Social Organizations and the Authoritarian State in China 1107021316, 9781107021310

Received wisdom suggests that social organizations (such as non-government organizations, NGOs) have the power to upend

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Social Organizations and the Authoritarian State in China
 1107021316, 9781107021310

Table of contents :
Contents
List of Tables
List of Figures
Preface and Acknowledgments
Abbreviations
1 Self-Limiting Organizations and Codependent State-Society Relations
1.1 Theoretical Framework
1.1.1 A Unified Theoretical Framework: Society-Sensitive, Disaggregated Corporatism
1.2 Conceptual and Analytical Frameworks
1.3 Case Selection and Research Design
1.4 Outline of the Book
PART I Political Opportunities
2 Political Opportunities, by Accident and Design
2.1 Creating Demand for Social Organizations
2.2 Defining the Context for Social Organizations
2.3 Managing Social Organizations
3 Central Policies, Local Priorities
3.1 Expectations for Variation
3.2 Perceptions of the Political Opportunity Structure, Disaggregated
3.3 Central Government Policies Shape Relations With Social Organizations
3.4 Local Politics More Directly Define Relations With Social Organizations
3.4.1 Environmental Protection in Yunnan and Sichuan
3.4.2 HIV/AIDS Prevention in Yunnan and Henan
3.5 Explaining a Negative State Response
3.6 Understanding Bad (and Good) Relations
4 Proximate Solutions to Insoluble Problems
4.1 Become Registered (or, Remain Unregistered)
4.2 Keep the Organizations’ Activities Transparent
4.3 Use Only Nonantagonistic Methods
4.4 Minimize Links with Other Groups
4.5 Adjust to Changing Government Policies
4.6 Indulge Governments Reputational Concerns
4.7 The Costs of Adaptation
Part II Economic Opportunities
5 More Money, More Problems
5.1 Money Matters: Foreign Funding, Easy Money
5.2 Organization Leaders as Economic Actors
5.3 Donor-Created, Donor-Driven Organizations
5.4 Oversaturated Market: High Competition, Low Interaction
5.5 Inadequate Funds to Build Capacity: Rich Project, Poor Organization
5.6 Too Few Funders: Low Diversification, High Vulnerability
6 Forever the Twain Shall Meet
6.1 Government as Economic Actor: High Embeddedness, Low Autonomy
6.2 Organizations Without Resources: No Money, No Problems?
6.3 Creating Self-Sustaining Organizations
Part III Personal Opportunities
7 Strong Individual Relationships, Weak Institutional Ties
7.1 Deep and Shallow Embeddedness
7.2 The Importance of Individual Organization Leaders
7.3 Taking Full Advantage of Personal Opportunities
7.4 Exploring the Implications of Personal Opportunities
7.4.1 Implications for Social Organizations
7.4.2 Implications for Civil Society
8 Social Organizations and the Future of Chinese Civil Society
8.1 Reviewing Major Findings
8.2 Making Change, at the Margins
8.3 High Costs of Adapting to the Opportunity Structure
8.4 Limitations to Long-Term Viability
8.5 Social Organizations and Regime Resiliency
8.6 From Oppositional to Strategically Limiting Organization (and Back Again)
8.7 Implications for Donors and Policymakers
Appendix A Sources and Research Methods
A.1 In-depth Interviews
A.2 Web-based Survey
Appendix B Survey Instrument (Chinese)
Bibliography
Index

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Social Organizations and the Authoritarian State in China Received wisdom suggests that social organizations (such as nongovernmental organizations, NGOs) have the power to upend the political status quo. However, in many authoritarian contexts, such as China, NGO emergence has not resulted in this expected regime change. In this book, Timothy Hildebrandt shows how NGOs adapt to the changing interests of central and local governments, working in service of the state to address social problems. In doing so, the nature of NGO emergence in China effectively strengthens the state, rather than weakens it. This book offers a groundbreaking comparative analysis of Chinese social organizations across the country in three different issue areas: environmental protection, HIV/AIDS prevention, and gay and lesbian rights. It suggests a new way of thinking about state-society relations in authoritarian countries, one that is distinctly co-dependent in nature: governments require the assistance of NGOs to govern, whereas NGOs need governments to extend political, economic, and personal opportunities to exist. Timothy Hildebrandt is Lecturer in Chinese Politics at King’s College London. His research has been published in numerous journals, including The China Quarterly, Journal of Contemporary China, Review of International Studies, and Foreign Policy Analysis. He has also adapted his work for more general audiences, in forums such as South China Morning Post, Christian Science Monitor, and Chicago Tribune, and in several policy-oriented publications. He previously taught at the University of Southern California (USC) and held postdoctoral fellowships at USC’s U.S.-China Institute and the Center for Asian Democracy at the University of Louisville. Prior to receiving his Ph.D. in political science at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, he was on staff at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC, serving as managing editor of the Center’s annual policy journal China Environment Series.

Social Organizations and the Authoritarian State in China

TIMOTHY HILDEBRANDT King’s College London

cambridge university press Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, Sao ˜ Paulo, Delhi, Mexico City Cambridge University Press 32 Avenue of the Americas, New York, ny 10013-2473, usa www.cambridge.org Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9781107021310  C

Timothy Hildebrandt 2013

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press. First published 2013 Printed in the United States of America A catalog record for this publication is available from the British Library. Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Hildebrandt, Timothy, 1978– Social organizations and the authoritarian state in China / Timothy Hildebrandt. p. cm. isbn 978-1-107-02131-0 1. Non-governmental organizations – China. 2. Civil society – China. 3. China – Social conditions – 2000– I. Title. jq1516.h55 2013 361.7 60951–dc23 2012029382 isbn 978-1-107-02131-0 Hardback Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of urls for external or third-party Internet Web sites referred to in this publication and does not guarantee that any content on such Web sites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

Contents

List of Tables List of Figures Preface and Acknowledgments Abbreviations 1

Self-Limiting Organizations and Codependent State–Society Relations: Environmental, HIV/AIDS, and Gay and Lesbian NGOs in China

page vii ix xi xv

1

part i: political opportunities 2

Political Opportunities, by Accident and Design

25

3

Central Policies, Local Priorities: Regional Variation of the Political Opportunity Structure

38

Proximate Solutions to Insoluble Problems: Adapting to the Political Opportunity Structure

59

4

part ii: economic opportunities 5 6

More Money, More Problems: Struggling with Economic Opportunities Forever the Twain Shall Meet: Economic and Political Opportunities Converge

95 124

part iii: personal opportunities 7

Strong Individual Relationships, Weak Institutional Ties: The Double-Edged Pursuit of Personal Opportunities

141

v

vi

Contents

8 Social Organizations and the Future of Chinese Civil Society Appendix A: Sources and Research Methods Appendix B: Survey Instrument (Chinese)

159 175 185

Bibliography

201

Index

213

List of Tables

4.1 Legal registration type as percentage of registered organizations 4.2 Probit model results for registration status 5.1 Ordinary least squares (OLS) model results for organization budget size 5.2 Ordered probit model results for interaction with domestic nongovernmental organizations 5.3 Predicted probabilities of interaction by increasing number of full-time paid staff 5.4 Percent of groups reporting project-specific funding levels, by issue area 5.5 Ordinary least squares (OLS) model results for number of funding sources A.1 List of interviews

page 63 68 101 114 115 118 120 176

vii

List of Figures

1.1 Conceptual framework of social organizations in authoritarian states 4.1 Predicted probabilities of registration by increasing distance from Beijing 4.2 Predicted probabilities of registration by increasing organization age 4.3 Predicted probabilities of registration by increasing budget 5.1 Number of funders by issue area, as percent of total funding

page 13 68 69 70 119

ix

Preface and Acknowledgments

For all of the attention that has been paid to social organizations – and the research conducted on them – our understanding has still been significantly limited by the persistent assumptions surrounding the effect of nongovernmental organization (NGO) emergence, the internal orientation of the organizations, and the relations they have with states. In the West, we have been conditioned to see the rise of NGOs in fairly stark, axiomatic terms. The presence of NGOs is thought to be an important indicator of civil society development. And, with a robust civil society, political change is thought to soon follow. Part of the logic at work is that NGOs and civil society are frequently seen to hold governments accountable. In authoritarian contexts, in which the government is not accountable to its citizenry (at least in an electoral sense), we presume these accountabilityseeking organizations to be oppositional to the state. Any reasonable observer would then assume that, given their druthers, an authoritarian government would not allow such oppositional groups to exist at all. Perhaps, then, it makes sense to first assume that NGOs would not exist in a place like China. And, to the extent that they do appear in the country, we might best assume these organizations to not be authentic, “real” NGOs. This would, of course, be one way of explaining why the political change that many expect to come from the emergence of NGOs has not occurred in China. But it would not be a satisfying explanation. Along with these assumed effects of social organization emergence, NGOs themselves are frequently painted with a crude, broad brush. They are, in many senses, presented as a caricature: these organizations are presumed to be led by idealistic individuals who are singular in their focus; they will stop at nothing to do their activities, even if it means putting their organizational health and personal safety at risk; NGO leaders are, perhaps, crazy with passion. Indeed, there is a persistent romanticizing of civil society in both academic xi

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literature and the popular imagination. But casting such a romantic spotlight on these organizations often occurs at the cost of putting them, and the nature of their emergence, under a microscope. Much of what we understand about NGOs is built on a deep bed of often misleading assumptions, which, when questioned, should make us revisit many of the beliefs and expectations that we have about the relationship of NGOs and governments. The goal of this book is to challenge these assumptions and, in doing so, to uncover new truths and understandings of social organizations and the state. To be clear, deromanticizing NGOs is not akin to denigrating them or the work they do. Quite the contrary. I was motivated to write this book in part because I stand in awe of Chinese social organizations that have continued to persist despite the difficulties they face. I wanted to learn how they negotiate narrow political, economic, and personal opportunities. I wanted to understand the effect that their adaptations and actions might have on their organizational future, and that of the regime. A word on the layout of the book: consumers (and producers) of social science research familiar with the case study approach are usually accustomed to finding each of the cases treated separately in chapters. This book is different. Rather than examine each issue area in its own chapter, I offer a truly comparative study, presenting the three issue areas alongside each other throughout the book. I was purposeful in making this choice. This book is about more than just three different types of social organizations in China. It is about the complex environment within which NGOs must operate in China and the changing face of state–society relations in authoritarian contexts. As such, the book is organized along a new analytical framework that dissects the opportunity structure for social organizations into three discrete, but often mutually constitutive parts: political, economic, and personal opportunities. No single-authored book is a truly independent exercise. I owe tremendous gratitude to many individuals at all stages throughout this long process. The origins of this book can be traced back to my time at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the policy-oriented research I conducted while on staff at the Center’s China Environment Forum and Asia Program. I am indebted to the wise counsel of my former colleagues at the Wilson Center, in particular, Geoffrey Dabelko, Robert Hathaway, Wilson Lee, and Phillipa Strum. Jennifer Turner is one of the trailblazers in the study of environmental issues in China. She was, and continues to be, a fantastic mentor, supporter, and friend. This research was also made possible by some key relationships built during my time in Washington, DC: Max Li, Lin Gu, Ma Jun, Wen Bo, and Humphrey Wou. I could not have asked for a better advisor than Melanie Manion at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She has been patient and supportive throughout my career, offering invaluable insights at each stage of my research. In holding me to the highest of standards, she has effectively taught me to never accept anything less. Edward Friedman has always been one of my biggest advocates.

Preface and Acknowledgments

xiii

He has long supported my goal of speaking to both academic and policy communities and encouraged me to continue my conversations with scholars in various fields of study. Leigh Payne introduced me to the study of social movements and contentious politics and has long encouraged my effort to draw from and speak to literatures in these areas. Aseema Sinha provided valuable assistance in making my research more applicable to contexts outside of China, whereas Yongming Zhou offered great advice for my research from a non– political science perspective. Other faculty members at Wisconsin offered helpful insights in the early stages of my graduate career: Paul Hutchcroft, Helen Kinsella, David Leheny, and Jon Pevehouse. I am grateful to several scholars at other institutions as well: Michael Chambers, Bruce Dickson, Ching Kwan Lee, Anthony Spires, Daniela Stockmann, Fengshi Wu, and Guobin Yang. I thank my colleagues in the Chinese Politics Workshop at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, all of whom provided invaluable feedback and support at all stages of this project and are fantastic scholars of Chinese politics in their own right: Meina Cai, Brandon Lamson, Leah Larson-Rabin, Jinjie Liu, Naya Mukherji, Kerry Ratigan, Kristin Vekasi, and Zuo Cai. While at Wisconsin, I was fortunate to have made great friends, all of whom provided crucial emotional and intellectual support with great patience, in particular Hannah Goble, Courtney Hillebrecht, Peter Holm, Stacey Pelika, Andrew Reiter, and Mark Schrad. The research for this book was generously supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DGE-0549369 IGERT: Training Program on Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Development in Southwest China at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. This traineeship not only provided crucial financial backing for my field research, but also contributed to my education and research agenda that transcends the boundaries of the social sciences. I am indebted to IGERT manager Teri Allendorf and colleagues Jill Baumgaurtner, Jocelyn Behm, Brian Robinson, Jamon Van Den Hoek, and John Zinda, who helped make me better versed in disciplines outside of my own. I am also proud to call them friends. Deep gratitude also goes to the late IGERT project director Joshua Posner, a first-rate scholar of problem-driven research and, more importantly, a dear friend with a big heart. He will be missed. In China, I am grateful to my official sponsors: the Kunming Institute of Botany, the Kunming Institute of Zoology, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Lengthy field research can often be a lonely experience. However, my research year was made far more pleasurable and my sanity was maintained by the support of old and new friends in China: Ben Blanchard, Eric Ho, Stephanie Jensen, Kaarin Lindsay-Dynon, and Michael Pignatello. The support and love of my oldest friends, Adam Davis and Rachel Scepanski, made China feel even more like a second home. I was fortunate to share my time in the field with other great China scholars as well, namely Jonathan Hassid and Rachel Stern.

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This book would not have been possible were it not for the many informants who agreed to share with me their experiences and insights into social organizations. Because of the sensitivity of the issues addressed in this book and to ensure that no harm comes to these informants for having spoken with me, their identities and those of their organizations remain confidential. Although I cannot list their names here, I owe them tremendous gratitude. The preparation of this book benefited tremendously from support provided by two postdoctoral fellowships, first at the Center for Asian Democracy at the University of Louisville, and then at the U.S.-China Institute at the University of Southern California. I am very grateful for the support and encouragement of my colleagues at USC, including Linda Cole, Clay Dube, Robert English, Daniel Lynch, and Stanley Rosen. My time in Los Angeles was made more productive and enjoyable by the support and love of great friends: Henry Adams, Glen Lakin, Damien Lu, Duncan Millership, Simon Thomas, and Buckley White. I would especially like to thank Lewis Bateman and the rest of the editorial staff at Cambridge University Press for devoting the time and resources necessary at all stages of production to make this book a reality. I am also incredibly grateful for the careful work of anonymous reviewers who have helped make this book stronger. Finally, tremendous thanks go to my family (immediate, extended, and otherwise): Robert and Mollie Hildebrandt, and Marcie Horner and Mark Nelson, Brittany Cole, Melissa and Aaron Hasler, Galen and Grace Hasler, John Hildebrandt, Chelsea Jenson, Mary and Charles Manley, and Annie Conquest. In addition to providing all kinds of support and unconditional love, they encouraged me to follow my passions first and worry about the logistics later. Equally important, they have helped keep me grounded and coherent by demanding that I always keep it simple and clear. To the extent that I fail in this regard, the fault is all mine. Timothy Hildebrandt London, September 2012

Abbreviations

AIDS Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome CDC Centers for Disease Control EPB Environmental Protection Bureau GONGO Government-organized nongovernmental organizations HIV Human immunodeficiency virus LGBT Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/sexual MoCA Ministry of Civil Affairs MOH Ministry of Health MSM Men who have sex with men NGO Nongovernmental organization PRC People’s Republic of China PSB Public Security Bureau SARS Severe acute respiratory syndrome SEPA State Environmental Protection Administration USAID United States Agency for International Development

xv

1 Self-Limiting Organizations and Codependent State–Society Relations Environmental, HIV/AIDS, and Gay and Lesbian NGOs in China

In the past decade, social organizations have quickly sprouted in China, as one observer notes, like “bamboo shoots after a rainstorm” (Lu 2003: 55). The growth of the country’s nongovernmental organization (NGO) sector has puzzled many observers, due in part to expectations that the emergence of civil society groups will – sooner or later – hasten political reform and perhaps even lead to regime change.1 Yet, despite the emergence and development of these groups, the broader political status quo has not changed: the one-party state remains, further proof of its resiliency. To explain the gap between prior assumptions and the present reality, some China scholars have called for more patience, suggesting that these groups will play the role of change agent in due time. They argue that social organizations have helped reduce the influence of the state on society and still represent an important antecedent to democratization (Ma 2005; Saich 2000; White 1993; Yang 2005). However, others explain the current situation as evidence that Chinese NGOs lack autonomy, serve as simply another arm of the government, and are unable to challenge the authority of the state as similar organizations in other polities do (Alagappa 2004; Unger and Chan 1995; Wu 2004). Although both positions have merit, the existing state of the conversation about social organizations in China leads us to miss an important dynamic: debates over the effect of NGOs on political change do not adequately capture the complex relationship between the state and society, nor do they account for the complicated political and economic environment within which these groups operate. Chinese social organizations are neither wholly autonomous nor completely bound by state control. They are granted enough space to meet their own, often narrowly defined goals, but not so much autonomy that they 1

In this book, I use the term social organization, group, and NGO interchangeably.

1

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Social Organizations and the Authoritarian State in China

might challenge the government or otherwise undercut state interests. Social organizations work to further their own goals; at the same time, they often work to assist the government in implementing its policies. In this respect, the relationship between the authoritarian state and society might be less zero-sum than previously suggested (e.g., Stepan 1990); it might be best described as codependent. The literature covering the main debates on NGOs in China, and in other authoritarian polities, undersell the actions of these organizations and treat their very existence as little more than an axiomatic means to another end (e.g., political change). Social Organizations and the Authoritarian State in China is different. It is less interested in the potential far-reaching political outcomes of the existence of these groups (reform or regime change). It is neither a descriptive study of the activities of Chinese NGOs nor an analysis of these groups’ abilities to meet larger goals, which for the issue areas in this study might include protecting the environment, stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS, or extending more rights to lesbians and gays. Rather, it is a study of survival, a sort of playbook for how social organizations forge their existence, an issue that has only recently begun to be explored by China scholars (Ho and Edmonds 2008: 5). Questions about the larger and lasting effect of social organizations are both interesting and important. However, this book begins from the belief that answers to such questions must be informed by a more complete understanding of the context within which social organizations have formed in China. To do so, it is necessary to examine how these organizations adapt to complex and dynamic political and economic environments. Recognizing that past studies of social organizations lack theories to explain the adaptive nature of these groups in an authoritarian context, this book explores several key questions: How do Chinese social organizations deal with the state? How do they adapt to narrow opportunity structures? How strong are they, and what is the likelihood that they will survive over the long term? Finally, what do these organizations mean for broader political outcomes in China? To answer these questions, I compare social organizations in three issue areas, across diverse geographic regions: groups engaged in environmental protection–related activities, those devoted to addressing the growing problem of HIV/AIDS, and organizations that work to improve the lives of gays and lesbians. This multicase study enables me to explain variations in how organizations adapt to the overall opportunity structure in order to emerge and thrive. The central argument of this book is that Chinese NGOs have made a series of strategic adaptations in order to take advantage of the limited opportunities presented to them. But the adaptations each organization makes are also dependent on local conditions, which differ by issue area, administrative region, and even time. Although these adaptations afford groups important benefits necessary for success in the short term, they also carry with them costs that can make longer-term sustainability difficult.

Self-Limiting Organizations and Codependent State–Society Relations

3

Given the political environment in China, this book understands and appreciates the impact that the state has on society; actual state policies are an important factor to bring into the analysis. However, as the perspective here is that of social organizations, I devote considerable attention to social actors’ perceptions and understanding of the state and its policies. Furthermore, because social organizations interact with the state at various levels, this study does not conceive of the state as a unitary actor: as implementation of state policies varies across areas and levels of government, I capture perceptions on various levels. Two related hypotheses, formulated from preliminary research on environmental groups in China, guided my investigation. First, groups are allowed to emerge and exist to the extent that they adapt to state policy. In other words, groups are given most latitude when they are engaged in work that conforms to the expressed needs and interests of the state. Second, to pursue their respective interests, social organizations display self-limiting behavior, focusing on narrow goals; they are reform-minded but avoid actions that might be seen as threatening to the state. The research for this book was designed to explain the relationship of social organizations and the state; the dependent variable of primary interest is measured by an NGO’s interpretation of state reaction, inferring success or failure to adapt based on the reaction. I observed group behavior by examining several different variables: motivations, strategies, goals, and other organizational features. Given the hypotheses guiding this research, the key independent variable, however, is how well the groups’ work fits into the state’s goals. I expected variation within cases – that is, within the same issue area – and across them, depending on the degree to which the groups adapt to perceived state goals and policies. For example, the Chinese government has been vocal about its desire to resolve the country’s environmental problems. We might, therefore, expect environmental groups to be given relatively more autonomy to do their work. HIV/AIDS groups (along with lesbian and gay organizations), at first glance, face a less hospitable political environment. Although the central government has begun to address the growing health problem of HIV/AIDS, some officials at some local and provincial levels have been less willing to implement policy changes and allow social organizations to tackle the issue. Such variation may not exist simply across issue areas. Even within the issue areas under examination, not all groups are given the same autonomy or latitude to do their work. In the environmental sector, activists in certain geographic areas still encounter occasional – and sometimes brutal – government repression. Borrowing insights from social movement literatures, I argue that social organizations are affected most by the opportunity structure. To gain more analytical leverage to explain the strength and long-term viability of social organizations, I disaggregate the opportunity structure into three distinct but complementary parts: political opportunities, government policies that directly (or indirectly) open or close space for organizations; economic opportunities, funding sources that flow from domestic or international donors, whether

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governmental or nongovernmental; and personal opportunities, the importance of individual organization leaders in groups’ growth and the ties they maintain with individual government officials. This three-part articulation of the opportunity structure represents the context within which Chinese social organizations must operate. By better defining this context, I can also better explain how leaders adapt to these opportunities. Understanding the actions that NGO leaders take to adapt to the opportunity structure is crucial to explain the role they play in governance and, as I ultimately argue, the dismal prospects for their long-term viability, as well as the resilience of the authoritarian regime. I find that, on the whole, groups are not circumscribed directly by the state through repression. Rather, it is the adaptations of the social organization leaders to the opportunity structure that impede their progress and threaten their long-term viability. Although drawing primary attention to NGOs (and their leaders) is important to fully understand societal agency in state–society relations, I also am mindful to avoid some potential pitfalls associated with doing so. For instance, many studies of NGOs contain a strong normative bias, which often makes analyses of them misleading and inaccurate. Social organization leaders are commonly assumed to be altruistic, high-minded, enlightened, and idealistic. To understand how they navigate political space – and to appreciate the role that political, economic, and personal factors play – I avoid romanticizing NGOs and those who lead them. Leaders of NGOs in China, as elsewhere, are understood here as strategic, opportunity-driven actors. Nongovernmental organizations are made up of real, fallible people, who have unique problems and individual, selfish interests.2 This book attempts neither to sanctify nor demonize NGOs, but to normalize them. Furthermore, this book is more about the frequent routine relationships between state and society and less interested in the rare instances of repression. In this, the research deviates from many other studies of Chinese social organizations. Previous attention to NGOs in China, vignette-driven popular media accounts in particular, have paid closest attention to the most extreme cases, in which activists face the kind of brutal repression that one might expect in the Chinese authoritarian polity. In offering a more systematic, multicase, larger N study, this book intends to correct inaccurate understandings of how the entirety of civil society operates in China, a misunderstanding that comes from focusing only on repressed groups. This book is, in essence, a profile in success. It analyzes organizations that, by virtue of their specific issue areas, have the potential to provide benefit to the state and have been able to effectively adapt to the opportunity structure and avoid many forms of negative state response. Nonetheless, this book still captures a sense of real political struggle, though not a struggle in the sense that social actors are pitted against the state and 2

The romanticization of NGOs is pervasive throughout academic and policymaking communities such that some scholars have faced push-back from attempts to use social movement and NGO theoretical frameworks to explain groups not as broadly social-minded, such as Al Qaeda.

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vice-versa. Instead, it sheds light on how social actors struggle to make sense of the state and the adaptations necessary to deal with government and the opportunity structures it has created. It shows how these structures often change and, thus, that strategic limitation itself is in flux. Understanding the complexity of this state–society interaction puts me in a better place to speculate about the future of social organizations and, ultimately, of civil society in China. Through my investigation, I conclude that whereas increasing in number and widening in focus, Chinese social organizations are not well institutionalized. These organizations and the people who lead them are motivated and impacted by economic factors, as well as by political ones. Despite the lack of wide-ranging repression, I cannot offer a sanguine outlook for NGOs in particular or civil society in general. The very nature of the opportunity structures can provide the space to allow for initial emergence and short-term success, but the adaptations necessary for leaders to take advantage of these opportunities create weak organizations ill-suited to continue over the long term. Even though the state has not purposely created the structure in order to constrain groups through coercive means, the result might well be just as effective. I also find evidence of a chilling effect among NGO leaders: even if we could objectively fault the government for failures of some social organizations, the leaders of NGOs in China do not always see it that way. Rather, they tend to blame other civil society group leaders (and sometimes international NGOs) as the primary reason for their plight. Furthermore, because these organizations have usually forged a “harmonious” existence by acting in the service of the state, their emergence does not herald the birth of a strong, independent civil society that could challenge the authoritarian regime. In fact, the better they do their work, the more likely they are to eliminate problems that, if unresolved, could undermine the regime. In this way, the emergence of Chinese social organizations has the more likely (and surprising) effect of helping the authoritarian state persist. The remainder of this introduction discusses the literatures from which this book draws and contributes. After exploring the dominant theoretical paradigm in which most studies of NGOs are conducted – civil society literatures – it engages the corporatist literature and then social movement literatures. In the end, I suggest a more unified theoretical approach to explain social organizations and the state in China. Next, I propose a new conceptual framework of state–society interaction in authoritarian polities through which I define the kinds of groups studied in this book and toward which I intend to generalize; I also introduce the primary analytical framework through which I examine these organizations. Finally, the introduction offers an overview of case selection and research design and previews the book’s chapters.

