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  • China's Opening Society: The Non-State Sector and Governance
  • Peter Yang (bio)
Yongnin Zheng and Joseph Fewsmith. China's Opening Society: The Non-State Sector and Governance. China Policy Series. New York: Routledge, 2008. xii, 244 pp. Hardcover $150.00, isbn 978-0-415-45176-5.

This volume is a compilation of essays whose early versions were initially presented as papers at the International Conference on the Development of the Non-State Sector, Local Governance and Sustainable Development in China (Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China, June 24–25, 2006). The essays critically review the development of the non-state sector and NGOs as part of socioeconomic transformations in China since the late 1970s. With China becoming an increasingly open economy and society, this text is of particular importance. This transitional and developing nation has been, on the one hand, quite successful at bringing economic efficiency, and thus prosperity and consumption, to its citizens. However, it has been far less successful at reducing the widening income disparity and the resulting daunting social and political challenges.

Issues discussed in the book can be divided into two groups: theoretical and practical. The theoretical group includes a study of three different models of civil society and their applicability to China and a critical review of the NGO sustainable development philosophy. This theoretical discussion sets the stage for an understanding of the concept of civil or open society, the major players in this society, and its implication for China.

The practical group examines the development of civil society not only as a by-product of China's economic reforms, but also as an intricate political and social process. The practical exploration covers such important issues as institutional barriers to the development of civil society in China; civil society in Russia and China; NGOs in China; the corporate social responsibility in China; media, internet, and governance in China; county government authorities in China; chambers of commerce in Wenzhou; deliberative institutions in China; and the role of international NGOs in local governance and village elections in China.

The text demonstrates how the initial priority of the rapid economic growth in the Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin eras has switched under Jiantao Hu to a socioeconomic strategy aiming at establishing a "harmonious society," with greater emphasis on previously neglected areas such as environment protection and sustainability, public education, public health, public transportation, and welfare. The authors assess the potential impact of this strategic change of the Chinese government on the development of the non-state sector as an effective provider of social and public services. [End Page 594]

At the same time, they dissect various institutional barriers faced by Chinese NGOs, such as prohibitively high costs related to registration requirements, lack of funding, lack of tax exemption, and supervision in terms of nonprofit principles, one the one hand, and excessive interference with autonomous and competitive principles, on the other hand. They also analyze the causes of these barriers, especially the party's and government's fundamental distrust of civil organizations, and the resulting undesirable consequences, such as the existence of a great number of nonregistered NGOs and the tendencies of NGOs to become externally monopolistic and internally poorly managed, and either bureaucratic or profit-seeking, which prevents them from merely serving as helping hands rather than as autonomous, independent organizations, and from effective performance as an essential social and public service provider in an open, civil society. These results of the in-depth analysis largely echo, on the one hand, the findings of similar studies on the market, for example, Qiusha Ma's Non-Governmental Organizations in Contemporary China: Paving the Way to Civil Society? (Routledge; 2005), which considers NGOs facilitating the development of civil society, and Yiyi Lu's Non-Governmental Organisations in China (Routledge, 2008), which views Chinese NGOs as dependent on the government, needing professional skills, and lacking oversight. On the other hand, the conclusion of this book disagrees with Lu's, which attributes the problems of the Chinese NGOs to the central government's limited capacity to control NGOs and the fragmented and nonmonolithic nature of the government, which allow individual government agencies to protect particular NGOs, especially officially organized ones, from...


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