Regulation. But we now have news that there is more on the way. In late May, the Ministry of Civil Affairs issued draft revisions of regulations for registration and management of two of the three types of “social organizations” (the Chinese term for nonprofit organizations): Civil Non-Enterprise Institutions (CNIs, 民办非企业单位) and Foundations (基金会). (Note: These draft revisions are being issued for public comment, so if you are interested in commenting, you can go to the Civil Affairs website here and here to download a copy of the revised regulations.) In the revised regulations, CNIs are now going to be called Social Service Organizations (社会服务机构), which is a more accurate description of this type of nonprofit and in line with the Charity Law which uses the new term instead of CNI. A draft of revised registration and management regulations for the third type – Social Associations (e.g. membership associations, 社会团体) – will most likely follow soon. 

We have been expecting revisions of these three sets of regulations since 2014 and thought they would be out earlier. What we did not expect was for the sequence to be reversed and have the Charity Law and Overseas NGO Law approved first, followed by revisions of these three regulations. If the revisions of the three regulations are all approved this year, then we will have seen passage of almost all the significant nonprofit laws and regulations in the time span of just one year.  This is unprecedented in the history of the PRC. A review of the history of regulation in the nonprofit, social organization sector shows three major peaks of regulation (See the table below). The first peak (in orange) comes in the 1988-89 period with the appearance of three regulations, two of which were issued after the demonstrations in June 1989. The second peak (in yellow) comes in the 1998-2004 period with the appearance of one new regulation, one new national and two revised regulations. The year 2016 (in blue) eclipses both of these peaks, with two comprehensive national laws, and potentially revised regulations on the registration and management of all three types of social organizations.

Year Major Laws and Regulations Governing Social Organizations in China
Regulations on Management of Foundations

Provisional Measures on Management of Foreign Chambers of Commerce

Regulations on Registration and Management of Social Associations

Regulations on the Registration and Management of Social Assocaitions (revision of the 1989 regulations)

Provisional Regulations on the Registration and Management of Civil, Non-Enterprise Institutions

Public Welfare Donations Law

Regulations on the Management of Foundations (revision of the 1998 regulations)

Charity Law

Overseas NGO Law

Regulations on the Registration and Management of Social Service Organizations (revision of the 1998 Provisional Regulations on the Registration and Management of Civil, Non-Enterprise Institutions)

2016 ?
Regulations on the Management of Foundations (revision of the 2004 regulations)

Regulations on the Registration and Management of Social Associations (revision of the 1998 regulations)


  1. Hi Shawn,

    Thanks for this helpful post. It looks like the State Council did make some small amendments to the Regulations on the Registration and Management of Social Organizations in a list of amendments for administrative regulations back in February 2016. See State Council decision:, and a commentary: Do you think MCA will release more comprehensive revisions beyond what was released in February (in light of the passage of the Charity Law)?

    Sabrina T

  2. Sabrina, thanks for your comment. Yes, it looks like the links you sent confirm that the Regulations for Registration and Management of Social Associations (I like to use this term instead of Social Organizations because it better describes their function as membership associations, and to reserve the term Social Organizations for the broader term 社会组织 which includes many different types of social organizations) is in the process of being revised and we should expect to see a draft of the regulations issued later this year for public comment, just as the draft revised regulations for Social Service Organizations and Foundations were issued in May for public comment.

  3. Hi Shawn - indeed thanks for the great post. Just a quick observation across the spectrum of new legislation and regulation: since the Third Plenum there has been a steady rise across all sectors in the amount of legislation being put on the books. I think you may find a similar story in other sectors. Interesting reflection on rolling out the 'rule of law'.

    1. Thanks Philippa. That is indeed good to know. Keep up the great work that you and David are doing at China Policy!