1.1 Theoretical Framework Current understandings of NGOs in China have been strongly shaped by studies of environmental organizations, one of the three issue areas featured in this

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book (Cooper 2006; Ewoh and Rollins 2011; Hildebrandt and Turner 2009; Ho 2001; Mertha 2008; Ru and Ortolano 2009; Schwartz 2004; Tang and Zhan 2008; Teets 2009; Xie 2009; Yang 2005). The dominance of these “green groups” in the literature on NGOs in China is not surprising, given that these organizations are the oldest, thought to be the most successful, and are usually the most accessible to researchers.3 As with the work on environmental NGOs in other parts of the world (Dalton 1994; Princen and Finger 1994; Wapner 1995), most of these studies have been focused on whether these organizations will be able to affect political change.4 The question of primary interest for most studies of NGOs in China has driven (or, alternatively, been driven by) the choice of theoretical frame. In studying social organizations, political scientists frequently rely on insights from civil society literatures, which usually assume that social actors have a contentious or counterbalancing relationship with the state (Cohen and Arato 1992; Gellner 1984) and that the societal activity it explains will lead to political change (e.g., Bermeo and Nord 2000; Keane 1998; Putnam 1993). The most dominant literatures maintain that social organizations are a challenge to authoritarianism by increasing political participation (especially among marginalized populations) (Silliman and Nobel 1998) and keeping state power in check (Clarke 1998), and are thus a fundamental source of democratization (Diamond 1994). Most civil society scholars see social organizations – and NGOs in particular – from a decidedly liberal perspective, maintaining that democracy requires this autonomous civil society to balance a strong state and represent the myriad interests within society. But although civil society literatures of today are well suited to explaining change, they are less adept at describing stability. This might explain why studies of social movements in strong and persistent authoritarian regimes (like China’s) are scarce. Although research on social organizations in China is also centered on the concept of civil society, there is widespread recognition that civil society may be different in this political context. China’s civil society is described as highly regulated (Baum and Shevchenko 1999), limited by “Asian characteristics” (Madsen 1993), and usually less confrontational than in other contexts (Liu 1996; Ogden 2002). Many note that the state must be taken into consideration when using the concept of civil society (Chamberlain 1993; Nevitt 1996; 3

4

Because HIV/AIDS groups are considerably newer than environmental NGOs, far fewer studies have focused on this issue area. Still, notable exceptions include Kaufman (2009) and Wu (2011). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) activism has been virtually ignored by political scientists; there are apparently no studies yet published on NGOs in this sector. It is important to note that much of this early work on environmental NGOs in China was primarily descriptive in nature. To the extent that research has been more analytical, most has focused only on environmental NGOs, sometimes featuring case studies of individual groups; systematic, large-scale studies of multiple issue areas have not been completed. Thus, the generalizations about Chinese NGOs that do exist have been drawn from understandings of organizations in this one issue area rather than several.

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Zhou 1993); for some it is a mix of purposeful state sponsorship and grassroots activities (Morton 2005). But Saich (2000) warns that too much attention on the state ignores the mechanisms through which groups work around it. Despite broadened definitions, many of these scholars still conclude that civil society will eventually lead to political transition (Cooper 2006). And, although civil society might not bring democracy to China, civil liberties are sure to increase because of the very existence of these social organizations (Morton 2005). Work in other political contexts problematized the link between civil society and political change. The way social organizations affect change differs across context and time; the development of a civil society does not always lead to democratization or some other marked political change. Civil society groups are not always “civil” (Payne 2000), nor are they always independent enough from the political regime to be a force for political change (Ottaway and Carothers 2000). Nongovernmental organizations can legitimize the status quo and not always challenge it (Mercer 2002). Groups that attempt to exist in an authoritarian regime moderate their activities lest they be repressed (Gershman and Allen 2006; Ottaway and Carothers 2000). In Vietnam, for example, the growth of social organizations has not resulted in a mobilization of broad-based civil society, largely because these groups continue to be urban and elite-based, with strong connections to the state (Gray 1999). To account for this variation, Foley and Edwards (1996) offer a modified conceptualization of civil society. They suggest that certain types of groups can actually stabilize and sustain nondemocratic regimes; they call this Civil Society I and juxtapose it with Civil Society II, which operates more in opposition and less in concert with the state. Recent studies on China point to similar fundamental problems with traditional assumptions of civil society and political change. An increase in the number of interest groups could weaken the state, but it does not necessarily benefit society as a whole (Ogden 2002). Alternatively, single-issue NGOs might marginalize the political intervention of social organizations (Beja 2006) and meet the specific needs of the state, such that it can maintain its monopoly of power (Ding 2001). These perspectives are consistent with Marxist theories that suggest states permeate civil society in order to consolidate power, thus making the two indistinguishable (Gramsci 1971: 238). Discontent with the civil society literatures has led some scholars to simply abandon it altogether. Zhou argues that the common strategy of “identifying discrete elements of civil society and then simply adding them up” does not adequately capture the existence or nature of civil society (Zhou 1999: 7). As this discussion suggests, civil society literatures remain diverse. Multiple civil society perspectives exist, each having emerged from unique historical and political contexts: the dominant literature today, one that is interested primarily in the democratizing effect of civil society, has been shaped by the role of civil society organizations in democratizing movements throughout

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Latin America and Eastern Europe.5 Still, civil society literatures, and the popularity of them in explaining NGOs, cast a long shadow; conventional wisdom on social organizations has been driven by some of the same key questions, even with modifications made to the framework. Perhaps most problematic for this book, civil society literatures make assumptions about what society wants and what its goals are: actors seek to simultaneously engage in their activities, exist indefinitely, and, in the long term, serve as a force for political reform and change. However, these goals are rarely complementary in China. It is not that civil society literatures are completely ill-suited to the study of state–society relations. Rather, they are interested in a different research question, namely: how does society affect political change? In this respect, civil society literature has done us a great service by making us account for the role of society. I, too, focus my research on society, but my question is different. Whereas most civil society literatures are interested in the prospect of change in the future, I seek to explain the status quo. To understand social organizations in an authoritarian context, corporatism literature provides a better theoretical starting point in that it offers a descriptive model of the state–society interaction, paying particular attention to the state’s role in creating and managing the relationship. Schmitter (1974: 93– 4) calls corporatism “a system of interest representation” wherein organizations are given “representational monopoly within their respective categories in exchange for observing certain controls on their selection of leaders and articulation of demands and supports.” Corporatist insights have been increasingly adopted to explain the negotiated, highly structured relationship between the state and society in China. Unger and Chan (1995, 2008) argue that, under Chinese corporatism, the state grants some autonomy to social organizations with the understanding that they will moderate their demands and activities in accordance with government wishes. Gallagher (2004: 421) more recently employed the concept in explaining how the state controls groups through “mutual penetration, converging interests, and co-optation” rather than repression of coercive methods. For polities like China, the establishment of such corporatist arrangements should not be entirely surprising: Leninist parties often adopt more inclusive practices in relation to society as they move from revolutionary to developmental goals (Jowitt 1992). Although popular, there are serious limitations to the corporatist paradigm in the China context. Gallagher (2004: 422) argues that the idea of corporatism is too static and does not account well for change. Because corporatism is statecentered, with a keen eye on “top-down control” (Unger and Chan 1995: 31), it undersells the actions of individuals and organizations, as well as downplays the likelihood and importance of variation among them. In addition, most corporatist literature fails to properly disaggregate the state enough to show 5

I am grateful to an anonymous reviewer for raising this important point.

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how state–society arrangements in China are not homogenous, but vary across specific issue areas and geographic regions.6 It tends to ignore the divisions that are common within any corporate entity, which can lead to competition for scarce resources (Oi 1992); this occurs both among individual leaders for economic resources and also government officials themselves. In one of the earliest efforts to use the term in explaining state–society relations in China, Oi (1992) was correct to disaggregate the state and accommodate for variation. Another significant deficiency is the literature’s inattention to the society side of the arrangement and an overall neglect of agency (however constraining the overall structure may be for social organizations). Although corporatism is well suited to explain the constraints of the political opportunity structure, it fails to show how society adapts to the opportunities offered by this corporatist relationship. Social movement literatures may provide better leverage to analyze the interaction of the state and social organizations. Like corporatism, social movement literatures help us capture the environment within which the movements must operate, while also downplaying any assumed outcome, as is common in the civil society paradigm. However, unlike the more state-centric corporatist paradigm, social movement literatures place greater emphasis on how the motivations and actions of social actors help ensure success for organizations. Although organizations in the issue areas featured in this book are commonly explored within the “new social movement” framework,7 I draw primarily on the rational school of political process literatures. This strand grew out of U.S.based mobilizations in the 1960s and a subsequent acknowledgment that both societal and state actors are rational, reasonably trying to pursue their goals. Rational approaches also remind us that the presence of social problems does 6

7

Although I make explicit efforts to disaggregate the state in this book to account for important regional and issue area variation, I am also mindful of the warning that Perry (1994) offers in regards to studies of state–society relations in China, that too much disaggregation can run the risk of losing sight of larger patterns throughout the country. These movements are said to transcend traditional class distinctions (Melucci 1980), often dealing with intensely personal and intimate aspects of human life (Larana, Johnston, and Gusfield 1994). Although other social movements in nondemocratic polities are seen as contentious and revolutionary (Goldstone 1998; Rucht 1996; Tarrow 1998), new social movements (NSMs) avoid advocating for the abolition of current political and economic systems and are thus more reformed (Cohen 1985; Melucci 1980). Although demands are fewer, these movements are less willing to compromise them (Calhoun 1993). Environmental movements are the prototypical example of post-material mobilization (Carlisle and Smith 2005); surveys of groups in Western Europe and developing countries suggest that groups in both contexts are post-materialist, concerned with quality-of-life issues above all else (Dalton 1994; Peritore 1999). However, organizations in the NSM paradigm also emerge in areas with decreasing levels of income, where material concerns still reign (Calhoun 1993; Cohen 1985; Drucker 1996; Goodin 1992; Hassler 2006; Pakulski and Crook 1998; Rootes 2004; Talshir 2004). Mobilization is not a response to rising demands, but due to an “urgency to defend existing needs” (Offe 1985: 843). Indeed, environmental degradation can have real material implications, with industrial pollution or inadequate water resources hurting livelihoods and impacting human health.

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not automatically produce collective action.8 One major variant of the rationalist literature – resource mobilization – links social movement emergence and success to the presence of adequate financial and human resources. Resource mobilization has emphasized the variability of economic resources in the emergence. It contends that motivation to action is not enough for mobilization. Groups depend on outside, external resources to emerge and sustain themselves (McCarthy and Zald 1977). Grievances might be secondary to financial resources in describing why groups emerge and thrive (Jenkins and Perrow 1977; Oberschall 1978; Tilly 1978). Another crucial ingredient in explaining mobilization – and the other major focus of these literatures – is the emergence of a more favorable political context, often conceived of as an expansion of political opportunities (McAdam, McCarthy, and Zald 1996). This political process approach traditionally assumes that opportunities arise when state repression declines, political access increases, and the political environment becomes friendlier (McAdam 1998). The approach has been used primarily to explain the situation in newly democratized or open political structures. To this extent, a traditional understanding of political opportunities may not be helpful for explaining social organizations in China, although the general insights are still applicable to even nondemocratic polities. Because the state plays a key role in the story of Chinese social organizations, a more state-centric opportunity structure is necessary to understand the relationship of state and society. Political opportunities in the China case are best understood not as Goldstone’s (1980) “big opportunity,” in which an entire state system breaks down, but rather as Kingdon’s (1984) “policy window.” The state can narrow opportunities as a “control agent” or widen them as a “facilitator” (McAdam, McCarthy, and Zald 1988). Tarrow’s (1996) conceptualization of “cross-sectional statism” is particularly germane: concerned with maintaining the status quo and preserving power, states shape opportunities in the interest of their own survival. In China, political opportunities have not arisen as a result of a more inclusive state or in the wake of a failed one. Instead, they have emerged because the state has chosen to become more responsive to certain pressing social problems. As part of its broader effort to withdraw the state from its larger role in society – dubbed “small state, big society” – Beijing has decided that non-state actors are best suited to solve these problems, 8

Rationalist literature does, however, tend to assume that movements arise out of conflicts. An important clarification is needed here. Conflicts should not necessarily be equated with groups employing antagonistic postures or tactics. As I explain later, it is important to understand that antagonistic tactics generally are not presumed effective by the social actors in this study. As a result of this orientation, groups like those featured in this book that do not operate in opposition to the state are often excluded from discussions of social movements and civil society. However, I suggest that conflicts can be thought of differently: as the presence of problems that demand action. In these circumstances, social organizations can arise to help the state address pressing social problems.

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provided they do not move beyond their particular issue area or deviate from an original set of narrow goals. To this end, Tarrow (1996) is correct in noting that neither full access nor absence of political opportunities results in the most successful (or greatest amount of) mobilization. A common critique of the rationalist literature – and the notion of political opportunity structure, in particular – is that it discounts the importance of agency (Sell and Prakash 2004: 147). However, careful consideration of social actors’ actions within the opportunity structure should help counter such criticism. Rather than ignoring agency, a more thorough political opportunities approach leads us to examine the ways in which actors navigate the political environment and deal with opportunities extended to them. Some work situated in the political opportunities paradigm has already gone in this direction. These studies have shown that, although the state is usually the primary broker of political opportunities, the social movement is in control of its destiny as well (McAdam 1996a). Movements can sometimes make their own opportunities (Meyer and Staggenborg 1996). All social actors have to make choices given the political structure. In China, opportunities are few, and choices are more limited. Yet, the way in which these social actors adapt to the structure can mean wider or narrower opportunities. In other words, increased attention to individuals and examining individual agency does not require abandoning rationalist assumptions about social organizations in general or the political opportunity and resource mobilization literatures in particular. The disaggregation of the overall opportunity structure into three distinct parts, as well as the systematic definition of each, is an attempt to answer other criticisms that political opportunity structures are underspecified, too broad, and all-consuming, as well as tautological (Goodwin and Japser 1999). Political scientists should be particularly adept at responding to this line of critique. Our understanding of the political opportunity structure need not be overly structural. Moreover, what flows from the structure – success or failure of social organizations – need not be axiomatic or tautological. Along with corporatism, the notion of political opportunities helps us understand the context in which groups must operate. Given its attention to the actions taken by the state in creating opportunities for social movement emergence, the political opportunity literature may appear indistinguishable from corporatism. However, the political opportunity literature is more attentive to society: whereas corporatism is more interested in the benefits of these arrangements to the state, the political opportunities literature allows us to focus more on the benefits of these arrangements to society. Clearly, it is necessary to draw from and build on all of these literatures. 1.1.1 A Unified Theoretical Framework: Society-Sensitive, Disaggregated Corporatism Different theoretical frames help answer different kinds of questions. Because this book seeks to answer many kinds of questions, it is necessary to draw on

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many of the insights discussed earlier. The theoretical framework used in this book – a society-sensitive, disaggregated corporatism – represents a form of theoretical eclecticism. It underscores the value of arrangements between state and society, but disaggregates the state in order to properly understand differing arrangements (and interests) across various levels of government. Moreover, it draws a new focus on the importance of societal actors in these arrangements, mostly ignored by corporatist explanations. For this, the political opportunities literatures offer some help by showing us that opportunities are really only opportunities when they are properly taken advantage of by social actors. In other words, political opportunities are also of the social organizations’ making, not just of the state’s. This framework, in response to common criticisms of most political opportunities literatures, offers a systematic definition of the opportunity structures. I also refine and contribute to both political opportunities and resource mobilization literatures by examining the long-term impacts of adaptations for shortterm political opportunities. Finally, it helps understand the rational actions of gay and lesbian organizations previously assumed to be rare because of the identity-based nature of their mobilization and activities; contrary to the claims of some, the cost–benefit calculations of a rational actor are not only found “in the niches, even in niches within niches” (Eder 1985: 890) of this issue area. When discussing personal opportunities (see Chapter 7), current corporatism perspectives are also less helpful, because an institutional bias is built into most understandings of corporatism, thereby giving scant attention to the decisions and actions of individual actors in both forging and sustaining these corporatist relationships (Molina and Rhodes 2002). Oi (1992: 110) reminds us that, even within a corporatist entity, diverse interests affect larger relationships and interactions within the structure. Therefore, I move the analysis down one level to the individual and draw on the concept of “embeddedness” (e.g., Granovetter 1985; Polanyi 1944) to show the costs and benefits of social organization leaders forging strong individual relationships with government officials. Just as the state is not a monolith, neither is society; this theoretical framework also effectively disaggregates society, as well. It is not intended to create an entirely new paradigm for studying all social organizations in all contexts. But it is well-suited for answering the questions of interest in this book and might very well appeal to those interested in similar questions in similar polities. It is also from this theoretical framework that my conceptual and analytical frameworks emerged. 1.2 Conceptual and Analytical Frameworks This book focuses on some of the oldest, most successful, and fastest growing social organizations in China. These organizations operate in ways that conflict with dominant understandings of NGOs. Most notably, the social organizations in this study are engaged in a non–zero-sum relationship with the state;

Self-Limiting Organizations and Codependent State–Society Relations Oppositional

Movement Autonomy

Full

13

Strategically Limiting

Co-opted None Repression

Co-optation Government Response

figure 1.1. Conceptual framework of social organizations in authoritarian states

they often (although not in all cases or at all times) perform the role of social service provider. As a result, these groups do not properly fit within conceptualizations used by other scholars of social movements and NGOs, even those who devote considerable attention to the state in analyzing the state–society relationship. For instance, having concluded that the success of social movements is often determined by the state, Gamson (1998) describes success as the acceptance of groups as full participants in governance and the extension of new advantages and benefits to the group by the state. He further describes situations of “collapse” when neither are gained; “pre-emption” when benefits are extended, but groups are not accepted; and finally “co-optation,” when groups are accepted but are given no advantages. Although helpful, this framework does not properly account for situations in which groups are partially accepted by the state and given many, but not all, benefits. Moreover, like corporatism, in explaining success, this framework tends to place the onus almost solely on the state. To better describe the relationship of Chinese NGOs with the state, and to draw attention to the actions social organizations take in carving out this political space, I offer a new way to conceptualize them (see Figure 1.1). This conceptual framework of social organizations in authoritarian states distinguishes “self-limiting” groups from “co-opted” ones (such as government-organized NGOs, which neither enjoy autonomy nor experience repression) and “oppositional” groups (such as Falun Gong and other illegal religious organizations, which may have full autonomy but also encounter routine state repression). In the self-limiting interaction, social organizations strategically modify their actions to ensure that they meet the organization’s goals but not go far beyond their original charge. These groups are more interested in maintaining the

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status quo than in achieving new rights (Sewell 1980: 86). In response, the government rewards the organization with continued limited space in which it can continue to pursue its goals, granting it “semi-autonomy.” Since this conceptualization explicitly accommodates group agency, it is not the case that once a group is situated on the continuum it cannot move. Through a combination of its adaptations and changing nature of the opportunity structure, social organizations could gravitate from self-limiting to co-opted and even back again.9 But it is important to remember that although movement is possible, the kinds of adaptations that are necessary for an organization to strategically limit its work (and thus take advantage of opportunities) are bound by space or time; what works for one organization in one place might not work for another (or even in the same place at a different time). Put differently, self-limiting organizations are not situated at one fixed point (as the figure might suggest); the space for this type of organization is dynamic and can, like opportunities, expand or contract. This framework also accepts the presence of variation within issue area. For instance, some environmental organizations may have a relationship that is best characterized as co-opted, whereas others are more appropriately thought of as self-limiting.10 Moreover, it is not simply an organization’s issue area that determines its type of interaction. Gay men’s groups, for instance, could frame their actions in purely “human rights” terms and fight only against discrimination. However, this tactic would most likely result in a more oppositional orientation. Therefore, to ensure their continued existence, these organizations use a public health frame, avoiding discussions of human rights (that might be more oppositional).11 In this manner, the NGO can be properly understood as self-limiting and strategic.12 9

10

11

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Although both the theoretical and conceptual frameworks of this book recognize the importance of societal action, such a notion of agency does not mean organizations are able to overcome or drastically change the structure; the space for agency is still constrained and thus might appear to be a more passive, restrained form than we might otherwise expect. To the extent that it is somewhat imprecise, this framework suffers from the same problems as any classification scheme. Gerring astutely notes, “The humanly created world does not always fit into pigeonholes. Yet, insofar as it does fit into pigeonholes, we will want to correctly identify and label the holes” (Gerring 2001: 121). Chinese gay and lesbian organizations are not entirely unique in this strategic adaptation to existing political conditions. Even in the United States, gay and lesbian groups during the 1960s and 1970s changed their tactics and interaction with government in the face of differing conditions. Bernstein argues that when leaders of the movement had “access to the polity” (e.g., gay businessmen with government contacts), they refrained from using more oppositional or “expressive action” (Bernstein 1997: 544). Strategic tactics among Chinese gay groups are not unlike what Rimmerman calls an “assimilationist” perspective of some American groups, which emphasizes similarities over differences (Rimmerman 2002; Seidman 1993). Strategically speaking, it is clear why an organization would avoid an oppositional interaction. The desire to resist co-optation, however, might be less obvious. In general, NGOs should be expected to resist co-optation because it affords leadership almost no independence in its operations and forces it to rely heavily on government agencies and officials for financial

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Self-limiting organizations occupy a political space similar to what Wu (2004: 43) calls a “fuzzy middle ground” and Tilly (1978) describes as “toleration.” Goldstone alludes to this kind of interaction as well, noting that collective action in authoritarian contexts is usually focused on specific policy goals. The state may resist mildly, maintain a more neutral stance, or co-opt the organization, but not eliminate it (Goldstone 1998: 128). The concept highlights the fact that the state–society relationship can be mutually beneficial: a self-limiting social movement fulfills its own needs while also meeting the interests of the state. Thus, contrary to many assumptions of social movement–state interaction (e.g., Stepan 1990), the success of environmental organizations may actually serve to embolden the state, not undermine it. Moreover, the conceptual framework is helpful in that it accounts for societal agency. It suggests that organizations can achieve partial benefits and characterizes the relationship between state and society as non–zero-sum; each side can gain from this strategically limiting relationship. The conceptual framework for organizations also allows us to understand that NGO–state relations in China are essentially codependent: social organizations need the state as it is grants them political, personal, and even economic opportunities (if sometimes indirectly), but the state needs social organizations to plug gaps in governance and solve pressing problems. Codependent relationships almost always include power asymmetries. Within the codependent relationship between NGOs and the state in China, these asymmetries can be especially large. The rules of the game are made by the state, and it remains the dominant force in the relationship. And with limited leverage over the state, NGOs can make changes only at the margins. The notion of codependence also helps us understand the long-term future of the relationship and the actors within it: codependent relationships, by their very nature, preserve the status quo. Therefore, in the case of China, we should not be surprised that the existence of NGOs has contributed to the persistence of the authoritarian regime, not undermined it. The analytical framework of this book is designed to disaggregate the opportunity structure into discrete although often complementary parts to better understand how much power it has over organizations and the extent to which it explains the strength and long-term viability of social organizations. It is along the lines of this analytical framework that the book is structured: (1) the various policy decisions and changing government interests, at central and local levels, are the political opportunities; (2) the ability to attract financial resources and mechanisms through which groups are funded are the economic opportunities; and (3) the individual relationships that leaders build with government officials are personal opportunities.13 I use the notion of opportunities rather

13

support. Moreover, a group’s future is very much dependent on the will of the state; a co-opted group is even easier to shutter than a self-limiting one. As I make clear in the third section of this book, personal opportunities should not be confused with social capital. Whereas social capital is a key marker of civil society, personal opportunities

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than resources to underscore the necessity of adaptation for organizations to properly take advantage of them. These opportunities, unlike resources, are often fleeting and rarely fungible. Both their availability and usefulness vary across space and time. As will become clear throughout the book, these three kinds of opportunities often bleed into each other; they are frequently interdependent and mutually constitutive. For instance, one of the key empirical puzzles in this book – the question of legal registration for social organizations – is best explained by political and economic opportunities, both of which vary in different ways for organizations across issue area and location. Despite frequent overlap, all three types of opportunity merit individual attention because the nature of each can significantly vary. Moreover, not all opportunities are compatible at all times. Although the most successful social organizations are able to adapt to and take advantage of all three opportunities, when this is not possible, deficiencies in one type might be made up for in another (e.g., a group that lacks strong political opportunities in a province could rely more heavily on its personal opportunities). 1.3 Case Selection and Research Design The social organizations featured in this study engage in self-limiting, strategic calculation: because of the power asymmetries between the state and society, self-limiting social organizations calculate that the gains of limited co-optation and partial autonomy outstrip the costs of outright repression. This understanding of social organizations views the pursuit of limited goals as less a choice than a survival mechanism; social organizations cannot achieve any of their goals if they attempt to do too much. As a result, this book features those groups that do not regularly incur the wrath of the state. Rather, it focuses on organizations that have successfully adapted to the political opportunity structure, however narrow it may be. Therefore, although the conclusions drawn from this book might not to be generalizable for every kind of social organizations in China (e.g., oppositional groups), they are applicable to other NGOs, such as those focused on health issues, education, poverty alleviation, and volunteerism.14 These insights might also travel well to similar self-limiting NGOs in other authoritarian or semidemocratic polities (e.g., sub-Saharan Africa, Vietnam, Russia). The three issue areas featured in this book – environmental, HIV/AIDS, and gay and lesbian – function as individual case studies. Although each issue area differs in area of interest and years in existence, each was chosen

14

represent a way for social organizations to make do in a system in which civil society is weak and the overall opportunity structure is narrow. As explored in the conclusion, even some religious organizations previously assumed to be oppositional have made moves to be more strategically limiting in their relationship with the state and in their activities.

