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Jean-Philippe Beja The Changing Aspects of Civil Society in China TH E STUDY OF STATE-SOCIETY RELATIONS IS AN IMPORTANT COMPONENT of political science and is particularly useful in characterizing a politi­ cal regime. This approach is especially fruitful in the study of commu­ nist regimes. The rediscovery of the concept of civil society in the seventies can be considered a landmark in the development of research on Central and Eastern European regimes. It is therefore quite surpris­ ing that most sinologists have been reluctant to use the concepts that emerged in Eastern Europe in the seventies to analyze China before 1989. Only a handful of European observers of the pro-democracy movement during the late seventies and the early eighties regarded the concept of civil society as useful for the study of Chinese politics. Strangely enough, the concept became widespread among China specialists and pro-democracy scholars in exile only after the repres­ sion of the 1989 pro-democracy movement. In China itself, it became a hot topic when Social Sciences in China, the mainland journal published in Hong Kong, devoted its first issue to a discussion of the concept in 1992. In the last decade, civil society was widely used by many Western and Chinese observers. But the reality that it covers is veiy different from the one to which the Eastern European concept referred. Whereas the latter had more to do with strategy, it is now essentially an analyti­ cal concept closer to the Anglo Saxon definition developed in the nine­ ties, in which civil society designates nongovernmental organizations social research Vol 73 : No 1 : Spring 2006 53 (NGOs). In the last two or three years especially, many political scien­ tists have devoted considerable energy to compiling exhaustive lists of NGOs in China.1 In this paper, I will argue that this concept of civil society—refer­ ring to an informally structured network of nongovernmental organi­ zations that have a loose relation with the party state—is quite different from the combative structure that developed in Poland in the seven­ ties, in Czechoslovakia in the eighties, and, to a certain extent, in China during the first decade of reform. And I will argue that these associa­ tions did not play the same role as the ones that emerged in Eastern Europe and in China in the eighties. In other words, the development of a “civil society” does not mean that the regime is democratizing, nor does it mean that the evolution of China will follow a pattern similar to that seen Eastern Europe. I. THE SOCIAL PACT FOR REFORM The Failure of Reform from Outside: The Repression of the Democracy Wall Movement The civil society strategy appeared after the failure of the institutional­ ization of a political opposition. In Poland in the seventies, the brutal repression of the worker riots in Gdansk and Sczeczin convinced part of the rebellious intelligentsia that it was impossible to directly confront the party in the political field. The most concerned elements founded the Committee for the Defense of Workers (KOR), which began to help society organize itself and presented itself as a self-limiting social movement. Since the social movements in Eastern Europe “had given up hopes for radical reform of [the power] structures, there was no other alternative but to concentrate the activities of the movements on the democratic self-organizations of social solidarity and cooperation outside the institutional framework of the state” (Markus, 2001). The Chinese evolution was different. In the People’s Republic, in the wake of Mao’s death and Deng Xiaoping’s rehabilitation, an atmo­ sphere of relative freedom was felt in party circles. In order to legiti­ mize his policy aimed at achieving the “four modernizations,” which 54 social research needed the support of the intelligentsia, Deng Xiaoping launched a policy of rehabilitating the “stinking ninth,” based on a stated will to carry out secularization. Many thinkers who had been criticized during the last two decades of Mao’s reign were summoned by Hu Yaobang, who then acted as Deng’s representative in the intellectual field, and asked to devise Marxist foundations for the new policy. Well aware of the legitimacy crisis facing the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-768X
Print ISSN
0037-783X
Pages
pp. 53-74
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-30
Open Access
No
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