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intentionally to reflect a most similar design. All three of these areas represent what have been previously characterized as new social movements. Because they operate to some extent outside the state (and are usually self-described “nongovernmental organizations”), the groups might be a threat to the state in that they advocate for the same kinds of issues that have challenged governments and sometimes upended the political status quo elsewhere in the world. The three issue areas are also comparable in that they boast shared strategies and repertoires, leaders, analogous origins, and similarly precarious financial situations.15 In this study, comparison helps me control for a number of similarities in order to explain variation (Sartori 1991). Moreover, the selection of similar groups establishes the universe of interest; the project seeks to generalize about social organizations similar to those explored in this study. Although the social group sectors have many common attributes, there is predicted variation on the key independent variable of theoretical interest: each sector fits with state policy and state interests differently. The first case, environmental groups, is critical for understanding social organizations in China and is also the source of the hypotheses stated earlier,16 whereas the second and third cases have been chosen for variation on the key independent variable of interest, expected proximity to state policy goals. Environmental groups are the archetypal social organization in contemporary China and have come to exemplify domestic NGOs in the Chinese context.17 They are among the oldest and most successful NGOs in the country. Environmental organizations tend to have more autonomy because their work meshes with state goals of improving the country’s ecological health. As Pan Yue, then vice-director of the State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) declared on February 9, 2006, “environmental protection issues are of public interest and are the least politically sensitive. [It is] the best area for experiments in socialist democracy and rule of law.” These NGOs are engaged in a wide variety of activities and maintain different foci; for example, promoting minimized use and alternatives to pesticides in tea farming, protecting endangered species, creating a clearinghouse for information on industrial pollution, leading citizen-centered activities to clean up urban rivers, and opposing 15

16

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In an attempt to examine these variables of interest, like most similar case design studies, the desire for comparability will come at the cost of some independence. That said, the three cases featured in this project are unique enough that we can be relatively sure that the exact same phenomenon is not being studied three times over. Gerring (2001) argues that there are two different kinds of crucial cases. The first is a case that is particularly critical to a concept, theory, or hypothesis. The second crucial case reveals results that are unexpected or extreme. The latter definition is closer, although not exactly the same, as the explanation of the crucial case as a study based on a single observation (Eckstein 1975; King, Keohane, and Verba 1994). This project embodies Gerring’s first kind of crucial case and should not be confused with other understandings of crucial case studies. These groups are said to be archetypal even outside China. Dalton (Dalton 1994) has argued that environmental groups in Western Europe have served as a “political reference point” in that they show other groups (e.g., health or identity organizations) what strategies work best.

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dam construction. Although the particular activities of NGOs are not the focus of this book, I discuss them in so far as an organization will sometimes change its activities to better reflect state interests. In other words, changing what they do is just one type of the adaptations that Chinese social organizations make to ensure survival. The second case features HIV/AIDS groups, devoted to solving a problem that is growing in both urban and rural areas throughout China. Although the government has begun to address the issue more publicly, devoting rhetorical and pecuniary support to its fight, many government officials are more uncomfortable confronting the realities of this problem than of environmental issues. HIV/AIDS NGOs are focused primarily on efforts at disease prevention, taking the form of sex education and condom distribution; many reach out to high-risk populations that are not easily accessible by government agencies and officials (e.g., commercial sex workers, intravenous drug users, gay men). Far fewer organizations work explicitly to promote the needs and interests of those already affected by the disease. The final case highlights gay and lesbian groups, which are driven, in part, by the same issues of HIV/AIDS groups, but also represent a minority group that, in other political contexts, has fought for human rights issues that the state has long avoided.18 These NGOs have frequently created social spaces (both physical and virtual) that serve two main purposes. First, they engage in public health outreach, which can take the form of direct condom distribution, but sometimes includes actual instruction that might be interwoven into entertainment; in between drag show acts in one gay tea house in Yunnan, the NGO leader (dressed in drag) performed skits to underscore the importance of safe sex. Second, they provide a safe, welcoming area for gay men and lesbian women to interact and network. I expected groups in this issue area to offer relatively lower utility to the state and expected groups to enjoy fewer and narrower political opportunities. The primary level of analysis is situated at the organization, studied through the eyes of its leader. Individual leaders are an appropriate informant for the larger organization because these groups are personalistic and the organization is often little more than the leader. However, in Chapter 7, the level of analysis is moved down to the leader to explain the importance of personal opportunities. Moreover, when I examine the broad effect of social organization adaptations 18

Because gay groups in particular devote time and energy to addressing HIV/AIDS issues, there might be reason to assume that this third case is not altogether different from the second. However, preliminary research suggested that there is a great deal of tension between HIV/AIDS groups and gay and lesbian groups. Both have gone to great lengths to display their independence from each other: some gay and lesbian groups have often distanced themselves from HIV/AIDS issues in hopes of convincing the general public that there is more to gay men than HIV/AIDS; likewise, HIV/AIDS groups have often kept their distance from gay and lesbian groups in order to assure other risk groups that HIV/AIDS is not simply a “gay disease.”

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to the opportunity structure on civil society, I move the level of analysis up beyond the organization, to society and the state at large. The book includes comparison across and within issue areas. Although the study is small in that it includes only three cases, observations have been increased with in-depth within-case analysis. Social organizations within each case serve as embedded units that make observations more plentiful (Gerring 2004: 344; Rueschemeyer 2003). The study also captures continuity and change of the social group–state interaction (e.g., do groups become more adaptive over time?). Because NGOs in each issue area are at a different time in their organizational ages (environmental groups being the oldest, gay and lesbian groups the youngest), this research design allows me to indirectly examine how groups differ at different times. In other words, the intentional selection of similar cases offers me an opportunity to understand how groups progress by looking at similar groups at different points in their organizational evolution. It also helps us understand how NGOs are affected by the opening of political space at critical junctures. Although I mention the number of groups to the extent that NGO actors themselves observe significant growth or contraction in their issue area and/or locale, this book does not rely on official government or unofficial independent counts of social organizations. Research from other contexts, even as politically open as the United States, suggests that those groups that are most difficult to count – more informal organizations – might well be the most important for civil society (Ladd 1999). Not only are these figures unreliable and outdated, but a study that relied on these numbers – and constructed a random population sample based on them – would invariably miss one of the most interesting issues facing Chinese social organizations: legal registration. A large proportion of survey respondents are leaders of groups that are not legally registered. As I discuss throughout the book, registration is difficult for many groups. But, more importantly, there are conflicting incentives and different barriers to legal registration for NGOs, which is closely related to the complex relationship of social organizations and local governments. In other words, relying on a set of numbers and the kind of probability sample that might come with it would have caused me to miss a crucial story about how groups use different methods – formal and informal – to adapt to the opportunity structure. This book draws on qualitative and quantitative data collected through in-depth interviews and a nationwide Internet survey of social organization leaders. The fieldwork, conducted over an 11-month period from May 2007 to April 2008, primarily focused on two sites: Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province, historically more open to social organizations, and Beijing, the usually more politically closed capital city. Additional attention was paid to organizations in Sichuan and Henan, two provinces that informants described as more politically open and closed, respectively. An extended discussion of

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research methods, case selection, and data collection can be found in Appendix A; the questionnaire can be found in Appendix B. 1.4 Outline of the Book The book is divided into three parts. Part I begins with Chapter 2, which presents a systematic definition of the political opportunity structure for social organizations in China, devoting attention to the ways in which the state has created this structure. However, the chapter also shows that this opportunity structure has not been the result of deliberate or careful design. Rather, it is the outgrowth of several different key policy decisions that are not necessarily intended to oversee the state–society arrangement and the lives of social organizations. Next, Chapter 3 presents survey and interview data that show how leaders of social organizations have a relatively positive perception of the state, at both central and local levels. Through two short case studies, it illustrates how regional variation affects political opportunities differently. The chapter then offers survey and interview data confirming that the vast majority of Chinese social organizations of the “self-limiting” type do not experience serious negative state response; it also posits a typology of negative state response in China. This chapter offers support for the first hypothesis that groups enjoy most political space when their activities match the interests of government, particularly at the local level. Chapter 4 explores the dominant tactics that leaders use to successfully avoid a negative state response and take full advantage of the narrow political opportunity structure. Groups sometimes, but not always, seek to become legally registered, are proactively transparent in their activities, steer clear of behavior that could be seen as antagonistic toward the state, avoid extensive networking with other organizations, and indulge the reputational concerns of local government officials. Part II defines and explores the economic opportunity structure for social organizations in China. Unlike political opportunities, economic opportunities are not always the direct outgrowth of government policies. However, a number of key state positions have had the effect of narrowing the number and extent of economic opportunities for organizations: fundraising is difficult when groups are not legally registered, the country lacks a strong philanthropic tradition and the tax incentives that might encourage the emergence of one, and sometimes government involvement in the disruption of funds constrains the overall opportunity structure for some groups. These chapters profile a number of tactics and the implications of these decisions. Part III introduces personal opportunities, discussing the prevalence and perceived importance of building strong relationships with individual government officials. Chapter 7 differs from the previous chapters in that it brings the level of analysis down from the social organization to individual. It shows how individual relations are often a crucial antecedent condition to effectively

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adapting to the rest of the opportunity structure. Leaders in all three issue areas pursue informal relations with individuals within the government rather than formal institutional ties that are more sustainable. In times of strife or success, leaders blame or credit the personal relationship, not the institution. The chapter shows how this orientation has made organizations reluctant to push for institutional change and has placed their future in the hands of a few government officials. The conclusion (Chapter 8) outlines how adaptations to the opportunity structure carry with them serious implications for the long-term viability of Chinese social organizations. In doing so, it moves the level of analysis up to civil society, to explore how the uncertain futures of these groups might affect development of China’s “third sector” and the prospects for political reform and regime change. Finally, to more fully understand the link between social organizations and political reform, it explores the conditions under which organizations might move away from their strategic, self-limiting orientation and toward a more conventionally activist alignment.

part i POLITICAL OPPORTUNITIES

2 Political Opportunities, by Accident and Design

One of the central critiques of the political opportunities paradigm is that the concept of opportunity is ill-defined. Gamson and Meyer (1996: 275) argue that the theory runs the risk of becoming a sponge, defining most anything as an opportunity and thereby losing analytical power. The notion of political opportunities is also criticized as being tautological; opportunities are sometimes said to have existed primarily because movements have emerged (Goodwin and Jasper 1999). These criticisms beg for a systematic definition of the political opportunity structure for social organizations in China. In authoritarian polities, such definition must devote considerable attention to the role of the state, following the lead of previous studies of state–society relations situated in the corporatist literature.1 To be sure, states do not carefully and deliberately construct a political opportunity structure in order to deal with social organizations; it emerges somewhat by design, but even more by accident. This chapter highlights the most important elements of the structure for social organizations in China: actions that have created a demand for and supply of organizations, those that explicitly deal with organizations (e.g., registration regulations), and 1

Even in liberal democracies, the state plays a key role in defining the political opportunity structure for social actors. Indirectly, as in China, government policies carry with them negative side effects that require the full force of government and society for resolution. Directly, governments promulgate regulations to define what types of organizations are “not for profit” and which are businesses. These distinctions, sometimes varying across administrative regions, can extend more political or economic opportunities to some organizations than others. To the extent that an organization threatens national security (e.g., secessionist groups in the United States) and domestic stability (e.g., religious cults in Japan) or violates societal norms (e.g., white supremacist organizations in Germany), governments will place various barriers to curtail or completely prevent their activities. The key difference is that the political opportunity structure in these political contexts is decidedly wider than that in authoritarian countries like China.

25

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actions that never had nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in mind when taken (e.g., legalization of homosexuality). The political opportunity structure for Chinese social organizations can be divided into three parts: The demand side shows how broad policies to encourage economic development have unintentionally exacerbated, even caused, social problems and investigates the policies the state has implemented to resolve them. Contextual factors have created conditions that complicate the political opportunity structure for social organizations; these include economic reform, decentralization, and the cadre responsibility system. The state has sought to formally manage social organizations through registration regulation, an action that most directly shapes the political opportunity structure. Taken together, this context is crucial for understanding the emergence of NGOs because it represents the confines of a game that social organizations have no choice but to play.2 2.1 Creating Demand for Social Organizations For social organizations to exist in China, there must be a demand for them. Most groups examined in this book address a pressing social problem that has emerged and grown in recent years. As such, the most fundamental parts of the political opportunity structure are those problems that demand resolution, and this situation requires an examination into the root causes of these problems. State efforts to grow the economy in the last three decades have been quite successful. Since 1990, China has boasted the world’s fastest growing economy, with an average annual rate of 10 percent. The country’s per capita income has swelled by 8 percent each year in the three decades since the post-Mao reform era. Economic development of this scale, although carrying clear benefits, also has been accompanied by rising social problems that might threaten the longterm health of the economy. Scholars have demonstrated a strong relationship between economic development and environmental degradation, particularly during periods of rapid economic growth (Stern, Common, and Barbier 1996). China’s fast development has placed its environment in a perilous state.3 Threats to natural ecology and human health abound: urban areas are beset by industrial air pollution and automobile emissions, the water quality of the country’s rivers has degraded, underground aquifers are being depleted, forest have been denuded, and many grasslands are now lost to desertification (Economy 2004). Recent instances of 2

3

For Chinese social organizations, especially those that are the focus of this book, exit and voice are not viable options (see Hirschman 1970). Given that these NGOs are designed to solve growing social problems, exiting would be an early admission of defeat and do nothing to help the cause. Voicing concerns about the problems of the “game” would resemble an oppositional orientation, increasing the likelihood that they would face a strong negative state response. As others have shown, environmental degradation resulting from government schemes is nothing new to China (Elvin 2004; Shapiro 2001).

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industrial pollution have resulted in widespread discontent among those who bear the environmental costs of modernization but rarely enjoy its economic benefits (Jing 2003). Moreover, cases of cross-border pollution, such as the Songhua River toxin spill near the Russian border in November 2005, have led to increased international pressure for China to solve its environmental problems. Chinese government officials, both at the center and in some localities, have grown more willing to discuss both the state of environmental degradation in the country, as well as its relationship to rapid economic growth.4 When discussed in the context of development, HIV/AIDS is usually analyzed insofar as it has a debilitating effect on economic growth. But the causal arrow can go in the other direction as well. Economic development and the creation of transportation infrastructure that comes with it actually contributes to the spread of the virus. New physical linkages allow for increased interactions between previously disparate populations, facilitating the movement of sex workers and their clients, as well as increasing drug trafficking in areas as diverse as Africa, Southeast Asia, and China (Giang 2004; Hsu 2004; Kulis et al. 2004). Economic development has thus created another social problem that requires attention: by 1998, HIV had reached all of China’s 31 provinces (Wu et al. 2007). Seven years later, an estimated 650,000 people were living with HIV and 75,000 with AIDS; 70,000 new infections and 25,000 AIDS-related deaths occurred in 2005 alone (Ministry of Health [MOH] 2006).5 The cost of preserving public health is expected to rise along with disease spread. Although economic development has not created a problem for gay and lesbian citizens in China, it has provided an important opportunity for them to “come out” and begin to coalesce as a community. Previous scholarship suggests that capitalism can give citizens the opportunity to no longer be tied to traditional expectations of procreation (D’Emilio 1983). Moreover, economic growth in China’s coastal areas has offered the chance for gays and lesbians to leave their hometowns and move to more developed and often more socially liberal cities, which are more accepting of homosexuality and often contain

4

5

For example, the acting governor of Jiangsu Province issued a statement outlining moves to combat pollution throughout the administrative region, and, in particular, Lake Taihu in the city of Wuxi, which gained significant attention domestically and internationally for a large-scale blue-green algae outbreak. In the statement, the governor cited the country’s rapid economic development as the main reason for this and other instances of water pollution (Xinhua, January 28, 2008). China’s HIV/AIDS epidemic progressed over three distinct phases. The earliest cases (1985– 1988) were not indigenous and thus were dealt with through quarantines and other exclusionary policies. The “spreading” phase (1989–1995) was localized, primarily affecting intravenous drug users in the southwestern region of the country (Wu et al. 2004; Zhang 2004). In the current expansion phase, infections have been traced to commercial plasma donors and recipients and sexual transmission. By 2005, 44 percent of total HIV/AIDS cases were spread sexually: 20 percent from commercial sex workers, 17 percent from different-sex partners of infected individuals, and 7 percent from men who have sex with men (MOH 2006; Wu et al. 2007).

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large communities of gays and lesbians.6 Moreover, development, and the technological advances that accompany it, have increased the capacity for previously disparate individuals to communicate. A pager hotline was created in 1997 to disseminate information about social activities for gay and lesbian Chinese in Beijing. Free telephone hotlines were later established to service these populations as well (He 2001). Today, Internet-based communities are particularly important for those gay and lesbian Chinese who live in smaller cities; these virtual communities are the only outlet for many homosexuals in China. The government has proposed and passed policies intended to mitigate many social problems. For NGOs, these policies serve two functions: first, they give groups an important signal that these are areas in which they can conduct activities of which the government might likely approve; second, the policies promulgated by the state sometimes explicitly require social organizations to play a key role in their implementation. The state has increasingly acknowledged the need to ameliorate the impacts of environmental degradation and promulgated policies to this end. President Hu Jintao called for a “conservation culture” to extend to all sectors of government, society, and the economy. This rhetoric has been backed up by strengthened environmental bureaucracies, the passage of new environmental legislation, and increased funding to protect and repair the country’s ecological health. Ho (2006) refers to these central government policies as a “greening of the Chinese state.” The Tenth Five-Year Plan (2001–2005) devoted $85 billion for environmental objectives, whereas the Eleventh Five-Year Plan (2005– 2010) aims to reduce energy consumption by 20 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and reduce major pollutant discharge by 10 percent.7 In March 2008, the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) was elevated to ministry-level status in the government’s restructuring; the new Ministry of Environmental Protection is now one of only five “super ministries.” The central government has also set its sights on industry: when applying for initial public offerings, companies must pass environmental inspection;8 domestic and multinational corporations can be placed on a public black list if they pollute and fail to resolve the problem;9 and laws have been proposed that would fine 6

7 8 9

Lax enforcement of the hukou (residency permit) system has contributed to the ease of movement of many rural residents into urban areas (Chan 2009). A government panel convened by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) recently called for an end to the hukou system, although gave no timetable for such action (Xinhua, January 23, 2008). If carried out, this policy change could create even more opportunities for gay and lesbian citizens, both individually and as a community. However, if previous public comments are any indication, massive revision or complete abolition of the system may not come as quickly as some might hope; in 2001, the Ministry of Public Security confirmed that the hukou system would be phased out within five years (BBC, September 19, 2001). Xinhua, September 26, 2007. Xinhua, February 25, 2008. Xinhua, September 21, 2007. This project of “public shaming” has been led by a Beijing-based environmental NGO, but with the strong support of the central government (Interview 5).

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executives of companies that cause severe water pollution10 and tax profits gained from production that degrades the environment.11 There is a significant economic incentive for the government to solve China’s environmental woes: government officials estimate that the country loses 9 percent of its annual GDP as a result of environmental degradation. Government action on HIV/AIDS has been more sluggish than on environmental degradation, but, in recent years, policies have increased in number and improved in substance. As early as 1989, the central government passed policies designed to combat the emerging problem of HIV/AIDS through education and awareness campaigns. Over a decade later, these policies finally were backed by significant funding: in 1996, AIDS-related funds in the government were slightly more than $500,000. From 1998 to 2000, that figure increased three times, and, by 2001, it reached nearly $10 million per year.12 The state’s first powerful and coordinated effort to combat the crisis came when the central government issued the Five-Year Plan to Control HIV/AIDS in 2006 (Wu et al. 2007). Two years later, another new three-year program was announced, which further increased funding and agency coordination, again focusing on “education and community mobilization” to prevent HIV/AIDS.13 Discussions of HIV/AIDS have become commonplace in government policy pronouncements. A Ministry of Health document published by Xinhua on February 7, 2008, defined 33 “healthy behaviors”: “using condoms correctly” was listed alongside “washing hands,” “brushing teeth,” and “not spitting.” The marked change in policy and funding might have come in response to international pressure; it could also be explained as the state’s attempt to improve its public image on health issues in the wake of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003. In addition, economic rationales might have helped change the country’s AIDS policy. By 2010, an estimated 24–32 million new rural poor could be impacted by AIDS, undermining the government’s effort to alleviate poverty, part of its touted Western Development Strategy (Zhang 2004). New government policies have also changed the opportunity structure for gay and lesbian groups. Most important is the legalization of homosexuality. Although nearly all informants during my field research cited 1997 as the year the government “decriminalized homosexuality,” this is a simplistic and somewhat misleading characterization of more complex history. Homosexuality has never been explicitly illegal since the founding of the People’s Republic of China 10 11 12

13

Xinhua, February 26, 2008. Xinhua, January 1, 2008. Offering evidence of where some of these funds have gone, the government reported that, since 2003, it has spent $1.4 billion in building 2,448 disease prevention and control centers (Xinhua, October 6, 2007). It is unclear (and unlikely) that once built, central governmental coffers continue to fund these centers. Xinhua, March 28, 2008. As explained in subsequent chapters, this emphasis on prevention, rather than treatment, has increased political opportunities for social organizations working on stopping the spread of new cases of HIV/AIDS, but decreased opportunities for the few groups that operate to help those already infected with the virus.

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(PRC) in 1949. In 1957, the Supreme Court ruled that consensual sex between same-gender adults was not criminal (Zhang and Chu 2005). However, homosexual men were still arrested by local police under Article 106 of the Chinese Criminal Code, which prohibited general “hooliganism,” and the offense was punishable by up to seven years imprisonment (Ruan 1991). The Ministry of Public Safety made some efforts to protect the rights of gay men and women by reiterating the 1957 ruling in 1993. It was not until 1997 that “hooliganism” was deleted from the criminal code; thus, this date has become widely used as a proxy for the “legalization” of homosexuality in China. Changes in the state policy toward gays and lesbians probably have less to do with concerns for these individuals’ human rights and more with the desire to combat a health epidemic.14 Observers speculate that the state removed homosexuality from its official list of psychiatric disorders in 2001 because of AIDS and a recognition that homophobia makes combating the problem difficult (Zhang 2004). Other HIV/AIDS-related policies have also had important implications for the political opportunity structure of gay organizations. For instance, on November 30, 2006, the Ministry of Health pledged to send AIDS prevention volunteers to gay men’s groups and establish a Five-Year Plan to Fight AIDS, including among gay men. By early 2008, the government had launched the first national program devoted to tackling the spread of the virus exclusively among gay men. Although important, these policies do not amount to a normalization of homosexuality in China. Gay men and lesbian women still face discrimination in the workplace and at home. However, opportunities to mobilize around issues such as HIV/AIDS (combined with the demand created by the centralization of gay populations in large urban centers) can allow organizations to combat homophobia. The policies noted here represent state actions that have helped contribute to the demand for social organizations, if only indirectly. Such policies play a key role in shaping the political context by sometimes exacerbating a problem, acknowledging the problem, and highlighting the importance the state places on resolving it. Other contextual factors, additional government policies, laws, and regulations have further complicated the political opportunity structure. Local governments have been given more discretion, which can create uneven implementation of central policies; the central government has also established an evaluation system that creates conflicting incentives for local officials to implement policies. These contextual factors frequently 14

The 1997 policy shift on homosexuality was probably too early to be explained as a direct response to the AIDS crisis. Informants offered no compelling explanation for the timing of this policy. However, there could be a cause found in another significant event of the same year. In 1997, to domestic fanfare and considerable international concern, Great Britain reverted control of Hong Kong to the PRC. In the run-up to the handover, many international observers highlighted China’s human rights abuses. Perhaps a “legalization” of homosexuality might have been intended to offer a concession, or alternatively, to provide proof of China’s attempts to clean its human rights record.

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contribute to a narrowing of the political opportunity structure for social organizations. 2.2 Defining the Context for Social Organizations The origins of economic and political reforms in the post-Mao era are still hotly debated. For some, it was a bottom-up process, in which peasants pushed for land tenure reform to increase outputs (Kelliher 1992; Wedeman 2003; White 1998), whereas others believe it was top-down (White 1993), designed to reassert authority as the regime’s previous legitimacy, based more on ideology, waned. Whatever the origins, the retreat from a state-led to a market-based economy has changed the relationship of state and society. The forced closure of state-owned enterprises has left a large number of citizens unemployed; services that were once a birthright are now an infrequent luxury. All the while, the income gap has increased significantly. Under political and economic reforms of the post-Mao era, the once large state apparatus has been stripped to the barest of bones, and social services once provided by the central government are no longer available.15 To mitigate problems associated with this state downsizing, the Chinese government has promoted a new policy of “small state, big society” (xiao zhengfu, da shehui). In theory, as the state contracts, society will expand to meet the needs of the populace. Under this reform, the political center has loosened reins on control, but not without creating corporatist arrangements as “substitute control mechanisms” to maintain power and influence (Unger and Chan 1995: 40; see also Oi 1992: 101). Social organizations have increasingly been enlisted by central and local governments to play the role of social service provider. The state delegates formerly governmental functions to social actors to solve pressing social problems (Edin 2003b; Kaufman and Jing 2002; Wu et al. 2007). These groups have been described as a “third arm” (to the state and society’s first and second) that will provide assistance to marginalized communities (Yang 2005: 54). Nongovernmental organizations are, in essence, a “bridge between state and society” (Ma 2002: 310; Unger and Chan 1995). Indicative of the rise of these corporatist arrangements, on January 11, 2008, the Shanghai city government announced a wide-scale plan to subcontract to NGOs many of the social services previously provided by the state. SEPA has frequently and publicly praised the role that NGOs play in tackling environmental degradation and pollution.16 Similarly, as Xinhua reported on July 18, 2007, the Vice Minister of Health declared that grassroots organizations 15 16

The state’s coercive apparatus, however, has been largely immune to these cuts; it has, in fact, been augmented during this period. For example, see a statement of the then-head of SEPA (Xinhua October 31, 2007). SEPA officials also referred to the growth of environmental NGOs as a “brilliant boost to the enforcement of environmental laws” (Xinhua, April 13, 2007).

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must be mobilized to get HIV/AIDS under control throughout the country; NGOs are particularly helpful for reaching out to high-risk groups, which are often wary of the government (Thompson and Lu 2006).17 Gay groups have also been identified as an important partner in the fight against HIV/AIDS. An organization in Shandong Province received technical support, condoms, and money from the local government Disease Prevention and Control Center. On October 30, 2006, the government opened its first health clinic for gay men, to address the HIV/AIDS crisis and provide HIV testing and treatments; the Beijing-based clinic is run in collaboration with the official Disease Prevention and Control Center and an HIV/AIDS volunteer group. In short, the government’s effort to solve problems has created a new space for NGOs in China (see Cohen 2004b), an occurrence some have dubbed the “second wave” of civil society development in China (Thompson and Lu 2006). As a key element of reforms, decentralization has given local governments greater power, discretion, and responsibilities (Huang 1996; Montinola, Qian, and Weingast 1996). Although political and economic decentralization has significantly contributed to the growth of the economy (Oi 1992), local officials are asked to implement central governmental policies with little or, more frequently, no financial resources (Bernstein and Lu 2003). For instance, in response to public outcry about water pollution, the central government mandated pollution control efforts in major lakes, but put the onus on local officials, without providing adequate funding to implement it.18 The central government is not shy about acknowledging the financial burden that local governments must now carry and the difficulty of doing so. Nearly all medical institutions, for instance, were recently transferred to local health authorities; Beijing noted that they are presently underfunded but promised more funds.19 The central government rarely extends funding to improve environmental conditions and meet policy mandates.20 But promises from Beijing, like policies at the local level, tend to go unfulfilled. Most of these mandates are unfunded. Such inadequate funding at the local level, in theory, should expand the political opportunity structure for social organizations, particularly those that work on problems that the central government wants solved but localities lack the capacity to address. 17

18 19

20

Indeed, social organizations have done a better job spreading information among drug users, prostitutes, and gay men; the central government has itself noted that NGOs also can help the government produce more reliable estimates of disease prevalence (MOH 2006). Xinhua, January 22, 2008. Xinhua, January 1, 2008. This acknowledgment of inadequate local funds and capacity has become commonplace in government policy pronouncements. Beijing announced that it would invest $175 million to cut emissions and build environmental monitoring systems. As part of the plan, officials promised more money would be given to local environmental protection bureaus, but offered no details or timelines ensuring that such promises would be acted upon (Xinhua, September 25, 2007). One notable exception was a plan for the center to funnel an unspecified amount of money to the country’s poorest cities to help tackle environmental problems and launch alternative energy industries (Xinhua December 27, 2007).

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Greater power at the local level also breeds protectionism (Yang 2004). Local protectionism, coupled with inadequate financial support, can interfere with the implementation of central policies that seek to address social problems and provide more opportunities for some social organizations. The rising influence of local interests results in what Unger and Chan (1995) call “regional corporatism.” Because of decentralization and increased autonomy for local governments, organizations sometimes get instructions from “two sets of masters” and can be torn between corporatist arrangements with central and local governments (Unger and Chan 1995: 46). Problems can arise when local governments pursue their own interests, pulling groups in directions opposite to those of the central government and perhaps even counter to their original set of organizational goals (Unger and Chan 1995: 68). As scholars of social movements have suggested in other contexts, such divisions within the state can give social organizations more or fewer political opportunities (McAdam, McCarthy, and Zald 1988). The 1984 revision of the nomenklatura system – the primary mechanism through which the Party exerts control over who attains leading positions – gave provincial officials more control by limiting appointments from “two levels down” to only “one level down” (Burns 1989).21 Despite this political decentralization, and decentralization in the economic sphere, the central government maintains some control over local governments. The key mechanism used to this end is the cadre responsibility system (gangwei zerenzhi). Originated in 1993 to evaluate government official performance and thus hopefully improve efficiency, this system also effectively constrains the ability of the government to compel local governments to implement its policies and can narrow the political opportunity structure for social organizations. Written in the most general of terms so that it could travel well in all areas of the country and government, criteria include political integrity, competence, diligence, and achievements (Edin 2003a,b). The system stresses administrative skills over revolutionary credentials; greater importance (60 to 70 percent of the score) is placed on work achievements than on political integrity, competence, and diligence (30 to 40 percent). Among work achievements, certain performance areas have higher priority (Whiting 2004): economic targets are “hard,” whereas most others, in which environmental issues usually fall, are “soft,” implying lower priority. Both hard and soft targets are overshadowed by “priority targets,” which are usually political in nature. If cadres do not meet priority targets, all other performance in hard and soft targets is cancelled out (Edin 2003a: 39). Based on these criteria, a final evaluation of excellent, competent, or incompetent is given to cadres. Better evaluations yield two different kinds of benefits to cadres: economic rewards, such as bonuses (Whiting 2001), and 21

For example, prior to the 1984 reforms, the party could appoint officials at both provincial and municipal levels, whereas post-reform, the center could only appoint at the provincial level (and, of course, the central level).

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political rewards. The highest ranked cadres are deemed “advanced leaders” (xianjin lingdao), which enhances their chances of promotion (Edin 2003a). The cadre responsibility system has been effective in that officials are more prone to seek legitimacy through institutional channels, which serves to increase the bona fides of the party and state (Li 2004). It is problematic, however, in that not all successes are rewarded equally. Most notably, economic goals are prioritized over goals that meet other social needs. Local officials are rewarded for economic development and effectively punished for poor performance (Whiting 2004). Li and Zhou (2005) have quantitatively shown that the likelihood of promotion increases and likelihood of termination decreases with improved economic performance. As a result, local government officials prioritize local economic development above all else (Whiting 2001). The incentive to prioritize economic development growth is exacerbated by the fact that local cadres are placed in a ranking order among other cadres. Performance is therefore measured in relative terms rather than absolute ones (Edin 2003a). Therefore, the cadre responsibility system breeds competition, which can further interfere with the implementation of policies that might be seen to detract from the most important measures – namely, economic development (Whiting 2004). No official has an incentive to implement or support any project other than those that will grow the economy. Spending time on soft targets, such as health or environment, would diminish their rank relative to other cadres who (they must assume) are also aiming to gain the largest relative advantage over other cadres. The central government has made rhetorical moves to encourage local officials to devote attention to implementing environmental policies, as well economic priorities. Although often recognizing that resources are inadequate, Beijing routinely criticizes officials at the local level for failing to implement policies. There have been frequent calls for more accountability, and even an expansion of the basis on which officials are evaluated. For instance, an official in Anhui Province was fired for not adequately fighting floods in his province,22 and 5,000 officials nationwide were punished for “extravagance.”23 The central government also threatened to take into account performance in the “snow crisis” of 2008 in the evaluations of local cadres,24 and, in Shandong Province, the sex ratio (males to females) was also integrated into assessments for officials.25 Still, these modifications are all ad hoc and have done little to effect substantive change to fundamentally alter the incentive structure for cadres. 22 23 24 25

Xinhua, July 16, 2007. Xinhua, August 19, 2007. Xinhua, February 6, 2008. Xinhua, February 20, 2008. Some local officials have publicly taken a vow to abide by goals to improve environmental performance; most notably, the provincial governor of Shandong vowed to step down if his province did not meet its targets (Xinhua, March 17, 2008).

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In one promising sign, the State Council proposed an “environmental veto system” to link environmental performance and energy conservation to promotions.26 But this proposal offers few appealing carrots and mostly weak sticks. It would reward officials who had done well on environmental issues with improved chances of moving up in the leadership hierarchy, but slap offending officials with limited punishments: those officials not meeting targets would “undergo more scrutiny” and be barred from receiving “honorary titles” for one year.27 In an editorial published by Xinhua on November 22, 2007, Pan Yue, then vice-minister of SEPA, criticized the proposal for being “watered down” and argued that conflicting interests between economic incentives and promotion would continue to hamper the central government’s efforts at having environmental regulations actually implemented at the local level. In sum, the failure to implement policies at the local level is not due to the lack of central control, but rather by conflicting policies (Edin 2003a). By incentivizing economic growth over all else, the current criteria used in the cadre responsibility system can serve to exacerbate social problems (most notably environmental degradation) and thereby create more demand for social organizations. At the same time, the system gives local government officials a disincentive to allow freer rein for groups that might oppose economically productive but environmentally degrading projects; these groups, in operating against such projects (like dam building) could interfere with economic growth and the career prospects of cadres. Thus, the cadre responsibility system and the current criteria used for evaluation creates an important constraint on the political opportunity structure for many Chinese social organizations. It is for this reason that local priorities ultimately carry more weight than central policies in explaining the contraction of political space for social organizations in China.28 2.3 Managing Social Organizations The most direct state action to construct the political opportunity structure for social organizations is its explicit attempt to manage them. Beginning in the 1990s – the early days of modern Chinese social organization development – the central government established a system by which NGOs could become officially registered social organizations. The system was designed to allow groups to operate openly, but also keep the growth of this sector of civil society in check; groups that are more “legible” might also be more easily 26 27 28

Xinhua, July 31, 2007, and October 29, 2007. Xinhua, November 29, 2007. For most informants, the central government was only worth talking about in the abstract; no one was under any impression that their relationship with the central government mattered much. That said, discretion allows for local governments to take advantage of the central government’s political concerns about NGOs when it serves their purposes (Interview 29).

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governed (Scott 1999). In essence, through the registration system, the state has constructed the notion of what an NGO is, defined its legitimate scope of activity, and limited its autonomy (Ho 2001: 915; Howell 1995: 8; Ma 2002: 305).29 The limitations contained in the registration regulation display an explicitly corporatist logic. The current legal status of social organizations is derived from the 1998 Regulations for the Administration and Registration of Social Organizations, which include numerous mechanisms to ensure that groups do not exert too much autonomy and move beyond their narrow official political space: to limit capacity building, the regulation forbids national organizations from establishing branch offices; to keep alliances and mission creep to a minimum, the regulation also declares that no more than one social organization devoted to “similar issues” can be registered in the same administrative region; and to connect groups closer to the state, the regulation requires groups to have a sponsoring institution within the government.30 This sponsor is informally referred to as popo (mother-in-law). The popo is expected to serve two parties with often different and sometimes competing interests: it can assist the organization by helping it navigate bureaucratic channels, but it is also supposed to protect the interests of the state by keeping a watchful eye on the organization.31 These regulations have helped control growth in the number of registered NGOs. Three years after the regulation came into effect, the total number of social organizations (shehui tuanti) dropped from 165,500 to 129,000 (Ho 2001: 902; Ma 2002: 306). Recent figures published by the Ministry of Civil Affairs, the government agency incharge of registering social organizations, showed an increase to 153,000 in 2004 and 220,000 in 2008.32 However, 29

30

31

32

The strict registration system has attracted significant attention in scholarly and journalistic accounts of NGOs in China. Although important for understanding state–society relations in China, these registration regulations are not entirely unique to China. For instance, a new registration law was passed in Russia, creating similar administrative hurdles for social organizations. Observers speculate that, as in China, the Russian state has created the regulation to keep a lid on the development of an independent social sector outside the purview of government officials. More than three-quarters of the 200,000 registered groups could disappear as a result of the new law (Moscow Times, August 24, 2007). Even in a far more democratic country such as India, the state has instituted a strict regulation system that reflects a generally skeptical government view of NGOs (Jalali 2008: 172). 1998 Regulations for the Administration and Registration of Social Organizations (shehui tuanti dengjiguanli tiaoli) available online: http://huitong.mca.gov.cn/article/zcwj/200812/ 20081200023777.shtml (accessed March 10, 2008). Also of note, the regulation mandates that organizations have some full-time staff as well as at least 30,000 RMB in funds. This goal is difficult to achieve, given that many sponsoring agencies – like most government organs – lack the financial and human resources to properly supervise social organizations (Ru and Ortolano 2004). Ministry of Civil Affairs, http://cws.mca.gov.cn/accessory/200902/1233554233793.htm (accessed March 10, 2009). Although there is an increase in the number of registered groups in this category, these figures do not necessarily reflect a considerable increase in the number of registered community-based social organizations (minjian zuzhi) under study here; these official

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considering the popularity and usefulness of non-state actors in governance throughout the rest of the world, the overall size of the Chinese population, and the severity of social problems, even this growth is modest. More importantly, these figures are misleading and fail to capture the reality of social organization growth in China: in promulgating the 1998 regulation, the state succeeded in simply controlling the number of groups that have sought and acquired legal registration but did little to stop the growth of unregistered groups.33 The political opportunity structure within which Chinese social organizations have emerged and operate has been constructed partly by design (as in the case of registration regulations) but mostly by accident, the unintended effect of other policies designed to both increase economic development and then deal with its various side effects. However, one of the central arguments of this book is that an opportunity is very much what an organization makes of it. Thus, Chinese NGOs must make frequent, and sometimes vastly different, adaptations to take full advantage of opportunities as they arise. To understand which adaptations these groups make, and why they can vary across issue area and geographic region, we must first establish how policies promulgated at the political center in Beijing can differ at the local levels. The next chapter explores how local priorities often stand in the way of central policies. Moreover, it shows how social organizations understand the “state” and variation within it, recognize the presence of opportunities, and explain negative state response (the complete absence of opportunities).

33

numbers include Party-affiliated mass organizations and industrial professional organizations, as well as government-organized NGOs, all of which may significantly contribute to these higher numbers. Because they are unregistered, these organizations go uncounted by Chinese government estimates. However, based on survey respondents, there is good reason to assume the number of social organizations in China, inclusive of unregistered groups, is significantly larger than government figures. This book is interested less in determining the exact number of organizations, registered or unregistered, and more concerned with the reasons that groups have chosen (or have been pressured to choose) one path over another; it aims to understand varying interests that governments have in compelling some groups to be registered and convincing others to stay unregistered.

3 Central Policies, Local Priorities Regional Variation of the Political Opportunity Structure

Policies promulgated at the political center in Beijing have created the potential for some key opportunities of which social organizations might take advantage. But the state in China should not be misunderstood as a monolith. Political opportunities vary across sectors and regions of China in unexpected ways. For example, although the Chinese government has voiced concern about environmental degradation, organizations in this issue area perceive different opportunities, depending on the changing priorities of provincial and local governments. When local government interests conflict with social organization goals, the political opportunity window narrows. Tip O’Neill’s observation about American politics could not be truer in China: all politics are local. Although group leaders recognize the narrow political opportunity structure they face, respondents give a relatively positive assessment of the state and their relationship with it. This is not to suggest that the nature of the structure always accommodates social organization emergence. There are indeed instances when political opportunities narrow to the point at which relations sour between social organizations and government, and the opportunity structure thus narrows. To be properly understood, negative state response must be conceived of on a spectrum, with indirect and direct state interventions ranging from mild and to harsh. That said, survey results confirm that a negative state response is rare among groups in the featured issue areas. Rather than writing it off as a matter of idiosyncrasy, social organization leaders (both those who have felt instances of repression and those on the outside looking in) have a number of explanations for why relations between an nongovernmental organization (NGO) and the state go bad. The majority of these further support the claim that NGO leaders see the state as an immovable, static structure. It is contingent on social actors to move around the state (Interview 5; for the source of all interviews mentioned, please see Appendix). Discord is the result of the social organization coming into conflict with the state, rather than 38

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the state coming into conflict with the organization; similarly, it is rarely even described in more mutual terms of “butting of heads.” Therefore, in cases of negative state response, the organization – not the government – is faulted by its peers. 3.1 Expectations for Variation Case selection for this study was intended to capture the variations in relations between government and social organizations, with some key expectations in mind. Based on received wisdom on NGOs in China, environmental groups’ goals could be expected to be most highly correlated with government policies. The central government has made environmental protection a key policy goal; local governments in provinces like Yunnan have declared their devotion to environmental protection as well. Therefore, these NGOs should enjoy the most political space and be the strongest, most viable social organization type. Organizations combating HIV/AIDS in China fit a growing concern, but one that is still encountering some resistance among local governments and even within the central government. These groups were therefore expected to have a medium level of correlation between goals and policies and therefore moderate political space. Finally, gay and lesbian groups were chosen to represent organizations that should have relatively low correlation between group goals and government policies, leading these groups to enjoy the least political space. Multiple research sites were chosen for this study because of an expectation that wide or narrow political opportunities could be related to geographic distance from the political center. Due in part to its distance from Beijing, Yunnan is often assumed to be one of China’s most politically open provinces for social organizations. Beijing, conversely, is thought to be more closed. Conventional wisdom suggests that regional variation matters, especially as we move further from the political center. As a popular Chinese proverb suggests, “shan gao huangdi yuan” (the mountains are high and the emperor is far away). Particularly in light of decentralization, central government dictates are unlikely to survive as the distance from Beijing increases. Combining the selection criteria, an environmental NGO in Yunnan Province was expected to enjoy the most political space. A gay group in Beijing, conversely, should have the least. All interesting and worthwhile studies should surprise us in some way or another. Indeed, NGO–government relations are far more complex than this simple reasoning would suggest. Political opportunities vary across issue areas and geographic regions in different ways, in large part because the state in general and government policies in particular are not monolithic. Considerable discontinuity often exists between central and local government priorities and interests. As a result, social organizations perceive their level of policy/goal correlation differently across issue and geographic areas. The findings in this chapter support the hypothesis that organizations enjoy more opportunities

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when their work complements state needs and interests, but also modify its claim. To explain political opportunities for Chinese social organizations, it is not necessarily state policies that must be examined, but government interests at various levels. 3.2 Perceptions of the Political Opportunity Structure, Disaggregated Previous studies of public opinion in China have consistently found significantly higher levels of support for the central government than for local governments (L. Li 2004, 2008; Saich 2007). These results are often explained as the result of discontent over side effects of economic reform: the loss of pensions and social welfare, government corruption, and layoffs from state-owned enterprises (Hurst and O’Brien 2002; Manion 2004; Pei 2006; Sun 2004). Local government is also the closest face of the state for most citizens and therefore is the easiest focus of grievances. Citizens might also be more willing to blame those responsible for implementing policies – the local governments – rather than those who passed the policies in the first place – the central government. In China, blame often falls on officials perceived to have the most direct, immediate power, not just those on the highest rung of the larger government hierarchy. Because of the uniformity of findings in these previous studies, in my survey of social organization leaders, I expected to see high levels of support of the central government and relatively low levels of support for the local levels.1 But the survey data were considerably more complex. When asked to rate their relationship with the central and local governments, respondents generally characterized both positively. Although there was no geographic variation in responses, the survey shows some interesting variation across issue area: although 10 percent of environmental groups described their relationship with the local government as “very good,” that figure increases to 22 percent when asked the same of the central government; conversely, among HIV/AIDS groups, those rating their relationship as “very good” decreases from 21 percent for local governments to 13 percent for the central government. The decrease is even greater among gay and lesbian groups, of which only 20 percent characterized their relationship with the local governments as “very good” versus only 6 percent with respect to the central government. As explained in greater detail in Sections 3.3 and 3.4, this variation across issue area is owing primarily to a large discontinuity between central government dictates and local interests. For 1

At the outset of this research, I predicted that there would be noticeable variation across three different levels of government: central, provincial, and local. However, during interviews, informants made no discernible distinction between the provincial and local levels. Using survey data, I performed t-tests across identical questions for each level and found no significant variation between provincial and local levels. It is clear that the most meaningful variation is between provincial/local and central governments. As such, throughout this book, I primarily conflate the two and refer simply to the local–central government dichotomy.

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example, environmental NGOs characterize their relationship with the central government as being more positive than with local governments because of central policies that support environmental protection but local interests that do not. In the case of HIV/AIDS groups, however, local governments are seen as more open to addressing the problem; local interests, therefore, match group goals better than do central government policies. An additional survey question asked respondents to rank three levels of government on their approval of the NGOs’ work: the majority of respondents ranked local governments as the most approving and the central government as the least approving. On a measure of government power, the central government was most frequently ranked lowest in terms of ability, willingness, and helpfulness toward social organizations, whereas the localities were most frequently ranked first in all three definitions.2 Only a quarter of respondents ranked the central government first in each of the three categories. However, nearly half of these respondents were from Beijing. Among Beijing-based organizations, the central government is likely seen more as a local government than a national government. In areas where local governments are said to be particularly hostile to social organizations, such as Henan, the central government also enjoys a far better reputation than local or provincial governments: all survey respondents from Henan ranked the central government first in all three categories, reflecting the same kind of discontent expressed in the interviews. One explanation for these findings can be gleaned from the interviews. Social organization leaders understand the limitations of local governments in implementing ambitious and unfunded policies promulgated by the central government, and therefore they believe their political space will increase if they help the government along the way as a service provider.3 The difference 2

3

To better understand how social organizations viewed different levels of government in terms of power, the survey asked respondents to rank central, provincial, and local governments on three different definitions of power: which level has the greatest ability and the greatest willingness to help social organizations, as well as which level, in actuality, is most helpful to organizations. I anticipated that respondents might see one level as being very able to help organizations but unwilling to do so. However, t-tests of all responses on three definitions found no significant variation. In other words, respondents did not conceive of these three definitions as entirely unique from each other; for instance, leaders did not believe that localities have a high degree of willingness, but inadequate ability. In the survey, the central government was ranked last in all three categories by over half of all respondents; the majority of survey respondents placed provincial governments in the middle; whereas local governments were most frequently first in ability, willingness, and actual helpfulness (51, 46, 52 percent of respondents, respectively). Pearson’s chi-squared tests of each definition found no significant variation across issue area or geographic region. It is quite easy for the general public to recognize when local governments fail to implement central government policies, as the official news agency has played a key role in exposing the failures of local governments, particularly as they relate to environmental issues. A Xinhua journalist recounted an incident in summer 2007 when she received a news bulletin from a local reporter in southwest China that insisted, contrary to other widely circulated reports, that a local lake was clean and unpolluted, free from the blue algae that was present in other lakes

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between previous surveys of public opinion and this survey might also be explained by the fact that respondents are leaders of organizations and, unlike average individual citizens, must work with local governments and forge close ties with these governments from which they often gain important benefits (e.g., both political and economic opportunities).4 To further explore this issue, the survey asked a series of questions about how leaders perceived government’s attitude toward the issues their organizations work on, Chinese social organizations in general, and the respondent’s group in particular. The survey supported interview data, which suggests that the Chinese government at all levels, but particularly the central government, is supportive of the issues that groups are engaged in, but wary of the organizations themselves.5 A t-test also showed significant variation between the central and local levels when respondents were asked about how governments viewed NGOs in general and their group in particular: leaders reported that the central government approved more of NGOs in general than of their group, but that local governments approved more of their group than of NGOs in general. However, despite this variation, all governments were generally seen as being open to social organizations; the mean response for both questions at central and local levels was “somewhat approve.” 3.3 Central Government Policies Shape Relations With Social Organizations Although environmental groups credit increased government interest with the initial growth of social organizations in this issue area, they differentiate between the central and local governments. The survey finds that group goals are seen as complementing central government policies more than other levels of government.6 Most organization leaders characterize their relations with the central government as almost universally positive; leaders of environmental NGOs note that their groups’ goals fit well with the central government’s

4

5

6

throughout the region. The journalist used the opportunity to publish a scathing story accusing the local government of shirking its duties to curtail pollution and, even worse, lying about the impacts (Interview 1). Although these findings are in opposition to nearly all recent studies of public opinion in China, they mirror analyses of social organizations in other polities. In a study of environmental groups in western Europe, Dalton (1994: 162) finds that perceived responsiveness of government institutions decreases the higher they are on the overall political power hierarchy. Organization leaders were more likely to report that the central and local governments approve of the issues they are devoted to than of NGOs in general. The survey also found significant variation in perceived approval of NGOs, with provincial and local governments seen as more approving of social organizations than the central government (unless otherwise noted, significance refers to tests with results at the 95% confidence interval or higher). The central government is seen as being significantly more approving of issues than of particular groups. Respondents are more likely to characterize their groups’ goals as complementary with central government policy than with provincial government policy (T-test is significant at p = .07).

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policies on environmental protection. These positive impressions of the central government are primarily based on their interaction with the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), which is commonly viewed as one of the most transparent and effective central governmental agencies, leading one leader to describe it as a “lonely hero” in Chinese governance (Interview 2). The increasing power of this government entity, exemplified by its elevation to super-ministry status, leads some observers to predict an expansion of political space – at least in the eyes of the central government – for environmental NGOs. The survey lends support to the claim that central government policies are more complementary to the goals of environmental organizations: 83 percent of respondents from this issue area characterized central government policies as complementary to their goals, whereas 68 percent said the same about local government policies; less than 10 percent of environmental leaders saw their groups’ goals as “not complementary” with central government policy. The central government’s increased concern about the HIV/AIDS crisis is also seen as a key opening for social organizations engaged in work related to it. Leaders point to the increased availability of health data and attention in official news media outlets as evidence of a change in the central government’s policy toward HIV/AIDS. Only 6 percent of respondents from HIV/AIDS organizations characterized their groups’ goals as being “not complementary” with central government policy; among gay and lesbian groups, this figure is 22 percent, which is mostly owing to the fact that 70 percent of lesbian groups characterized their goals as “not complementary.” Still, positive reviews of the central government by leaders are more frequently explained by the lack of interaction with this level. Leaders of social organization interact most closely with the local government, which is more real and thus more likely “flawed.” The central government, an informant explains, is “just an illusion” for most Chinese people. It represents and speaks of an ideal world that exists only on paper, not in reality (Interview 67). More important, in the rare instance that groups have a conflict with the government, a negative state response comes from local governments, not the central government. Therefore, it is unsurprising that local governments might be viewed more negatively than the central government; it is the “bad cop” to the central government’s “good cop.” Although leaders generally see their goals as matching central policies, Beijing has some interests that do not always fit well with the work of NGOs. When social organizations interfere with important central government development projects, such as the Three Gorges Dam and the South-North Water Transfer, the central government responds just as the local government often do, by pressuring leaders and activists to turn their attention away from the issue. Although the conflicts between organization goals and government policies in these projects are significant and well known, they are few compared to the more frequent conflicts between group goals and government interests at the local level. Another explanation for occasional poor relations is that

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the central government also has a clear interest in maintaining the political monopoly of the Chinese Communist Party. The central government has to address social problems – be they uneven economic development, ecological protection, or HIV/AIDS prevention – while also ensuring that the social organizations working on these very issues will not serve as a political threat, as occurred in Central Asia’s Color Revolutions over the last decade. This is why the central government has been most dedicated to the task of registering all social organizations, to control their size and spread. 3.4 Local Politics More Directly Define Relations With Social Organizations 3.4.1 Environmental Protection in Yunnan and Sichuan Although central government officials are believed to see the threat to their political monopoly as the major downside of NGOs, organizations contend that local governments are most concerned with NGOs insofar as they may interfere with economic priorities. Because of social organizations’ close proximity and frequent interaction with local government officials, poor relations with them are even more problematic. Leaders usually see the local government as having the largest amount of control over groups; they have the power to increase their political space, thus extending them greater political opportunities, but also have the power to contract it.7 To make this point, it is instructive to examine an instance when organization leaders saw a marked shift in local government interests and, as a result, a contraction of political opportunities. Conventional wisdom in China and abroad holds that Yunnan Province is the country’s most politically open area for social organizations (Chen 2005; Cooper 2006; Ho 2001; Kuhn 2006).8 This characterization is substantiated in part by pointing to the prevalence of international and domestic environmental NGOs that owed their existence to a shift in local government interests. In the 1990s, the provincial government recognized the need to combat growing environmental degradation in the country’s most ecologically diverse province. This reorientation in policy was helped by the presence of international aid agencies and other foreign donors willing to provide technical and financial support to environmental protection efforts. Having been given more discretion from the central government to address the problems, the provincial government extended political space to social actors, like NGOs, to do the work that it lacked the technical capacity, economic resources, and sometimes political will to do itself. Therefore, interests of the local government and environmental social organizations complemented each 7 8

Local and provincial government authorities are said to treat organizations far worse than central government authorities. Chen (2005) suggests that increased distance from the center creates an overall freer situation for NGOs; these regions tend to have the need (e.g., they are poorer, suffer from more social problems) and the opportunity (through decentralization).

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other well. The situation was so alluring that budding NGO leaders throughout China moved to the province to work in China’s fast-growing civil society sector. As a result, the number of NGOs working on environmental issues in Yunnan increased, and leaders enjoyed relatively high autonomy (see also Cooper 2006). Observers from outside the province believe that environmental NGOs in Yunnan still enjoy “perfect relations” with local governments. But for leaders within the province, the idea of Yunnan as a “haven” for social organizations is a thing of the past, more the product of wishful thinking than reality. To the extent that environmental groups did enjoy political opportunities, many of these were short-lived. Local and provincial government interests have changed in recent years, leading even those who have continued to be successful to admit that local and provincial governments are increasingly “sensitive” about environmental issues and wary of the groups that address them. Decreased opportunities for environmental groups began around 2003 and are usually explained by two different phenomena. First, the provincial government had serious political concerns: some observers believe the government grew uncomfortable with NGOs in general, becoming convinced that the political space afforded some groups was allowing others that had more antistatist motives, such as democracy and Tibetan independence, to also flourish and serve as a threat to the political monopoly. Second, the provincial government had new economic opportunities: through Beijing’s ambitious Western Development Strategy, economic resources began pouring into previously underdeveloped regions, such as Yunnan, primarily to support the building of infrastructure. This strategy has introduced a new set of incentives for government officials that often conflict with the goals of environmental organizations. In particular, informants point to the indigenous effort to stop the damming of China’s last “wild” or undammed river, the Nu (or Salween) as a key reason for contracted political opportunities in Yunnan. The large infrastructure project was supported by the local government, but opposed by some social organizations. One of the most prominent NGOs working to halt construction of the dam was successful in leading the central government to put the dam on hold. The incident showed local and provincial governments the unforeseen impacts of its accommodations for social actors. Because economic development is highly prioritized by local governments, when social organizations engage in activities that “touch the government cheese,” they will experience a negative state response (Interview 23). The Nu River incident is frequently referred to as the moment at which environmental NGOs recognized that, despite no official policy change, the province’s priorities were economic development, not ecological protection (see also Mertha 2008).9 9

The Nu River dam project, and the fallout from it, is the most frequently cited indication of a shift in local government interests. But this is not the only example. The leader of a prominent environmental NGO in Yunnan also cited a recent case of an international NGO that launched

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Because many environmental protection efforts require diminishing industrial pollution and the scaling back of large infrastructure projects, social organizations in this issue area perceive low correlation between government interests and group goals. Although an environmental group in Yunnan might see the central government as a partner in tackling environmental degradation, in the local government it sees an impediment to its work. This reality leads some to temper their enthusiasm for the central government’s environmental policies. Despite its new ministry-level status, some argue that the new SEPA’s effectiveness as an advocate for environmental NGOs is meaningless for organizations far from the political center and under the more immediate influence of local governments. 10 Even enlightened local environmental officials are under direct influence by those who pay their salaries and are incharge of their promotions, as prescribed by the cadre responsibility system (see Chapter 2). Therefore, decisions will be made in accordance with local interests, not central government policies.11 Despite increased interest in economic development, the provincial government in Yunnan still appears concerned about losing its image as a pioneer in Chinese environmental protection, which can continue to bring tourism dollars and positive international attention to the province.12 Even when NGOs were under close government scrutiny, the provincial government invited several

10

11

12

a campaign against a monoculture planting scheme funded by a multinational paper company, leading local governments to see the actions of social organizations as being fundamentally opposed to economic interests (Interview 47). These concerns are becoming more well-founded as the new ministry’s role becomes clearer. Despite its super-ministry status, it does not have direct control over antipollution agencies (Reuters, March, 13, 2008). Moreover, the official who arguably made SEPA the strongest independent voice in China’s government bureaucracy, Pan Yue, has been sidelined in the new ministry; concern for increasing China’s performance in the stalled world economy is offered as one key explanation of this personnel change (Watts 2009). Other social actors involved in environmental issues similarly recognize the ultimate power of the local governments and react accordingly. But this is not without consequences; appeasing local officials can lead individuals to fall out of favor with central government officials. For example, in 2009, the head of a science research center in Yunnan was approached by filmmakers working on a documentary that would paint an optimistic picture of dam construction in the province. He agreed to lend his expertise in this effort. Although his public pronouncement that a specific dam construction project would not significantly degrade the environment pleased local officials who supported the project, central government officials, who have become increasingly skeptical of some dam projects and vocal about their devotion to environmental project, were not pleased. Since the scientist’s post was overseen by the central, not local government, he was asked to resign as a result. Nongovernmental organization leaders and observers throughout Yunnan province frequently offered unsolicited advice on my research: avoid interacting with provincial or local governments. They reasoned that the political situation was so sensitive regarding environmental issues that my future research opportunities might be put in serious jeopardy. A native international NGO leader who enjoys very positive relations with the government explained that provincial officials fear that researchers might tarnish Yunnan’s environmentally friendly reputation (Interview 10).

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organization leaders to stand alongside government officials to launch its “Colorful Yunnan” (qicai Yunnan) environmental initiative (Interview 31).13 The provincial governor recently pledged to strengthen cooperation with environmental groups, noting that the government and NGOs shared the same goals.14 Most environmental leaders believe such rhetoric and invitations are largely cynical, revealing the provincial government’s “double-faced” attitude toward the environment and NGOs. The Yunnan government’s growing distaste for the activities of environmental organizations results in a contraction in opportunities for many groups. But, to the extent that groups do work that does not interfere with other government interests, even environmental organizations can enjoy some political space. A large environmental group in Yunnan, for instance, is working to diminish the use of harmful pesticides in rural areas. The leader proudly reports that this work fits well with the province’s goals of creating a “Colorful Yunnan,” but also noted that the group’s activities do not always comport with local governments’ economic interests of increasing agricultural output. She admits that, at every level, officials have their own “unique interests,” making the group’s work exceedingly complicated and sometimes impossible (Interview 18). The failure of local governments to promulgate the central government’s goals of environmental protection do not go unnoticed; in fact, the lack of implementation of central policies and the general reluctance of local government officials to allow environmental issues to interfere with economic growth is so prevalent that, on April 25, 2008, Xinhua highlighted an anomaly, in which a local official was following through with central government dictates and sometimes going further. Although economic growth is prioritized in all areas, specific local government interests significantly vary across provinces. Leaders of environmental groups that have experienced contracted political opportunities in Yunnan acknowledge that similar organizations in other provinces, such as Sichuan, enjoy far more political space. Leaders in Sichuan confirm this impression, reporting that their relationships with the provincial and local governments are considerably positive. Although contracted political opportunities are often explained by new economic interests, as in Yunnan, expanded opportunities in 13

14

The provincial government has launched this initiative to renew interest in the area’s natural ecology, and has linked the project to the central government’s broader call for “scientific development.” Launched in 2007, the initiative is simply too new to evaluate. However, informants in Yunnan uniformly reported that the project is more rhetorical than action-oriented. Information on the initiative can be accessed online at http://xqll.dq.yn.gov.cn/qcyn/432345564227567616/ index.html (accessed April 7, 2009). Xinhua, February 21, 2008. This pronouncement came on the heels of another government report that the Nu River dam project, which was stalled due to the efforts of some NGOs, could soon be restarted. This was probably no coincidence. The government recognizes the importance of getting any potential critics of the project on its side to avoid another delay to the project and the economic development that might come with it.

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Sichuan are not necessarily due to a lack of local government interest in economic development. Quite the contrary. Sichuan, like Yunnan, lags far behind eastern China in economic output and investment, and both provinces are part of the central government’s Western Development Strategy. Nongovernmental organization leaders in Sichuan echo fellow leaders in Yunnan in noting that, despite official rhetoric to the contrary, local governments prioritize economic performance above all other issues; one environmental leader contends that ecological degradation is “always a second, third, even fourth important priority” in provincial governance (Interview 59). The main difference between the two provinces is that Yunnan, by virtue of its abundant natural resources, can attract large infrastructure projects that Sichuan cannot (Magee 2008). An environmental NGO leader based in Sichuan agrees, noting that the province “does not have a Nu River dam of its own” (Interview 60). Put simply, the provincial government does not have an economic opportunity that might be threatened by the actions of a well-meaning environmental NGO. Environmental groups and local governments enjoy best relations when both the cause and solution to environmental problems do not negatively affect local economic development. For example, one of the more successful environmental organizations in Sichuan works on cleaning urban rivers in the provincial capital of Chengdu. The leader explains her success by noting a very positive relationship with the local government (Interview 56). Of course, good relations do not emerge in a vacuum. The main culprits of water pollution in Chengdu’s urban rivers are private residences, not industrial, commercial, or government sources. As a result, clean-up efforts did not target local industries and therefore did not negatively impact the city’s economic interests. This particular organization goes so far as to declare that it is not the job of NGOs to “interfere with industry”; they do not see themselves as enforcers, leaving this role to the government instead. Another Chengdu-based environmental group engaged in similar work reports that in addressing the environmental problem the city’s economic interests were helped, not hindered. The clean-up efforts included an improvement of nearby infrastructure and redevelopment of the riverfront for commercial and higher-density residential purposes (Interview 55). In this regard, many similar environmental NGOs have taken on a new role as a service provider to the government and see this as key to their current success and long-term viability.15 15

Despite the recent contraction of political opportunities for some environmental groups in Yunnan, survey results show that most leaders (combining those representing groups in all three issue areas) believe the political environment for NGOs in their home province is generally positive: three-fourths of respondents from organizations in all issue areas characterized the situation as somewhat better, better, or much better than that of other provinces. The survey found some variation with group age: among the newest social organizations, those that are less than one year old, 89 percent characterized the political environment toward NGOs in their home province as better than other areas in China (Pearson’s chi-squared test is significant at p = .155). Although the situation is primarily seen as better than others across groups of all

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3.4.2 HIV/AIDS Prevention in Yunnan and Henan Not all social organizations are engaged in projects that complement or conflict with government interests in the same way. Environmental leaders who have fewer political opportunities in Yunnan point out that other organizations in the province enjoy more political opportunities. Groups working on HIV/AIDS issues are believed to have an easier time working with local governments than do environmental groups because their work rarely comes into direct conflict with local government interests, such as economic development. In fact, these organizations can offer local governments high benefits – combating and preventing HIV/AIDS that might hurt economic productivity – with very low costs. This expanded political space is traced to some local initiatives. For instance, in 2003, the provincial government mandated that all hotels, from five-star foreign-run hotels to small local hostels, place condoms in every guest room in order to assist in its HIV/AIDS prevention efforts (Interview 28).16 Policy change is also credited with creating a key political opportunity for the emergence and growth of the fledgling gay and lesbian sector. However, this change had little to do with gays and lesbians in particular, or even NGOs in general. In fact, other than the 1997 de facto legalization of homosexuality,17 the Chinese government has not promulgated any policies that would provide explicit accommodation to gays and lesbians. When the central government increased attention to the growing HIV/AIDS crisis, organization leaders saw an important opportunity for lesbian gay bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activism in China.18 Because HIV/AIDS work does not conflict with many local governments’ interests, relations are generally positive at this level as well. However, the positive relationships between local governments and gay and lesbian groups can also be explained by highlighting the economic incentives that these groups can provide for local government agencies, an important issue I explore at greater length in Chapter 6.

16 17

18

ages, older organizations tend to see the political situation as worse. Environmental groups, those whose situation is perhaps most grim in Yunnan, are considerably older than groups from the other two issue areas. The policy proved such a public relations success that the Beijing city government replicated it in preparation for the 2008 Olympics (Xinhua, November 23, 2007). While discussing the government’s policies toward homosexuality, a group leader in Sichuan proudly noted that although it took fifty years for the government to legalize homosexual sex, this still put China five years ahead of the United States in that regard, referencing the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas that found antisodomy laws unconstitutional. Because lesbian groups do not work on HIV/AIDS issues to the extent that gay groups do, some leaders expressed concern that their work does not complement any major policy interest of the state. That said, because central and local governments have worked closely with gay groups, most of these lesbian organization leaders see this activity as tacit approval of their existence as social organizations. Moreover, the standard for good relations with the state is not high among lesbian groups. One leader remarked “we just hope that the government does not obstruct us.” Barring obstruction, they believe relations are as good as they could be expected (Interview 43).

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Several leaders believed that the political space for HIV/AIDS and gay and lesbian work was considerably greater in provinces like Yunnan than in others; they reason that because these provinces are farther from the political center, which some see as more politically closed to these issues, these social organizations enjoy more political opportunities.19 This argument was used by some Yunnan-based leaders in explaining the propensity for a negative state response in provinces like Henan that are closer to Beijing. However, as I show later in this chapter, HIV/AIDS NGOs in Henan have a different, more nuanced explanation for the narrow political space in the province. Although Yunnan-based NGO leaders reported generally positive relations with local governments, several were also quick to point out that, compared to some other provinces, Yunnan officials were actually quite close-minded. Yunnan HIV/AIDS and gay group leaders see Sichuan as an example of “real openness.” A gay group leader in Yunnan was in awe of the province to the north, declaring it China’s “gay heaven” (Interview 72). The province’s political opportunities for gay and lesbian groups are more than just legend. Leaders of gay organizations in Sichuan speak glowingly of the political space granted, as well as of minimal cultural and social pressures against homosexuality. Although some leaders explain the unusually good environment by citing the province’s long history of being “open and friendly to outsiders” (Interview 57),20 a more direct and recent explanation maintains that the early presence of international donors and social organizations working on the emerging HIV/AIDS epidemic in the late 1990s brought knowledge and funding, both of which were instrumental in creating a government and general population that were more receptive to the crisis and persons affected by it (Interviews 49, 61, 62, 68).21 To be sure, very few NGO leaders believe that positive relationships with the government are the result of a seismic shift in cultural attitudes. Most leaders of gay organizations see their political opportunities as nothing more than a strategic decision. One of the oldest gay organizations in Yunnan reports that, as recently as five years ago, gays were simply ignored by the government; one leader suggests that most officials did not know that gays and lesbians existed (Interview 19). Today, gay groups are granted political space to the extent that they help tackle the growing HIV/AIDS crisis, reaching out to high-risk groups that the government is unable or unwilling to engage (see also Cohen 2004a,b). If these organizations were only working to promote the interests of gays and 19 20 21

Similar relationships between more local government or societal autonomy have been noted by other scholars in the study of housing reform (Zhou and Logan 2002). Similar arguments are sometimes made about the relatively progressive attitude in Yunnan, as well. Government officials in other provinces share this enthusiasm for enlisting the help of domestic NGOs to improve efforts to prevent further spread of HIV/AIDS. The governor of Gansu, for example, declared his province’s intention to “catalyze the birth of NGOs” to address this very issue (Xinhua, April 13, 2007).

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lesbians, the number of groups would be fewer and their relationships with the government either nonexistent or negative (Interview 19). Many leaders insisted that if there were no HIV/AIDS problem, government officials would never even acknowledge gays. Because of this common belief, many in the gay and lesbian community view all positive public pronouncements about gays cynically.22 Not all provincial and local governments are willing to expand political opportunities to social organizations in order to address the HIV/AIDS crisis. In some areas, HIV/AIDS has not reached a level of crisis; the virus is not generalized and is treated as a disease that attacks only “hooligans” and other out-groups. If these governments do not see HIV/AIDS as a problem, they should not be expected to take on the political risks associated with allowing greater space for social organizations. Even within areas that suffer from a high incidence of HIV/AIDS, government officials are not necessarily open to enlisting social organizations to help address the problem. Henan Province, in particular, is one of the largest hotspots of HIV/AIDS infections in China, but is also seen as the most politically closed area for social organizations engaged in this work. Government officials in this province have been wary of drawing attention to the crisis, primarily because of perceived government culpability in the initial spread of HIV through for-profit plasma extraction activities (Fan 2007).23 Like environmental groups in Yunnan, HIV/AIDS organizations in Henan are, therefore, seen as a point of interference in the government’s overall interests. Unlike Yunnan, however, the government is not particularly interested in pretending that it sees NGOs as a valued partner. An HIV/AIDS leader based in Henan noted with disappointment that when UNAIDS director Peter Piet visited the province, the government invited no local social organizations to participate (Interview 54). Although few groups report actual repression, “no group has good relations” with the government in Henan (Interview 54).24 22

23

24

Even in provinces that are presumably more progressive and open, like Yunnan and Sichuan, leaders of gay groups insist that government officials “still dislike gays” (Interview 57); government officials do not think about gays outside of HIV/AIDS, and if they do, “it’s probably in a bad way” (Interview 68). A Yunnan-based leader of a gay group reserved his harshest criticism for “party officials” rather than “government officials,” describing the former as “old, conservative, and backward” people who would prefer that gays and lesbians “not exist at all.” He contends that “government officials,” although not quite progressive, are more open than party officials and actually “tacitly approve” of gays (Interview 73). Although the Henan government has sought to distance itself from the scandal, the central government has taken efforts to address the problem of blood and plasma selling in general, giving more attention, albeit unintentional, to the provincial government’s sordid history in the crisis. Most notable, the Ministry of Health ordered that all blood collection centers install video cameras to combat blood selling and other related misconduct (Reuters, July 11, 2008). The provincial government has been particularly wary of allowing these social organizations the opportunity to coalesce. In August 2007, officials closed a meeting of local HIV/AIDS NGOs (Reuters, August 15, 2007).

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Variation exists not just across provinces but also within them; conflict with government can be more or less likely depending on which bureaucracy a group interacts with. The situation is made more complex by feuding that can emerge between government agencies. Competition can be waged over reputation, jurisdiction, and performance; this competition is likely fueled by the presence of relative, rather than absolute measures of performance in the cadre responsibility system. Fights can also be waged over outside financial resources, a topic I explore at greater depth in Chapter 4.25 Intragovernmental competition usually emerges when agencies or departments overlap in duties to one degree or another; there can be too many cooks in the kitchen or, as the Chinese idiom goes “jiu long zhi shui” (“nine dragons, same water”) (Interview 12). For example, in Kunming, Yunnan, two separate USAID contractors, in conjunction with domestic NGOs, were entrusted to do HIV/AIDS-related work. As is mandated by regulation, the organizations were required to secure different government partners. One group allied with the city’s health education institute, whereas the other linked up with the provincial health education institute. Leaders reported that the two agencies were in constant competition for more resources and responsibility; this conflict was exacerbated by overlapping city and provincial government jurisdictions (Interviews 9, 68, 74). In rare instances, intragovernmental competition can be used to a group’s advantage. In one case, an environmental leader who was placed under a travel ban by the Yunnan provincial government used his positive relations with the central government to override the ban, at least temporarily, to travel abroad to accept an international environmental prize (Interview 23). 3.5 Explaining a Negative State Response Cases of repressed NGO leaders and activists in China have dominated international media accounts of social organizations. Activists featured in these reports are, however, more an exception than the rule. Interviews show, and survey data confirm, that negative state response is quite rare among the social organizations in this study;26 only seven leaders offered responses in the survey 25

26

Intragovernmental competition can make life difficult for international NGOs, as well as for domestic ones. An international donor noted one particularly frustrating situation in which he, along with domestic NGO leaders and several government agencies at all levels, spent nearly a year putting together an action plan to combat HIV/AIDS infections among gay men in southwest China. Although the parties approved the plan, it was soon made invalid when a newly created government agency, not part of the originally planning process, demanded a role of its own (Interview 69). It is important to note that interviews were conducted and the survey was distributed during a period characterized by some leaders and many Western journalists as the most politically closed time for NGOs in China in recent history: Beijing was hosting the National People’s Congress and making final preparations for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games (research concluded before the well-reported protests and government crackdown in several Tibetan areas in western China). Therefore, if NGOs were to experience instances of repression, this might be the time

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that indicate they have experienced negative state response.27 This finding is not surprising. The issue areas studied in this book were purposely chosen because of the expectation that organizations within them could provide some benefit or service to the state and enjoy political space as a result. Moreover, there is a certain selection bias in the groups studied; if an organization is “surveyable,” it is unlikely to have suffered from a strong negative response that would put it out of business altogether. Although these data suggest that instances of negative state response are rare, this should not be seen as a claim that repression never occurs. Nor do I suggest that when groups and the state do come into conflict, the result cannot be brutal. To the extent that repression is reported by social organizations that, according to my initial selection criteria, should not have reported much negative state response, there is interesting qualitative variation in how groups are repressed and how they explain it. Not all types of repression are equal. Negative state response can be broadly distinguished by three different types, each situated on a spectrum from the most mild to the most brutal; the commonality of these responses decreases moving from the mild to the brutal forms. At the mild end of the spectrum, a negative state response can be indirect interference: when social organizations have a preexisting relationship with a government agency, and the group leaders take actions that concern or otherwise upset officials, agencies have been known to pressure the organization to replace its leadership with individuals less “antagonistic” and more “diplomatic.” This response has been reported mainly by nonregistered gay groups that receive funds from the government agency and are, therefore, particularly reliant on maintaining strong relations with the government (an issue I explore in subsequent chapters).28 In some cases, government officials have attended organizations’ activities for the purpose of

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for it to occur. One environmental leader in Beijing was convinced that 2007 marked the most politically difficult time for NGOs in China; instances of government repression amounted to “the first shot fired in an all out war on civil society” (Interview 6). It is also reasonable to assume, as well, that group leaders were aware of this particularly sensitive political context and adjusted accordingly to avoid a negative response altogether. Because of the sensitivity of the issue, the survey used several different proxies for conflict and negative state response. For example, rather than ask if a leader or group was repressed, respondents were asked to choose among several reasons why they know the state approves of their work; one possible option was “the government does not approve of our work.” Seven respondents chose this option. Further confirmation of this figure comes from an additional question, in which respondents were asked to rate the relationship at different levels of government. Seven respondents rated their relationship with the central government as “poor,” with one fewer choosing the same option for the local government. Of these, only one respondent was from an environmental NGO, four from HIV/AIDS organizations, and two from gay and lesbian groups. Although most were scattered across the country, two were from the same province, Henan. These groups do not amount to “government-organized nongovernmental organizations” (GONGOs) because their leadership is not directly appointed by government officials.

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monitoring: an environmental group in Yunnan set up water user associations in which the government participated. This caused the group to be more careful about its activities (Interview 23).29 Additionally, some leaders have reported that when their work conflicts with government interests, officials have threatened to make their lives outside of their organizational activities more difficult: for example, a gay organization leader, and also a university student, reported that a provincial official threatened to tell his university professor that his activities were antagonistic (Interview 73). A negative state response can be a strong and direct intervention. These instances of repression, although less common, have attracted international media attention: activists have been taken from their homes for questioning and held for indefinite periods with little or no communication with the outside world; organization leaders are also put under house arrest. Among NGO leaders interviewed for this research, instances of intervention include shuttering group websites, local government officials shutting down an HIV/AIDS organization in Henan (Interview 41), a Yunnan-based environmental leader placed under a nationwide travel ban (Interview 23), and an NGO research center in Beijing raided and its foreign director deported (Interviews 3, 5, 6). More frequently, government officials use more creative ways to place pressure on social organizations that appear to be threatening the political monopoly of the party or other entrenched interests.30 An environmental leader in Beijing returned to his office to find his door lock damaged. He immediately reasoned that officials from the Public Security Bureau (PSB) were responsible: officials made it look like a break-in, hoping he would report the incident to the Bureau, which would give them an opportunity to question him on matters related to the “break-in” and, most importantly, his NGO activities (Interview 6). At the opposite end of the spectrum is repression of the type more usually seen in authoritarian contexts. Foreign media tend to focus on this type of negative response, giving the false impression that it is more commonplace than it actually is. This kind of response can be illustrated through two examples: a farmer who, upon organizing complaints to local authorities in regards to the Three Gorges Dam project, was threatened by a local police chief and severely beaten by a group of “thugs” (Lorenz 2006); and a prominent HIV/AIDS activist, Hu Jia, was arrested, convicted, and imprisoned for “inciting subversion of state power and the socialist system.” 29

30

In other instances, this leader reported that local government officials had encouraged its citizens to accept funds from NGOs but “eat the money,” using it for their own consumption, thereby thwarting the impact of the organization. In other cases, local officials simply instructed villagers to turn down offers of assistance, promising that the government would provide even more resources and support in return (Interview 23). When describing a negative state response, leaders differentiate between government agents. Several leaders who have experienced instances of negative state response note that pressure does not come from the “government” but from “police” or the “public security bureau.”

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Informants in this study had not experienced this brand of negative response, but were aware that it occurs. Explanations of conflict between social organizations and government significantly vary between those group leaders who have experienced a negative state response and those who have not. Among those who have experienced negative state response first-hand, two important commonalities emerge. First, leaders insist that the explanation given by government officials should not be believed. Second, and relatedly, they are never sure of the exact reason for the negative response. As a result, these leaders often brainstorm a long list of potential explanations, which usually center around how the work of their organization risked hurting provincial or central governments’ reputations. As this field work was conducted during the run-up to the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, many NGO leaders reasoned that the central government was attempting to preserve its reputation in light of the increased international attention that came with the Games. However, leaders of organizations that had encountered negative response in Beijing suggested that conflict might have arisen for reasons other than the Olympics. A leader who was interrogated by police in summer 2007 cited an upcoming World Economic Forum in Dalian as another potential reason officials might be tightening political space for some social organizations (Interview 6). A veteran environmental leader pointed to several “third rails” of Chinese politics that must be avoided: Falun Gong, Tibetan independence, Taiwan, and, most recently, China’s Africa policy – specifically, its relationship with the Sudanese government (Interview 5). Most agree that a negative response will not come at the first instance of touching these third rails. They suggest that once activities have accumulated to the degree that the officials grow concerned, then negative responses will occur. In sum, those on the receiving end of a negative state response usually explain the situation by highlighting the actions and concerns of the government; they tend to blame state actors.31 Other explanations go beyond the concerns of the central government and are specific to certain locales. In Henan, organizations working on HIV/AIDS are mindful of the reputational concerns of the government; leaders in this province explained that negative responses were the result of government concerns over its perceived culpability in the plasma-selling scandal. Sometimes, contracted political space is explained in part as the result of tension between levels of government. After leading an effort to stop the construction of a dam on the Nu River, the provincial government in Yunnan began intensely monitoring an environmental leader’s activities and confiscated his passport, effectively placing him in a “nine million square kilometer prison” (Interview 23). He explains that the central government intervened and put a stop to the 31

In rare cases, leaders place some blame on other social organizations as well. An HIV/AIDS leader in Beijing explained that because he has had conflicts with the government in the past, and due to competition with similar organizations, other leaders are quick to sell him out, reporting on his activities in order to push him out of business (Interview 79).

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dam in order to improve its reputation in the eyes of international observers and local residents. In the meantime, the provincial government’s development plans were derailed and its image was hurt. His experience in Yunnan Province led him to conclude that whenever social organizations attempt to organize citizens, the local government will “use all means to destroy [it]” (Interview 24).32 Another explanation focuses on local governments but is more forgiving in its characterization of them. Although there is variation across contexts, gay and lesbian groups insist that conflict with the government at any level is rare; the survey confirms this.33 One of the few examples of negative state response of gay groups has come as a result of their safe-sex education activities. A group distributing condoms in Tianjin was stopped and questioned by local police. The leader explained this as an honest conflict of jurisdictions and outdated policies. Police officers are entrusted to control “erotic behavior” in public places and have historically used the presence of condoms as evidence of public sex; this has since been eliminated, in hopes of encouraging safe sex and controlling the spread of HIV/AIDS.34 But as government bureaucracies improve their coordination, this conflict is expected to be eliminated: public health bureaus have begun to ensure that PSBs stop using the presence of condoms as evidence of illegal behavior in order to assist with government efforts to control the HIV/AIDS crisis, an effort with condom distribution as a key component. The vast majority of groups do not report having experienced a negative state response. Moreover, they rarely express concern that their organization might suffer this fate. These leaders all argued that their groups’ activities were well within the bounds of acceptable behavior and thus had no need to worry. One leader of a gay group said he was not the least bit concerned about repression because his group is “honest, upfront, and useful” to government and society (Interview 19). The explanations of negative state response provided by those who report no conflicts with the government are particularly illuminating. They focus, to a limited extent, on the concerns of the government: environmental groups, in particular, believe other groups have encountered problems with the government because their goals worked against the local government’s economic interests. But explanations were directed more at the actions of the organizations’ leaders. These leaders are quick to point to the “poor choices” of others, while drawing attention to their own “smart decisions” (Interviews 30, 32). A veteran environmental leader in Yunnan explains that repression is the 32 33

34

I discuss this specific case in greater detail in Hildebrandt (2009). Among lesbian organizations, instances of conflict were not reported at all; cooperation, too, is a rarity. Gay organizations, conversely, interact with the state more frequently but still rarely report conflict. One leader remarked that the only conflict in the issue area comes in the form of tension between gay organizations. He noted that, in these instances, the government is merely an “uncomfortable bystander” (Interviews 57, 68). Xinhua, December 1, 2007.

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result of leaders “willing to come into conflict” with the government (Interviews 74, 60). Leaders of gay groups suggest that as long as groups cooperate with the government, there is no reason to expect conflict.35 Conversely, criticism of the government leads to a negative response.36,37 In addition, the more “outspoken” and “independent” the organization leader, the more likely he or she is to have conflicts with the government; these leaders are said to have “bad instincts.” A leader of an HIV/AIDS group in Henan, one of the more politically closed areas of the country, understands that political opportunities are narrower in the province, but still explains conflict primarily as the result of “radical” organization leaders (Interview 28). HIV/AIDS groups, like victims of negative state response, point out that a negative response is usually the result of actions over time. However, unlike victims, those who have not experienced negative responses place the focus squarely on social organizations, claiming that it is the result of cumulative “missteps” made by the leader. The survey supports this finding as well: among five different explanations for organization–government conflict, 48 percent of respondents ranked “group leaders do not properly relate to the government” as the first or second most accurate explanation; 68 percent of respondents placed it among the top three explanations. It is contingent upon groups to ensure that the government does not see them as a threat. Because these groups explain repression as the result of bad choices and point to their own good choices, few are likely to feel the need to change their activities in light of repression felt by another group, even a group in the same issue and geographical area. Most of these organizations distance themselves from groups that have been repressed. 3.6 Understanding Bad (and Good) Relations The vast majority of social organizations do not believe the government should shoulder most blame for conflict because they see it as a static actor. The government, and the political opportunity structure it has established, is not expected to change significantly. This does not mean that actors see the opportunity 35

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Lesbian organizations see the government as simply ambivalent about their activities and very existence. As a result, these leaders do not see themselves as an credible threat to the government and therefore do not anticipate any real conflicts. This attitude is reflected in a common explanation about the lack of negative response. The implicit answer to my questions was simple and earnest: “Why would the government have a problem with our group if we were helping it do its job? If we posed no threat to it?” For many organizations, the government is the least of their worries. A leader of a gay organization in Sichuan insisted that he was not at all concerned about the government. He argued that the increased, although often illegal, popularity of Western religions in the region proved a much larger threat to gays and lesbians. He explained, “I don’t want Christianity in China because it will make gays’ lives horrible” (Interview 57). Leaders of gay and lesbian groups frequently use pseudonyms in their public activities. But this is not done primarily out of concern for government reprisals. Rather, they explain that social and family pressure leads gays and lesbians to seek anonymity.

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structure as innocuous and the contradictions contained within it. They understand and often privately criticize the government’s reluctance to take actions that would change incentives to increase policy implementation and, therefore, political space for social organizations. Successful organizations are seen as those that find ways around the state; unsuccessful groups, however, run into the state, “stepping on its toes” and “awakening the sleeping giant” (Interview 27). Some social organization leaders themselves believe that their role must be limited to helping society, not interfering with it; interests of social organizations should be subordinate to those of society as a whole, and of the state as its steward. This attitude also helps us understand why groups feel compelled to adapt to the political situation rather than try to actively change it. The rarity of conflict between social organizations and the state might be best explained as the result of a “chilling effect” or simply strategic preemption. As with Chinese journalists, the fear of a negative state response has become internalized to the point that social actors do not contemplate taking actions that might put them in jeopardy. As explained earlier, those who report a negative response are unsure of the precise reason they have come into conflict with the state. Having arrived at a laundry list of explanations, most report that they need to avoid these activities in the future. The longer the list of explanations, the more precautions a group will take. Although this might not be its primary purpose, by being vague, the government ensures that social organizations will be increasingly careful, if not paranoid, about which activities might risk their future. A more common explanation is that group leaders are well aware of the nature of the political constraints within which they must operate. They recognize that certain actions could cause conflict with the government and contract their opportunity, whereas more strategic moves could improve their relationships with the state and possibly expand their political space. The infrequency of negative state response among respondents shows the majority of respondents are those who have been successful in negotiating this narrow political space. Therefore, the following chapters examine the adaptations that social organizations make to successfully operate within the confines of the political (and economic) opportunity structure.

4 Proximate Solutions to Insoluble Problems Adapting to the Political Opportunity Structure

Noted theologian and political philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr (1944) famously suggested that humans are forever tasked with distinguishing between the things they can and cannot change; he describes politics as the act of finding “proximate solutions” to “insoluble problems.” Likewise, leaders of Chinese social organizations have identified that which they cannot change, the state – however flawed it may be – and have devoted their energies to arriving at proximate solutions to adapt to the narrow political opportunity structure it has constructed. Political opportunities are dependent on the state; the state creates a system that makes existence possible, but difficult. But, even in an authoritarian polity such as China, political opportunities are dependent on the actions of social actors, however constrained their choices might be. Leaders of Chinese social organizations are pragmatic, strategic actors more out of necessity than choice. In China, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are faced with a narrow political opportunity structure that is in frequent flux and can significantly differ across issue areas and geographic regions. Although this structure limits their ability to organize, constrains their work, and ultimately hinders their long-term viability, organization leaders have not focused attention on changing it. Instead, they adapt to the opportunity structure, making the most of an otherwise difficult situation. Adaptations are necessary for a group to take advantage of political opportunities when they become available. Moreover, leaders must continue to make changes in order for their organization to stay viable over the long term. Such proximate solutions are so common they have become internalized: on the whole, leaders do not perceive political opportunities as particularly vexing, nor their relationship with the state as terribly problematic. Adaptations are seen as the way organizing works in the Chinese system; what outsiders might see as restrictions on organizational development, insiders often describe as simply “the natural way of doing things” (Interview 64). In the vast majority 59

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of cases, leaders of Chinese NGOs do not work to change the rules of the game, but instead play by them. One well-established environmental leader remarked, “we have no illusions that we can somehow change government behavior,” therefore, organizations operate within the system, focusing their work on individual citizens and corporations, not governments. This phenomenon is not entirely limited to the Chinese context, or even to authoritarian states in general (Mair and Marti 2006). But the nature of the political opportunity structure and the combination of adaptation tactics is unique to China. Leaders of organizations in all three issue areas treat the authoritarian state as an unchangeable fact of life, do not attempt to combat it, and have instead strategically adapted to the political opportunity structure in order to survive and avoid conflict with the government. Yet, as the interests of governments are in frequent flux, all of these efforts to adapt to policies cannot guarantee long-term viability. Even adaptations by well-meaning leaders will not secure their future. As local government policies change, so too must groups; and, in many instances, these changes are beyond adaptation. For instance, if a local government loses interest in environment protection, there are very few modifications an environmental NGO can make to keep it within the interest of the government and thereby maintain or expand political opportunities. As the second hypothesis suggests, groups change tactics and activities to better match government policies and interests. Employing these tactics, and adapting to the opportunity structure, social organization leaders take advantage of political opportunities to avoid a negative state response. Taken together, they compose what might be thought of as a “playbook” for NGO leaders to maintain a strong and viable social organizations in China. First, previous research suggests that registration is fundamental for groups to operate openly, and most successfully, in China (Ho 2001; Howell 1995; Saich 2000). Although many groups pursue legal registration, this is not consistent across all geographic regions and issue areas; many groups are not registered and do not see a real need to do so. Even more importantly, there is significant variation between central and local governments in preferences for group registration; the former prefers that groups are registered to keep a lid on growth in the social sector, and the latter hopes to employ social organizations, registered or not, to help tackle growing social problems and implement often unfunded central government policy mandates. Because the interests of local officials vary, so too does the way in which registration operates as part of the opportunity structure. In other words, becoming legally registered is not a key tactic for all groups in all issue areas and localities to expand the political opportunity structure; in some cases, it could actually work to narrow it. Second, groups must employ methods that are decidedly “nonantagonistic.” Organizations’ public frames, language, and actions are believed to go a long way to ensure that the government will trust it and thus ensure its continued existence. Third, a strong and viable group keeps its activities highly transparent to avoid the perception that its work is in any way against the interests of

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the state (He 2003; Keohane 2002); leaders operate under the assumption that, if open about their activities, an organization could not possibly be engaged in something that is wrong. Fourth, in general, social organizations can increase the probability of success by networking with other groups inside and outside the country (Granovetter 1983; Keck and Sikkink 1998). However, in authoritarian polities, political opportunities might be withdrawn if the government fears that domestic NGOs are linking together. As such, in China, strong and viable organizations are better off staying atomized and avoiding linking up with other similar groups. Fifth, the goals of a strong and viable social organization must conform with government policies, and so leaders frame the group’s work in a manner that will make it appear as complementary as possible; groups understand that providing a service to the state is one of the best strategies for ensuring success. Finally, many leaders see governments at all levels as primarily concerned with maintaining their reputation in the eyes of the people and other governments (Cai 2008). Therefore, leaders of strong and viable groups will indulge these reputational concerns to expand their opportunities. 4.1 Become Registered (or, Remain Unregistered) The most formal adaptation to the political opportunity structure is also the most complicated. Although previous studies underscore the limitations associated with legal registration (e.g., registered groups must be formally tied to a government partner, they are prohibited from opening branch offices around the country), all else equal, Chinese social organizations should become legally registered (Ho 2001; Howell 1995; Kaur 2006; Ma 2006). Previous studies have highlighted the benefits of registration, emphasize the costs of nonregistration, and suggest that social organization leaders desire to register their group. Unregistered groups are often assumed to have tried, but failed, to become registered. Similarly, conventional wisdom holds that the government desires to have social organizations registered; if a group is unregistered, the state should work to punish its leaders and put an end to its work. Because these organizations have not forged an official relationship with the state, they are assumed to be outside the purview of the government and a potential threat to it. For Chinese social organizations, the primary advantage of registration is that it, somewhat counterintuitively, allows groups to operate more independently than without registration: when registered, groups can open bank accounts and pursue a wide variety of funding opportunities in China and beyond; it also helps organizations to be more transparent, which is itself a key tactic for avoiding repression. Having obtained legal registration, groups’ existence is less dependent on the changing whims and interests of government partners. Registration can shelter the groups from interference, a more mild form of repression that can include direct or indirect pressure placed on

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groups to change tactics and activities or dismiss problematic leaders. In sum, legal registration affords groups the opportunity to forge more formal ties with government institutions. Unregistered groups, conversely, rely on informal ties with government officials, which are not sustainable over the long term. As evidence of this characterization, of those leaders who have obtained legal registration for their organization, many claim to have done so in order to “formalize” their relationship with the government. They see registration as a chance to take fullest advantage of the political opportunity structure by ensuring that they are not too deeply embedded within the government. A prominent environmental NGO leader explained that registration is the best way for Chinese social organizations to create an “authentic government–NGO relationship” (Interview 23).1 Moreover, registration also allows groups to be more public, thereby drawing in more participants, who are crucial for ensuring long-term success. Unregistered groups, conversely, have more informal, “inauthentic relationships.” These organizations need to work harder to nurture their relationship with government officials, seeking out individual patrons, because of the precarious space that they occupy. In that sense, unregistered groups embed themselves even more fully within the state. Despite the benefits of legal registration, a large proportion of social organizations are not legally registered. Nearly 60 percent of survey respondents reported that their organization was not legally registered. Registration status varies significantly across issue area.2 Over 70 percent of environmental organizations are legally registered, whereas only 40 percent of HIV/AIDS groups and a scant 18 percent of gay and lesbian NGOs have obtained official registration.3 Even among those respondents whose organizations have become legally registered, there is considerable variation in registration type. Among registered HIV/AIDS groups, for instance, the majority have registered not as NGOs, but instead as businesses or consulting firms. Similarly, those gay and lesbian groups that have obtained legal registration have also done so primarily as businesses. The survey supports this finding, gleaned from interviews: of respondents from the HIV/AIDS issue area who obtained legal registration, over half were registered as businesses or consulting firms; among registered 1

2 3

Some leaders disagree, noting that, once a group becomes registered, it is no longer a “grassroots organization” but instead more institutionalized, and sometimes more “governmental” (and less nongovernmental) as a result. Unless otherwise noted, significance (e.g., “significant variation”) refers to Pearson’s chi-squared tests at the 95% confidence interval level or higher. A high rate of registration among environmental organizations has been found in other surveys as well (Tang and Zhan 2008). However, in focusing only on environmental groups (as has been common in studies of NGOs in China), scholars overlook the low rate of registration among social organizations in other issue areas. In doing so, these studies fail to explore the myriad reasons why groups are, and in some cases prefer to stay, unregistered; they also overlook the different interests of local and central governments vis a´ vis social organization registration.

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table 4.1. Legal Registration Type as Percentage of Registered Organizations Issue Area

NGO

Business

Consulting

Institute

All respondents Environmental HIV/AIDS Gay and lesbian

63 84 46 33

25 6 46 45

10 6 9 22

3 6 0 0

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100 due to rounding. NGO, nongovernmental organization.

gay and lesbian organizations, 67 percent were similarly registered (see Table 4.1).4 Business registration is easier to secure and often less restricting than NGO registration; leaders of organizations that have chosen this path to formal registration report that government interference is relatively low and financial freedom quite high.5 But it is not free from costs. Like social organizations registered as NGOs, groups registered as businesses must also have a professional supervising body (yewu zhuguan bumen).6 Moreover, when registered as businesses, these organizations must pay taxes that NGOs do not (Ma 2006: 68).7 The financial freedom gained through business registration is even more necessary to cover the increased costs of operating as a business instead of as a not-for-profit NGO. As shown through the survey and interview data, many NGOs operating in China today are not registered. The process of registration can be quite unpredictable and frustrating. One environmental NGO leader in Yunnan was denied registration after attempting to do so for over a year. Officials at the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MoCA) based their decision on the fact that the group’s name was “too broad” and was concerned that it could therefore engage in work 4

5

6

7

On registration type, the survey found significant variation across issue areas. Although the majority of HIV/AIDS and gay and lesbian groups were registered as businesses or consulting firms, only 11 percent of registered environmental groups had the same status. Registered organizations, irrespective of type, are not totally immune to government interference. Some leaders report that the government has used the annual registration renewal as leverage to convince a group to change its tactics or expel leaders; so, in these cases, interference is no different than for groups that are unregistered. Indicative of the confusion elicited by registration regulations, several leaders reported that when registered as businesses they did not need a government sponsors at all (Interview 2). This misconception is likely due to the low level of interference that these sponsors tend to exert toward groups registered as businesses in comparison to those registered as NGOs. Although both not-for-profit organizations and for-profit groups must pay an operating tax, nonprofits are exempt from an institutional income tax. Although this can be prohibitive for some groups, an HIV/AIDS leader noted that the regulations for not-for-profits create a disincentive for saving money; if groups have surplus funds at the end of the fiscal year, they must pay taxes on them.

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beyond its stated goals. Instead of pursuing a name change, the leader decided to forego registration and continue being unregistered. He reasoned that if they were able to do their work as an unregistered organization before, there was no reason to believe they could not stay that way (Interview 31). However, sometimes not being registered is, in fact, for lack of trying; social organization leaders do not necessarily pursue or even prefer legal registration. Interviews revealed several factors that could contribute to low rates of registration: many leaders claim the process is too complicated, the benefits are too low, and registration is simply unnecessary.8 According to the survey, the most highly ranked reason for unregistered status is that the process is simply “too complicated”; 44 percent of respondents ranked this explanation first among six different explanations.9 In the interviews, some leaders reported that the difficulty of the registration process differed across provinces. Not surprisingly, groups that have not obtained legal registration are significantly more likely to characterize the process in their home province as “somewhat harder” or “harder” (53 percent of respondents) than are organizations that have already obtained registration (13 percent). Although the survey did not find significant variation in perceived relative difficulty of registration by geographic area, it is instructive to highlight responses of groups from the primary research sites. Among Yunnan-based organizations, 30 percent characterized registration in their province as “about the same” as other areas, and another 30 percent saw the process as “somewhat harder or harder” than in other provinces. These responses support the dominant perception among interviewees that the situation in Yunnan is not necessarily as hospitable to social organizations as previously thought. Nearly 60 percent of Beijing-based survey respondents characterized the difficulty of legal registration in Beijing as “about the same” as in other provinces. This finding is not surprising. Interviewees in Beijing commonly expressed the belief that central government dictates, as they pertained to NGOs in particular, were followed in other areas of the country. Only two respondents believed any province might have a more difficult registration process. In other words, few foresaw a situation in which a local government might be stricter than the central government in Beijing.10 8

9

10

Saich (2000) notes that the governmental regulations on registration indeed restrict organizations from using overly broad names; he explains that this has to do with an attempt by officials to preserve the monopoly of some state-run social organizations. The survey included five other possible explanations, each drawn from interviews earlier in the research: “We already have good relations with the government,” “There is no pressure for us to be registered,” “It would cause us more problems, not less,” “The benefits do not outweigh the costs of the effort,” “Our work is more important than becoming registered.” In Henan, an area even more politically hostile to NGOs, the vast majority of survey respondents described registration as “somewhat harder” or “harder” than in the rest of China. Among respondents from Sichuan, usually more welcoming to social organizations, the clear majority see registration as “somewhat easier” or “easier.” This latter case shows that distance from Beijing alone is not a foolproof predictor of ease of registration, and regional variation can be more complex; Sichuan is actually slightly closer to Beijing than Yunnan.

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Many leaders see registration as offering low benefit to their organization. These leaders do not see registration as fundamental to ensuring the long-term viability of their organization. When ranking eight different determinants for organization success, just over a quarter of survey respondents placed registration among the top three.11 The survey found significant variation across issue area on the perceived importance of registration to group success. Environmental group leaders were far more likely to rank registration as a top-three determinant of success (half of respondents) than were leaders of gay and lesbian groups (less than 8 percent of respondents).12 Even more telling, 90 percent of respondents from the gay and lesbian issue area ranked registration in the bottom three of determinants. Although significant, these findings are not altogether surprising: just under 80 percent of leaders of gay and lesbian groups described their group as “successful” or “somewhat successful,” yet less than 18 percent are registered. Perhaps as a result of its perceived limited contribution to a social organization’s success, many leaders do not highly prioritize the pursuit of legal registration. Among survey respondents whose groups are not registered, 67 percent listed “our work is more important than registration” as the first or second most accurate explanation for being unregistered. Most social organization leaders believe that registration gives their groups more independence, but not all leaders see independence as a good thing. For some groups, such as environmental organizations, a formal relationship increases independence and the opportunity to raise funds, whereas informal relationships, without official registration, often lead to a closer, more embedded relationship. Given these costs, why would a leader choose an informal relationship at all? Because the vast majority of social organizations believe good relations with the government, however secured, are necessary for viability, anything that might sour these relations must be avoided. In some contexts, this can include registration: for those groups that interact more with the central government, registration should be more common; among organizations tied more closely to the local government, to the extent that they are seen as disapproving of registration, groups will resist the motivation to become registered. In some instances, leaders fear that more independence will create a rift between their organization and local governments; they believe independence breeds antagonism, thereby warranting more government scrutiny of registered groups, not less. Gallagher (2004) has convincingly shown that autonomy from the state – which these leaders associate with registration – decreases the influence of social actors. True independence, one leader argued, would make 11

12

The survey included seven other possible determinants, including: “good relations with government,” “adequate financial resources,” “cooperation with international NGOs,” “cooperation with domestic NGOs,” “having a strong voice,” “successfully forging contacts with media,” and “having adequate capacity.” HIV/AIDS groups were in between, with nearly a third of respondents ranking registration in the top-three determinants of success, more than gay and lesbian groups, but less than environmental organizations.

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accomplishing his organization’s goals nearly impossible (Interview 15).13 The reluctance to register sometimes comes from a belief that registration does not always coincide with local government interests. This is most common among groups that rely on HIV/AIDS funding, but also is increasingly the case for groups in more established issue areas: a veteran environmental leader sees a similar pattern of infrequent registration among organizations in this issue area and offers the same explanation for it (Interview 29). For some leaders, registration is simply unnecessary. As most groups have very short time horizons, the long-term benefits of registration are often not seen as outweighing the short-term costs. Among leaders of young organizations, there is a prevailing belief that registration is unnecessary; small groups, gay and lesbian organizations in particular, do not believe registration is even intended for them. A leader of a lesbian group in Yunnan laughed off a question about registration status: “How could we be registered? We do not even have an office!” (Interview 26). An environmental leader in Sichuan believes that the primary benefit of registration – the opportunity to open a bank account and thus fundraise more freely – is not worth the effort. In lieu of being registered to gain this benefit, she simply uses her own personal bank account (Interview 64).14 Even more commonly, leaders believe that preexisting good relations and frequent cooperation with government agencies make registration redundant, a position shared by some local government officials as well.15 For those leaders who believe their work is already in accordance with government interests, registration is not seen as a necessary step in organization development. Similarly, leaders commonly believe that registration is intended as a check on rogue (or otherwise potentially threatening) organizations. The idea that registration is an unnecessary process also stems from a widely held belief that there are few legal injunctions stopping groups from operating without registration and that some local governments do not insist that all groups become registered. Although there are clear regulations on the process of registration, there is no regulation that deems unregistered groups explicitly illegal.16 13 14 15

16

Considerably fewer leaders resist registration because they believe it will actually tie them closer to the government. This leader clarifies that the tactic might not work for everyone: “If you have a good relationship with the government this is not a problem. But if you have a bad relationship it will not work.” Added to this, many leaders from HIV/AIDS organizations report that local governments, with whom they often have preexisting relationships, are unaware of the specific requirements of registration. Although the 1998 regulation outlines the procedures and criteria necessary for an organization to become registered, it does not indicate that failure to do so would amount to illegal behavior and elicit a particular punishment. Of course, governments could well use other preexisting laws and regulations to exact other types of punishment, such as illegal publishing or violating state secrets laws. The most common punishment for unregistered groups appears to be simply a loss in political opportunity. This usually takes the form of soured relations with government officials or departments, as well as government intervention into the leadership choices of organizations. When registered groups violate the regulation, however, their activities can

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Indicative of this professed weak link between registration and good government relations, the survey finds no significant variation in leaders’ ratings of their organizations’ relationships with central or local governments and registration status. In other words, unregistered groups are no less likely to rate their relationship with government positively than are registered groups. In fact, many leaders of unregistered groups have cultivated a stronger informal relationship with local government officials than have registered organizations. The survey found significant variation in the frequency of informal meetings with local government officials between those groups that are registered and those that are not:17 37 percent of unregistered groups met with local government officials once a week or once a month, compared to 17 percent of registered groups, none of which reported meetings at the frequency of once a week.18 In addition to these reasons for registration status cited by organization leaders, the interviews point to four key characteristics of NGOs that have an effect on registration status, as well as the kind of registration type leaders pursue: the older the organization, the larger its budget – and the closer to the political center of Beijing – the more likely it will be registered. Based on the interviews, issue area matters as well: a higher proportion of environmental organizations appear to be registered than groups in the other issue areas, perhaps because they are both older and boast larger budgets. To further examine these theorized relationships, I estimated three probit models. The first model tests the effect of issue area on registration status, with gay and lesbian groups serving as the excluded baseline category (see Table 4.2, Model 1). As expected, the model shows that environmental organizations are more likely to be registered than groups in the other two issue areas. The second probit model holds issue area constant and tests the relation of three variables on registration status (see Table 4.2, Model 2). A third model then combines variables for distance from the political center, organization age, budget size, and issue area (see Table 4.2, Model 3). The models support the observation

17 18

also be deemed illegal, and they can face various punishments. These can include, but are not limited to, leaders placed under travel bans or even losing their registration status altogether. For instance, Xinhua reported that the China Sexology Association was ordered to cease operations for six months because of violations to their registration status as a nonprofit; MoCA officials charged that the organization was profiting from the sale of bronze “sponsorship plates” to manufacturers of sex health products (February 11, 2008). In sum, there appears to be no qualitative difference in severity of punishment for groups that are unregistered and those that are registered. Pearson’s chi-squared test is significant at p = .091. Unregistered groups, however, are significantly less likely than registered groups to have formal meetings with central government officials (Pearson’s chi-squared test is significant at p = .036); 67 percent reported meeting formally with these officials “rarely” or “never,” providing further evidence that unregistered groups enjoy closer relations with local government officials than central government officials who are far more prone to encourage/mandate that all social organizations become legally registered entities.

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table 4.2. Probit Model Results for Registration Status Model 1 Coefficient (standard error)

Variable Environmental organization HIV/AIDS organization Distance from Beijing

1.500*** (0.344) 0.700*** (0.339) –

Organization age



Organization size (budget proxy) Constant

– −0.935*** (0.234) 95 (2) 18.98

N Chi2

Model 2 Coefficient (standard error) – – −0.12* (0.068) 0.295** (0.13) 0.125** (0.051) −1.18** (0.47) 86 (3) 17.3

Model 3 Coefficient (standard error) 1.660*** (0.429) 0.012 (0.457) −0.173** (0.075) 0.141 (0.149) 0.191*** (0.071) −1.27*** (0.507) 84 (5) 27.03

Note: *** represents p < .01; ** represents p < .05; * represents p < .10; two-tailed test using Huber-White standard errors.

gleaned from interviews that the closer an organization is to Beijing, the more likely it will be registered, as is consistent with central government preferences. Based on Model 3, I estimated predicted probabilities for the three issue areas to emphasize the point (see Figure 4.1). The second model supports the notion that organization age plays an important role in predicting which groups are registered and which are not (see Table 4.2, Model 2). Among organizations less than four years old, 78 percent are unregistered. However, among those groups in existence for more than four 0.900 0.675 0.450 0.225 0 0

1-400

400-600

600-800 800-1,000 1,000-1,200 >1,200 Miles

Environmental groups

HIV/AIDS groups

Gay groups

figure 4.1. Predicted probabilities of registration by increasing distance from Beijing

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0.8 0.6 0.4 0.2 0 4

Years in existance Environmental groups

HIV/AIDS groups

Gay groups

figure 4.2. Predicted probabilities of registration by increasing organization age

years, the proportion of unregistered groups drops dramatically to 37 percent. In these cross-tabs, the survey found significant variation across group age and registration status. To further illustrate this point, I estimated predicted probabilities for groups in all three issue areas, holding distance from Beijing constant (see Figure 4.2). These data offer a compelling case that the age of a group affects its registration status. Becoming legally registered might then be part of the natural life cycle of Chinese social organizations: as groups get older, they build up the proper institutional knowledge and resources necessary to pursue legal registration; additionally, it might just be that registration is a time-intensive process that is only completed once groups are older. But this explanation is complicated by the fact that environmental groups are predominantly older than those in the other issue areas; the effect of age is also driven by the large number of older environmental groups in the survey sample.19 Although older environmental groups are more likely to be registered, the same does not hold true for organizations in the other issue areas; survey data suggest that of groups four years of age or older, a greater proportion of environmental organizations are registered than HIV/AIDS or gay and lesbian groups. Although age is important in explaining registration, budget size of social organizations also matters. The models suggest that the size of an organization’s budget (using the number of full-time paid staff members as a proxy) has a positive relationship with registration status. In fact, in Model 3, when controlling for issue area, the budget proxy had a strong effect on registration status, whereas organization age did not; the effect of budget essentially 19

Previous studies of NGOs in China have pointed to environmental groups as one of the oldest in the civil society sector. Survey results confirm this finding: 58 percent of respondents from environmental group are four years of age or older, whereas only 27 and 29 percent of HIV/AIDS and gay and lesbian groups are in the same age category, respectively.

Social Organizations and the Authoritarian State in China

70 1.00 0.75 0.50 0.25 0 0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9 10 or more

Number of full-time paid staff Environmental groups

HIV/AIDS groups

Gay groups

figure 4.3. Predicted probabilities of registration by increasing budget

washes out that of age. To illustrate this relationship, I estimated predicted probabilities for registration by budget size (see Figure 4.3).20 This relationship is not entirely surprising. One of the professed benefits of registration is that it allows groups to fundraise more easily and openly. Older, registered groups should be expected to have much larger budgets than younger, unregistered organizations. A less likely, though still probable, explanation might be that the causal arrow points in the opposite direction: larger budgets might actually help groups become registered in the first place, allowing them to devote staff members to the time-intensive task of obtaining legal registration. All of these data may properly reflect the recent history of social organization registration but may not accurately predict the future. As groups get older, they will not necessarily become registered, as some of the data seem to suggest. In fact, as the number of organizations increases in certain issue areas, there is decreasing likelihood that newer organizations will ever be registered despite their longevity. This expectation is best explained by revisiting the regulations for social organization registration. A key article in the regulations impedes increased registration, even if groups want to be registered: the 1998 regulation forbids more than one group working on the same issue in the same administrative region.21 Therefore, among groups with a wider issue portfolio, registration is easier: environmental groups, which are also usually older, work on a greater diversity of issues, allowing many environmental groups to be 20 21

The predicted probabilities for HIV/AIDS and gay groups are virtually indistinguishable and thus appear as one line in Figure 3.3. In 2004, a new regulation on foundations relaxed this particular restriction. Foundations ( jijinhui) are defined as not-for-profit NGOs that rely on foreign and domestic donations for operation. Interviewees reported that they initially hoped to take advantage of this slightly less restrictive means of registration. However, social organizations have had a difficult time registering under these foundation regulations and therefore are still subject to the 1998 social organization regulations.

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registered in the same administrative region. Among groups with a more narrow issue portfolio, however, registration is more difficult: HIV/AIDS and gay and lesbian groups work on far fewer issues, making registration of multiple organizations unlikely. Given the high rate of unregistered social organizations and the explanations offered earlier, it is clear that not all leaders are interested in becoming legally registered. But leaders’ willingness to keep their groups unregistered does not alone explain why they are able to do so. It is therefore necessary to examine the complicated government interests in social organization registration. There is considerable variation of registration preferences between levels of government: central government attitudes toward registration are easiest to explain. In general, the central government’s primary concern with NGOs is the threat they pose to the Party’s political monopoly. As such, it prefers that social organizations register in order to keep them in check (Saich 2000). The survey data suggesting an increasing probability of registration as groups near the political center of Beijing supports this characterization and the compliance of organizations with this preference. But local government interests are more complex and diverse. Moreover, political decentralization, and the lack of coordination that can result, has created an important opportunity for a local government to implement the registration laws at its leisure, only when it fits its overarching interests.22 Simply put, social organization registration is not always in the best interests of local government officials. Registration preferences vary across issue area and locality. For instance, leaders reported that governments in some provinces, such as Yunnan, are more lax about registration when groups are engaged in work that fits local interests. HIV/AIDS groups in these provinces report far less pressure to become registered than do environmental groups (Interviews 14, 20). Although many environmental groups are engaged in work that can interfere with local governments’ economic development, HIV/AIDS groups help provide a much-needed service in controlling the growing public health crisis without negatively affecting economic outputs. Where local governments are indifferent to or prefer a social organization be not registered, most groups will, in fact, stay unregistered. There are at least three (non–mutually exclusive) explanations for why local governments either condone social organizations remaining unregistered or, in some cases, even encourage them to remain unregistered: first, the 1998 regulations make it virtually impossible for the legal registration of more than one social organization 22

The central government is reportedly devising a plan to create a new bureaucracy tasked with coordinating, registering, and controlling the fledging NGO sector. An informant in Yunnan reported that local officials have used this report to put all registrations in the province on hold until it receives “policy clarifications” from Beijing (Interview 28). Therefore, even when the central government attempts to create more order, the local governments can use it to push their own interests – in this case, by keeping groups unregistered.

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that works on the same issue. Local governments are increasingly reliant on social organizations to act as service providers to help tackle pressing social problems (Shieh and Schwartz 2009; Wang and Sun 2002: 234–70). For local government officials interested in actually tackling these issues, only allowing registered groups to operate in their jurisdiction diminishes the number of available service providers and the likelihood that they will effectively solve the problems. This is particularly difficult for governments dealing with HIV/AIDS. These groups are hard-pressed to register as they all tend to work on the same issues: HIV/AIDS education and prevention. Therefore, there is a clear incentive for local governments to put aside concerns of registration status and work in coordination with unregistered social organizations. Second, unregistered groups are actually easier to control and will abide by the wishes of the government largely because they occupy a legal gray area. As such, they are even more dependent on good relations than are registered groups. Moreover, some local governments fear registration because it gives social organizations the opportunity to raise more funds independently and grow in size, potentially presenting a bigger challenge to local governments. The first explanation assumes that local officials are interested in solving social problems. But, in some cases, officials are interested in filling government coffers and lining their own pockets, alongside tackling social issues. HIV/AIDS and gay groups are primarily funded through schemes that filter money through the central government. In cases when organizations are not legally registered, funds must go through a local government agent prior to making their way to the social organization. When groups are registered, the economic opportunity for local officials is thereby eliminated. Therefore, a third explanation suggests that there is a monetary incentive for local government agents to either work with unregistered groups or even encourage them not to register in the first place. For their part, social organizations appreciate the “easy money” available through these funding schemes and also recognize that, as the primary recipient of monies, it is government officials who decide where funds go. If these organizations believe that local officials prefer unregistered groups, for the reasons cited earlier, they will also have diminishing incentives to become registered (these issues are taken up in greater depth in Chapter 6). Thus, contrary to assumptions, it is not necessarily true that groups want to obtain legal registration. Moreover, it is not necessarily true that governments want all groups to be registered. Many conflicting political and economic incentives for social and government actors complicate previous understandings of social organization registration in China.23 23

I explore the issue of registration separately and at greater length elsewhere (Hildebrandt 2011b).

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4.2 Keep the Organizations’ Activities Transparent Although many social organizations remain unregistered, they do not necessarily work in secret. Leaders of social organizations in all issue areas, irrespective of registration status, believe that one of the best ways to avoid a negative state response is to the convince governments that the group, and its work, is not a threat. Previous attention has been paid to the need for NGOs to be transparent organizations for the purpose of winning public trust (Keohane 2002). To this end, one key tactic is for organizations to maintain high levels of transparency. Both leaders who have avoided conflict and those who have experienced a negative response insist that they must make their organization as open to scrutiny as possible. Other work has alluded to the importance of social organizations increasing transparency to maintain positive relations with local officials in China (He 2003). Organizations use both active and passive methods to increase group transparency. In many cases, leaders actively pursue activities in which they can work in cooperation with government agencies. This ensures frequent interaction with the state, which is also seen as an indication that the groups are not engaged in subversive activities. In cases in which organizations are not directly cooperating with government, leaders make frequent visits to relevant government agencies. This is particularly useful when groups work on issues that are sensitive in some provinces: an unregistered HIV/AIDS leader in Henan reports making monthly visits to the PSB. She insists that this is of her own volition and argues that it is necessary to make the government feel “at ease” with her group’s activities. The tactic has worked well. She reports that government officials are always friendly and even compliment her work with HIV-infected children (Interview 54).24 Interviewees frequently stressed the importance of putting the government at ease and, in turn, explained instances of negative state response as the result of groups failing to do so. The survey supports the interviews on this point. Asked to rank different explanations for conflict between government and social organizations, “groups fail to put the government at ease” was most frequently ranked first: nearly 40 percent of respondents ranked this first, and 65 percent placed it in the top two. Although the survey found no significant variation across issue area, it does indicate that concern about putting the government at ease varies by geographic region. The survey finds that organizations farthest from Beijing were increasingly likely to rank this as the number one reason for conflict: 80 percent of respondents from organizations located 1,200 miles or more from Beijing ranked government unease as the top reason for 24

This stands in contrast to other activists, who are frequently required by local PSB officials to join them to “drink tea.” Some have reported online that these chats are not entirely friendly and are primarily intended to intimidate activists.

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conflict, whereas among Beijing-based groups only a third ranked this option at the top. This variation is likely due to the fact that groups must adapt to local government interests. This task is harder in areas where local interests diverge more from those of the political center; these areas are often the farthest away from Beijing (e.g., environmental issues in Yunnan). Even leaders working on less sensitive issues in more politically open areas employ this tactic. Many environmental groups have established websites on which they regularly publicize their activities to prove their work is always above-board and not a threat to the state. An unregistered environmental organization in Sichuan provides unsolicited updates to the local PSB. Its leader believes that this tactic is a low-cost measure that results in a positive working relationship with the government (Interview 64). HIV/AIDS and gay groups in Yunnan seek out frequent contacts with government: one group reported, on average, 70 to 80 meetings with different government agencies annually (Interview 72). Organizations also employ more passive measures, avoiding actions that might give government officials the impression that they have something to hide: an environmental leader who has had conflicts with government agencies in the past believes that carrying external hard drives and placing numerous passwords on his computers just invites scrutiny and would suggest that he has something to hide (Interview 6). This tactic of increasing transparency is not a panacea. Leaders of organizations who are very transparent still report instances of conflict. But even they believe their situation would be worse, and that they would encounter more problems, were they to be more closed and “secretive.” It is important to focus on the specific parts of government to which leaders are making their organizations transparent. Several respondents – particularly those who represented unregistered groups – made an explicit distinction between the PSB and other government agencies. According to the interviews, leaders believe that it is the PSBs, not other relevant government agencies (e.g., Ministry of Civil Affairs, Environmental Protection Bureaus, Ministry of Health, etc.) that have the greatest power to help or hurt organizations. As such, they have focused their attention on this element of the state more than on others. Previous work confirms that the PSB enforces administrative measures to control or, in some cases, completely dismantle social organizations (Howell 1995; Kang and Han 2008; Saich 2000). 4.3 Use Only Nonantagonistic Methods Not surprisingly, a strong and viable social organization in China must also avoid using antagonistic methods. When asked why some social organizations experience conflict with the government, nearly every respondent across all geographic regions and issue areas cited the same reason: these groups employ “controversial,” “extreme,” “inappropriate,” or “antagonistic” methods. It

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follows that avoiding these will lead to more political opportunities, increasing the likelihood of sustained, long-term success. In provinces and issue areas with narrowing political opportunities, such as with environmental work in Yunnan, observers believe that if groups do not abandon antagonistic methods they should expect a swift and strong negative response by the state.25 Among social organization leaders, there is no single definition of an antagonistic method; it means different things to different organizations. It can include the seemingly innocuous, such as advocating change to government policies, appearing more effective than the government in solving problems, and the more obviously threatening, such as criticizing the government, and sometimes simply working on issues that are “sensitive” and against the interests of the government. In general, the definition is largely tautological: leaders identify antagonism not by any specific act but by the kind of response that it elicits from the state. Therefore, when groups are successful, enjoying good relations with the state, they are assumed to have been using nonantagonistic and nonconfrontational methods; whereas when leaders learn of instances of negative state response, they usually assume – without any specific knowledge of the situation – that the subjects of repression were using antagonistic methods. One of the most common adaptations in this respect involves organizations making deliberate efforts to ensure that their activities do not appear to be affecting policy or societal change too quickly. Provided that groups are pragmatic, slow, and steady, moving forward “step by step,” groups do not anticipate conflict. Several HIV/AIDS leaders and leaders of gay and lesbian groups in Yunnan remarked that they enjoyed significant political space, but also understood that this was extended to them primarily because they have promoted and implemented “incremental change”; they theorize that had they pushed for “immediate and fast” change they would have encountered a negative response even though the local government is perceived to be open to the issues in which they are engaged.26 Other tactics include using preexisting laws 25

26

Social organizations receive frequent reminders from government officials to this effect. The then-director of SEPA praised the role that NGOs are playing in solving the country’s environmental crises, but at the same time noted that he expected them to “conduct self discipline” in their work (Xinhua, October 31, 2007, and November 1, 2007). Although this nonantagonistic posture is displayed by nearly all interviewees, a small number of leaders unapologetically reported using a more antagonistic behavior in their relations with government agencies. One leader of a Beijing-based group that advocates on behalf of persons infected with HIV and AIDS (a surprisingly uncommon focus for Chinese HIV/AIDS organizations) does not shy away from confrontations with government officials in his attempts to help secure second-line antiviral treatments. Although he understands why most groups take a more careful, strategic approach in their relations with governments, he reasons that these group leaders have the luxury of time. He points out that most HIV/AIDS organizations are led by people who are not infected with the virus. This leader, however, has been HIV-positive for nearly a decade. Unlike others, this leader believes he cannot move step-by-step. He ended the interview with a telling summation: “I do not have a tomorrow like other leaders. I have to live for today” (Interview 80).

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to a groups’ advantage rather than trying to push for new legislation, such as helping pollution victims pursue damages in court; groups discuss issues with the government, help resolve them, but do not “yell” at them and criticize; and other leaders believe that focusing on individuals, rather than the government, eliminates the chance for conflict with the state, an issue I take up in greater depth in Chapter 7. Some proudly note that they do not engage in “campaigns,” a term respondents mostly used in the pejorative. Campaigns were often associated with Greenpeace, which is itself cited as an example of the kind of group that is typically antagonistic and therefore an organizational model to be avoided (Interview 10).27 Criticism of the government is not, in itself, problematic. Many interviewees believe that certain government agencies deserve to be criticized. But they also insist that this should be the job of journalists, not social organizations. After all, this is not their “area of expertise” and they are “untrained” to offer criticism (Interviews 31, 60, 61, 62). Thus, a social organization should not deviate from its “proper” or “natural” role in society. Most leaders believe that it is the organizations’ responsibility to make sure the government feels comfortable and not threatened by social organizations. One of China’s most prominent and successful environmental NGO leaders, based in Beijing, notes that an often-used, but inappropriate method is the illegal collection and dissemination of environmental data. Although he acknowledges the importance of information in combating environmental degradation, he believes that using this method is a dead end. His adaptation involves using government information that is legal and already available, but difficult to access. The organization aggregates these data and places them in a centralized place – a website – for view by concerned citizens and government officials (Interview 5). Another environmental leader in Yunnan uses the same tactic, noting that it is less antagonistic to passively offer information to citizens on a website than actively and directly disseminate it (Interview 23). The obvious cost of this adaptation is that the data used might be suspect since they come from notoriously unreliable government sources. But the benefit is that, to the extent that this information is at all valuable, it at least can be legally used. 27

Organizations’ concerns with appearing too antagonistic can extend to their group nomenclature. An environmental leader who enjoys close relations with the local government in Yunnan dislikes the direct Chinese translation for “nongovernmental organization,” feizhengfu zuzhi, because the “non” or “fei” part of the term carried too negative a connotation (Interview 17). Survey respondents preferred the less negatively charged terms “civil group” (minjian zuzhi) and “grassroots organization” (caogen zuzhi) over NGO by nearly 3 to 1. The survey found significant variation across issue area in the use of self-identifiers: “NGO” was the least popular term for gay and lesbian groups, and the second most popular for environmental groups; only among HIV/AIDS groups was “NGO” the modal identifying term, and, even in this case, just barely more popular than “civil group” and “grassroots organization.” Organizational age has an effect as well. Older groups were significantly more likely to refer to themselves as “NGOs” than were younger ones.

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Were the organization to publish illegally collected information, it would never see the light of day, and his group would be shut down.28 The way groups frame their work can also lessen the appearance of antagonism toward the state. As noted in previous chapters, gay and lesbian groups might be expected to elicit a negative state response because of the many similar organizations in other parts of the world that have traditionally employed a “human rights” approach to their work. However, in the Chinese context, “human rights” represents another “third rail” of politics (see Chapter 2). As a result, leaders in this issue area frequently explain negative response as the result of organizations employing a “human rights approach” to their activities (see also Jolly 2000).29 The vast majority of gay groups report no conflict with the government, to which they credit their use of a “public health approach,” framing their work in terms of HIV/AIDS, rather than stressing the legal or human rights concerns of the gay and lesbian population in China.30 Given their familiarity with the political environment, more experienced NGO leaders are particularly unlikely to employ antagonistic methods. A prominent environmental leader notes that he does not need to be controversial because his group is already well-established (Interview 5); leaders who have had conflicts with governments are commonly described as immature and unrealistic. An HIV/AIDS organization leader in Henan, who enjoys a conflictfree relationship with the government, criticized a fellow leader whose group was closed by the provincial government. She insists that he was too confrontational in his interaction with the government and moved too quickly, “thinking he could change the world by himself” (Interview 40). In sum, he did not adapt his methods and, according to this leader, should have anticipated the negative result.

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An infrequent but important sentiment was expressed by an environmental leader who enjoys close relations with the central government. Although he insists that groups must proceed with caution, using nonantagonistic methods and working on uncontroversial issues, social organizations can be too safe. He argues that if “playing it safe” negatively affects the group’s bottom line – its primary purpose – they should not “play at all” (Interview 5). Informants frequently cited the most famous HIV/AIDS activist in China, Hu Jia, as an example of inappropriate methods at work. They note that he has relied on a human rights frame rather than a public health one. This has resulted in a great deal of positive attention around the world, including nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize and receipt of a European Union human rights award, but continuing negative response from the government at home. Some observers suspect that, for gay and lesbian groups, the use of a human rights frame is of less concern than for HIV/AIDS groups simply because of their small size. Given that the active and “out” LGBT population accounts for a small fraction of the general population, informants suspect that even if a lesbian group, for example, uses a human rights approach to their work, the government would neither notice nor care. This view suggests that, by virtue of the small size and number of gay and lesbian groups, they might enjoy more political space without needing to make as frequent and significant adaptations as groups in other issue areas. Still, the vast majority of gay and lesbian groups are taking the more careful approach anyway.

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Because leaders cannot define antagonism very well, they also do not know if they have been antagonistic until it is too late. Therefore, they err on the side of caution and control themselves in a way that the government could never do directly. A potential downside to this general tactic in all issue areas is that leaders sometime become overly concerned with appearing “nonantagonistic” and take precautions that might negatively impact the growth of the organization. In the effort to stay nonantagonistic, some groups run the risk of passively or actively driving away a new generation of leadership: a gay group in Yunnan was concerned with the perceived “independence” of some staff members, and some were fired as a result (Interview 2). This can cripple institutional development, reducing the possibility of capable individuals who can sustain the group over the long term. 4.4 Minimize Links with Other Groups Conventional wisdom and past experience from other contexts suggest that social organizations, particularly those that share goals, are stronger when united in solidarity than when they are atomized; group linkages are also crucial for ensuring a long-term future (Granovetter 1983; Keck and Sikkink 1998). Although Chinese social organizations often seek out frequent interaction and cooperation with government actors, linkages with other domestic groups are more rare: 56 percent of survey respondents reported interacting with other domestic groups only once a year.31 Domestic NGOs display a surprisingly high level of ignorance about the activities and even existence of other groups. One of the most prominent environmental leaders in Kunming, for instance, was surprised to learn that the city was home to NGOs other than environmental groups (Interview 23). Many HIV/AIDS organizations shared similarly high levels of ignorance about environmental groups. This is more surprising given that environmental groups are China’s oldest and most successful social organizations and, presumably, should be well known by other social actors. Even groups doing work in the same issue area and province plead ignorance when asked about other similar organizations.32 The lack of knowledge about other groups makes interaction and cooperation practically impossible. Infrequent interaction among domestic social groups can be explained by increased competition over economic opportunities (an issue explored further in the next chapter). But it is also likely driven by political concerns: organizations purposefully minimize links with other groups in order to expand their own political opportunities. Organization leaders commonly believe that frequent cooperation between groups can make government agencies fearful of more broad-based, threatening social organization solidarity. They suggest that 31 32

Tang and Zhan (2008) have also observed a lack of collaboration among environmental groups. Most shocking, the leader of Yunnan’s oldest environmental NGOs claimed that he knew none of the most well-known environmental leaders in Beijing (Interview 47).

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this fear could sour relations, making their work more difficult in the short term and hindering prospects for survival over the long term: an HIV/AIDS leader in Henan explained that cooperation is infrequent in part because each group in the province has a different focus. But, she noted that, more importantly, the government does not support collaboration (Interview 54).33 These interviews support other scholars’ observations and various news reports about the hostile environment in Henan for NGOs generally and networking particularly (Davis 2005; Fan 2007; Watts 2006; Yardley 2007). Groups are careful in areas that have few and narrow political opportunities, such as Henan, but also in areas where the political space is reportedly much greater: environmental and HIV/AIDS groups in Sichuan, for example, report infrequent interaction with other similar social organizations. Organization leaders in every issue area and geographic region suggest that close and frequent interaction with other domestic NGOs should be minimized in order to improve or maintain their relations with governments. But there are other cases in which ties should be avoided altogether. When one group leader is seen as having taken an antagonistic posture, or has otherwise had conflicts with the state, other leaders steer their organizations away. They fear that if they are too close to that group, their organization will be tainted, thus increasing the likelihood of experiencing a similar negative state response. One of the most visible HIV/AIDS activists in China has become largely alienated from other leaders in the country. Because of the negative response he has received by the government (e.g., house arrest), other organizations are reluctant to interact with him, leading many to claim that his influence in the domestic NGO community has all but evaporated. An environmental leader in Yunnan learned this same lesson the hard way. In 2006, his organization launched a watershed protection project in the southern part of the province. To increase its effectiveness, he employed the consultant services of a wellknown environmental activist who had led similar programs in northwestern Yunnan. However, this activist’s reputation as a “troublemaker” had followed him across the province. On learning of his involvement, local officials deemed the whole project illegal. As a result, the leader insists he is now more careful about the groups and leaders with whom his organization associates (Interview 47). So, contrary to claims of ignorance about other groups cited earlier, leaders might, in fact, be well aware of other groups but choose to downplay this connection in interviews. This is not to suggest that the government always dislikes social organization cooperation. Among HIV/AIDS and gay groups, leaders report infrequent interactions with other organizations but note that when they do cooperate 33

Even international NGOs are reluctant to interact with domestic groups, citing reasons similar to those of Chinese social organization leaders. An environmental leader in Yunnan said that her group avoids cooperation with domestic groups out of fear that the government might “misunderstand” the actions as being a threat to the regime (Interview 10).

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it is usually when asked to do so by local government agencies in service of a limited-term project or day-long conference. In this case, the government plays the unlikely role of matchmaker between social organizations, the kind of aggregation that we expect the government to resist. By limiting their interactions with other domestic groups, social organizations are confident that they can take fuller advantage of available political opportunities. Ensuring that they do not appear a threat to the government is an effective solution for a group’s short-term goals. However, the implications to the long-term health of the groups and the civil society sector in general can be decidedly negative. Individual groups may thrive, but networking is impeded to the point that groups do not even know that others exist; even if they do, they either avoid ties with other groups or break them when they become a liability. This lack of ties can hurt the social sector’s ability to address pressing social problems, and also hinder efforts to share information and strategies that might ensure longer term success for individual groups. It also, quite clearly, interferes with efforts at forming solidarity within and across issue areas, which is crucial for a civil society to thrive. 4.5 Adjust to Changing Government Policies The most straightforward tactic to take advantage of the political opportunities is for social organization leaders to directly adjust their groups’ activities to complement government policies. When an organization’s activities complement government interests, good relations should result. The leader of an environmental NGO in Sichuan understands the importance of matching the work of her group with the interests of governments, noting that explaining success is quite simple: it is on account of “our interests converging with the government’s” (Interview 55). Some leaders acknowledge that adapting to policies is easiest when working with government agencies that are more technocratic and in areas with easy access and receptive local governments, which are not necessarily the areas in most need.34 To take fullest advantage of available political opportunities and expand political space, groups must always be transparent in their activities, employ nonantagonistic methods, and 34

Adapting to government interests is easier in some situations than others. Respondents are generally well aware of the interests of local government officials due to their often close and frequent interaction. As for the central government, many leaders rely on government reports to keep tabs on Beijing’s interests. An examination of Xinhua news releases shows that the central government has a positive public impression of NGOs, particularly those that work on environmental issues. During the field research for this book, I noted at least seven laudatory mentions of environmental social organizations in seven months on the following dates: August 21, September 4, October 15 and 31, and December 13 and 18, 2007; and February 21, 2008. Although less frequent, Xinhua published two positive mentions of HIV/AIDS NGOs on April 15 and July 12, 2007. During this time, Xinhua released no negative stories on NGOs; however, it did post articles criticizing several “activists.”

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minimize links with other groups. These tactics are relatively simple, low-cost adaptations that rarely change. But ensuring that a group’s work reflects government interests is more complicated because these interests change over time, sometime with little warning. Adaptations to changing government policies are most easily seen in contexts in which policies once extended plentiful political opportunities for social organizations but that have been contracted by new emerging local government interests. In the case of environmental NGOs in Yunnan, as economic priorities have become more important for provincial and local officials, the work of these groups has grown exceedingly difficult (Lo and Tang 2006; Ma and Ortolano 2000; Mertha 2008; Tang et al. 1997). An environmental leader in Yunnan admits that the barriers to doing work in the province are great; they have grown in light of the local government’s pivot toward economic development and away from environmental protection. These barriers, including increasing restrictions on activities, chilly relations with officials, and difficulty in fundraising, are large, but can be overcome over time. He argues that leaders who have frustrated the people of the province could be successful if they took the time to understand and adapt to the changing interests of the government (Interviews 31, 59). Large infrastructure projects, like dam construction, are understood to be one target of environmental organizations that directly interferes with the interests of the Yunnan provincial government.35 The easiest adaptation for environmental groups in Yunnan on this issue is to simply avoid such issues. A leader admitted, “dams are an issue we do not even touch . . . it would get us shut down” (Interview 36). Instead, environmental groups are engaged in projects like pollution control, where the negative environmental and health impacts can be easily displayed and that are small-scale such that they do not interfere with important economic interests. A group in Yunnan, for example, works with local farmers to use pesticides more safely and effectively. Although it is more difficult to attract international support to fund these less visible, more mundane projects, focusing on this noncontroversial issue allows the group to maintain strong relations with local government officials. This group is less economically stable, but is politically stable. Another organization in the same province, conversely, has fallen out of favor with officials due to its past work on damrelated issues. In this case, the group leader has enjoyed international praise and an upsurge in funding, but has a tense relationship with the local government. His organization is economically stable, but its long-term future is still in doubt. 35

With the exception of the Three Gorges Dam project, the conflict between development and environmental protection is not seen as problematic at the central government level as it is in Yunnan. Although the Yunnan provincial government is concerned about environmental groups interfering with industry, the central government has continually lauded the efforts of one Beijing-based NGO to publicly shame polluting businesses and industry throughout China (Xinhua, August 21, 2007, and January 21, 2008).

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In some cases, organizations need to do more than simply not work against the economic interests of the local government. They must work for them. As such, many social organizations have embraced the role of service provider to the state, acknowledging that this is one of the best ways to increase their political opportunities and ensure longer-term viability (Shieh and Schwartz 2009; Wang and Sun 2002: 234–70).36 They expressed a surprisingly high level of sympathy with the government in resolving the myriad social problems in China. As such, they demonstrate a seemingly genuine desire to gain the trust of government. This trust is achieved when the state believes that the groups’ existence helps the state with a pressing need but does not also pose a threat to its monopoly of political power. In short, these groups provide an important service at a low political and economic cost. Local government officials, in general, appear to be happy to employ the services of many social organizations, as evidenced by the growth and orientation of groups studied in this research. A veteran NGO leader in Yunnan notes that, in the last decade, the local government has gone from not understanding what social organizations are to regularly taking advantage of the services they can provide. She speculates that government officials look to directories of NGOs as “catalogues of free services” (Interview 74). However, this good will has limits. Groups must restrict their focus to issues that the government is unable to solve or is not currently addressing; to serve the interests of the government, organizations must not work on issues in which the government is already engaged and must be careful to not appear as though they are competing with the government. Therefore, for organizations to adapt to government interests, it is sometimes contingent upon them to convince the government that they can provide a service. In other words, groups cannot simply wait for a demand to emerge. They sometimes need to create it. Environmental organizations often make the case that ecological protection can provide more economic benefits than traditional development. This is a difficult task, as social organization leaders are usually competing with developers who offer citizens and government officials an immediate, tangible, economic benefit. Therefore, to appeal to more immediate government interests, environmental groups working in southwest China have provided funding, technical expertise, and manpower to build roads, create programs to facilitate animal husbandry, and provide language training for women. But this is costly and can be a difficult case to make. It is clear from the example of environmental groups in Yunnan that the interests of local governments often trump the policies of the central 36

Because “NGO as service provider” has blurred the lines between government and nongovernment sectors, this phenomenon has been primarily studied in authoritarian contexts. However, it is not limited to non-democracies. Previous work explored the service provision role of NGOs in democratic states like Australia (He 2003) and Japan (Pekkanen 2000). In a similar vein, Jalali shows how successful organizations in India usually cultivate a “pragmatic partnership with the state” because it is the government that ultimately controls political access and, as in China, most international funds intended for the voluntary sector (2008: 173).

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government, thereby expanding or contracting political opportunities for social organizations. But this does not stop NGOs in all issue areas from framing their work in terms that make their goals mesh well with the efforts of the central government.37 Groups can use central government interests to highlight their own work and make the case that their activities are beneficial to society.38 Adaptation to government policies can be particularly overt; social organizations often employ the same rhetoric of governments. In recognition of President Hu Jintao’s efforts to create an “harmonious society” (hexie shehui) through “scientific development” (kexue fazhan guan), numerous groups have rewritten mission statements or otherwise reframed their activities to highlight their dedication to helping the government build this “harmonious society.”39 Groups have also worked provincial policy rhetoric into their activities; numerous environmental NGOs in Yunnan proclaim their role in helping create a “Colorful Yunnan.” Social organizations in some geographic areas working on HIV/AIDS-related issues have an easier time adapting their activities to local government policies than do other groups. Although the country has only recently begun widescale efforts to control the emerging health crisis, provincial and local governments across the country have been generally willing to address the issue.40 As a result, survey respondents from HIV/AIDS and gay and lesbian organizations report positive relations with government and believe their activities complement government policies. Political opportunities come from their ability to assist the government in solving a pressing social problem without interfering with any obvious set of economic interests, thus setting them apart from environmental groups in some areas of China.41

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Acts of strategic framing have been explored in the rationalist social movement literatures. For example, social organization leaders can use “diagnostic” frames to more effectively define the problems that need attention and “motivational” frames to rationalize participation (Snow and Bedford 1986, 1996; Zald 1996). The discussion of framing in this book, however, is different from most analyses in the social movement literatures in that it does not focus on frames intended to gain societal support for groups, but rather those designed to elicit governmental approval. Groups sometimes will reframe their work to appeal to different policies and interests at the central and local levels in hopes that one will resonate best and expand their opportunity structure. Chinese social organizations are not the only nongovernmental actors employing popular governmental policy rhetoric. Businesses have also followed suit. For example, in 2007, Yunnan Copper erected billboards throughout Kunming, the provincial capital of Yunnan, announcing its own devotion to “scientifically and harmoniously developing” the company. Local governments throughout China have given at least rhetorical support to the fight against HIV/AIDS. Moreover, the state has highlighted the importance of NGOs in tackling HIV/AIDS. Central government officials promised to mobilize social organizations to the “fullest extent” (Xinhua, July 18, 2007). In some provinces, the desire to address the problem of HIV/AIDS is so great that local governments have turned a blind eye to some social groups that might have grander, even potentially

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To be sure, the increase in political opportunities for HIV/AIDS-related work does not extend to all areas of the country. Organizations working in Henan have a far more difficult time adapting to local government policies: an HIV/AIDS group operating in the province reports having to consistently remind local governments that it exists to be merely a “firefighter” that works to control the disease, rather than a “prosecutor” that is seeks to blame and claim against the government (Interview 45). Although most provincial government officials appear to believe that activities devoted to controlling HIV/AIDS will be a net economic benefit, this position is not universal. Government officials are apparently fearful that public activities and discussion of the province’s own experience with the virus will scare off economic investment.42 One of the few successful HIV/AIDS organizations in Henan has, therefore, attempted to address the health crisis as part of a broader “poverty alleviation” project that explicitly seeks to increase economic development in the province. This tactic appears to be more palatable to the government and in sync with its interests. Adapting an organization’s activities to government policies might have been difficult for gay groups were it not for HIV/AIDS. Without the public health crisis, gay organizations do not see any government policy on which they could link their activities; the Chinese government has not launched any effort to protect or promote the interests of gays and lesbians, aside from the 1997 de facto “legalization” of homosexuality (discussed in the previous chapter). But, with new attention paid to HIV/AIDS, gay groups have adapted to this government interest and have seen their political opportunities expand as a result. Gay organizations frame all of their activities in terms of how they help combat HIV/AIDS and report that the government believes they have an important role to play.43 These groups “must be loud about AIDS but quiet about other issues” in order to enjoy the most political space (Interview 71).44

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nefarious motives. A former leader from Yunnan reports that many international groups working on HIV/AIDS in the province are Christian missionaries. Although she believes the government is uncomfortable with their presence in the region, their need for assistance in stopping the health crisis outweighs concerns about illegal religious activities, at least for the time being (Interview 28). A leader of a gay group in Yunnan reports that social organizations are sometimes unusually antagonistic when addressing HIV/AIDS, but believes the local government is more forgiving because these groups continue to provide a valuable service (Interview 73). In a rare public comment on HIV/AIDS, the provincial governor highlighted the importance of securing jobs for infected residents to improve Henan’s economic development (Xinhua, March 7, 2008). Although framing all of their activities in terms of HIV/AIDS, these organizations devote some attention to other issues pertaining to China’s LGBT population. Their focus on the health crisis comes almost completely out of a desire to exploit related political and economic opportunities rather than a true devotion to the cause. I explore this issue at greater length in the next chapter. In 2006, a gay group based at Sun Yatsen University in Zhuhai received some media attention for being the first such organization officially registered. Although the group’s activities were not framed in terms of combating HIV/AIDS, it was also not officially characterized as having a focus on homosexuals; its official registration has the group classified as a “gender issues” organization (BBC, November 13, 2006).

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If groups continue to focus on HIV/AIDS – and assuming the government stays interested in the service they provide – the political opportunity will remain. However, this reveals the limitations of adaptation for gay groups. If the crisis abates or the government loses interest, their once easy task of adapting would become more difficult. It is not surprising that in regions where HIV/AIDS is not as pressing an issue, political opportunities for gay groups are not as plentiful. To understand the importance and difficulty of adapting an organization’s work to government interests, it is instructive to examine a situation in which an issue area has no clear relevance to policy: lesbian organizations have a more difficult time adapting to government policies because they do not represent a key HIV/AIDS demographic. Although some lesbian organizations have engaged in HIV/AIDS-related activities, the majority have avoided this issue. They believe they have little to offer the state in terms of a service, and, as a consequence, are “invisible to the government” (Interview 26). This does not mean that lesbian groups are not concerned about their strength or viability. They report that government ignorance of their organization affords them the opportunity to engage in activities that more visible groups cannot. They are not bogged down by the need to provide a service to the government, only to their own constituency. Even among groups engaged in particularly policy-relevant work, leaders express some clear frustrations because the changing interests of the government are not always well known by organizations. As a result, groups do not always know what they can and cannot do and still stay in the government’s good graces; they want to play by the rules of the game, but find it difficult when these rules are unclear. In a meeting between HIV/AIDS groups and Yunnan provincial government officials, one leader articulated this frustration, “We want to know what we can do! Tell us what we are allowed to do, and this will help us decide our activities!”45 An HIV/AIDS leader in Beijing shared similar concerns and expressed a desire for more information on government interests so that he could adapt to them. He insists that if the government were clearer about what social organizations can do, he would happily comply (Interview 79). This ambiguity of interests is likely part of a broader government strategy, in which case leaders’ calls for clarification may be falling on deaf ears. In other polities, uncertainty has been used as an inexpensive and effective means of social control by way of creating a “chilling effect” (Crozier 1964). Governments are purposefully vague about limits and unclear about what behavior social actors can and cannot get away with. When they do choose to put a stop to the actions of an actor, punishment is usually swift and severe. Uncertain about what amounts to going “too far,” actors are therefore overly cautious about their behavior, controlling themselves in a way that is more efficient 45

Participant observation, August 29, 2008, Kunming, Yunnan.

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and effective than the government could hope for. This strategy has worked to control the Chinese media, resulting in widespread, low-cost self-censorship (Hassid 2008), as well as to control Internet users in the country (Peters 2002). Adapting to government interests, playing the role of service provider, has some short-term benefits in expanding political opportunities but does not ensure long-term viability. As these groups help increase state capacity, the usefulness of these organizations might diminish, and their political opportunities could narrow. When the government becomes more competent in dealing with issues, as, for example, through extending more power to government environmental protection agencies and bureaus, the perceived need for environmental organizations could wane. As the government gains expertise in certain areas, it will be less willing to allow social organizations working in these same areas to exist; that would amount to the social organization becoming a government competitor, which, as noted earlier, is seen as particularly problematic.46 A large number of leaders expect this outcome, but they are not necessarily concerned about it. In fact, some insisted that it should be “celebrated” as proof that social organizations were successful and solved the problem they originally set out to address. This suggests that leaders may not believe in the need for social organizations to exist beyond the time it takes to meet their particular goals to build and strengthen a larger civil society. There is a minority, but vocal, position that argues that, as social organizations have become service providers, they are becoming too embedded within the state. One leader notes that groups that originally started as “grassroots organizations” are fast approaching something that resembles government-organized nongovernmental organizations (GONGOs) (Interview 13). Although some GONGOs appear to have been spun-off from government (Wu 2004), others have done the opposite. 4.6 Indulge Government’s Reputational Concerns In adapting to government policies, social organizations can appeal to a need for service provision, such as helping the government tackle problems of ecological degradation or HIV/AIDS, or even helping bring more direct economic rewards to local governments. Social organizations also can adapt to a different but very important concern for many local governments: reputation. If groups can either diminish the likelihood that government will be blamed for problems or put them in a position to receive credit for solving problems, they can enjoy greater political opportunities.47 46

47

This would also violate one of the basic tenets of corporatist relationships; the constituent units in such a system are, among other things, expected to be “noncompetitive,” both with other units and the state (Schmitter 1974: 93–94). Spires highlights the same dynamic in his study of grassroots NGOs in China while showing that social organizations and the authoritarian state coexist in a “contingent symbiosis” (2011).

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Organizations across geographic region and issue areas recognize the need to avoid activities that might suggest that the government is to blame for social problems (Cai 2008).48 This is of particular concern in dealing with issues related to China’s image abroad. When explaining negative state response, several informants speculated that organizations had conflicts with the government because they criticized the Chinese state in the international press. An easy adaptation, then, is for groups to simply avoid this type of criticism and move away from potentially controversial activities, particularly those that involve foreign policy. These concerns might explain why survey respondents reported infrequent contact with international media: 58 percent characterized their contact as “very rare,” whereas 32 percent reported never having had contact with foreign media; leaders interact with domestic media far more frequently, with only 4 percent reporting no contact, but 22 percent reporting monthly contacts. Reputational concerns are greater for some governments than others. In regards to HIV/AIDS, the provincial and local governments in Henan are particularly concerned with their image. This stems from the well-publicized role of government officials in a plasma-selling scheme widely believed to be the primary source of HIV infection in the province. Local officials have grudgingly begun to acknowledge the enormity of the crisis, at times making public comments and hosting international conferences on prevention and control.49 However, interest in HIV/AIDS has limits when the government’s reputation is under threat. The provincial government banned a conference that was to be hosted by domestic and international NGOs working on HIV/AIDS issues.50 Therefore, in Henan, the political opportunities are fewer and narrower because of fear that social organizations will work to place blame on the local government and damage its reputation.51 Reputational concerns can help explain the tactic employed by one leader, noted earlier, who worked to emphasize his group’s desire to help the government, not “prosecute” it (Interview 45). 48

49 50 51

In chronicling instances of suppression throughout the country, Cai (2008) observes that the vast majority of cases were the result of individuals who threatened the image or reputation of local government officials. In 2007, the provincial government hosted a conference in conjunction with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) (Xinhua, September 8, 2007). Reuters, August 15, 2007. This is less of an issue in Yunnan. Although the province has the highest incidence of HIV/AIDS in the country, government officials are able to blame the entrance and spread of the virus on both out-groups and foreign sources. An article about the crisis in Yunnan, published by Xinhua, highlighted the role of drugs coming from the “golden triangle” areas outside China in contributing to the spread (September 2, 2007). Although gay men and straight women are beginning to account for a larger proportion of incidence of HIV/AIDS, the two largest risk groups in Yunnan are still intravenous drug users (with prevalence rates of more than 20 percent) and female sex workers (less than 5 percent but trending upward). Unlike Henan, which is in the middle of the country, Yunnan is bordered on two sides by countries with their own HIV/AIDS problems (Lu et al. 2008).

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Local governments are not simply concerned about being blamed for problems. More frequently, they desire to be recognized and given credit when problems are effectively addressed. Chinese government officials are widely seen as self-interested individuals, concerned about meeting goals mainly to improve their career trajectory. Keeping this in mind, leaders in all three issue areas believe that giving credit to the government when they engage in their work – even when credit is not due – is a key tactic necessary for forging and maintaining good relations with government. This concern is so great that an HIV/AIDS group leader in Yunnan dismissed one of his employees because he felt that the employee did not publicly give adequate credit to the group’s government partner, the provincial health bureau (Interview 9). The importance of giving government credit as a means of taking advantage of political opportunities is displayed well by an increasingly popular strategy employed by groups in all issue areas. The strategy includes two key steps. First, groups forego formal government permission, thereby limiting the potential for blame on the government if the planned action goes awry. An HIV/AIDS group leader in Yunnan explained through example: her organization was interested in launching a needle exchange program in the provincial capital of Kunming, but such programs were deemed illegal at the time. Rather than ask for permission and be told that its efforts, like those of other groups before them, are prohibited, the group simply began the program anyway; using the popular Nike slogan in English, she explained that leaders should “Just do it!” In granting permission for a project, the local government would assume the risks associated with any problems that may come of the project. Given government concerns about blame, few groups believe local governments are willing to assume these risks. Reputational concerns become clear again in the crucial second step. If the project is a success and attracts attention from media or, often more importantly, the central government, the organization will credit the local government for its “support.” This provides organizations with an opportunity to stroke the ego of officials, pad their resumes for promotion, and, in turn, forge strong relationships with local governments. Projects do not always succeed; in which case, the organization shoulders all responsibility: the government does not bear any blame in the failure because it was unaware of the group’s activities from the beginning. Leaders who have used this strategy do not report a strong negative state response. If the project fails, or the government is unhappy with the activities, repercussions are usually small. This does not mean, however, that they are nonexistent. An environmental NGO, in conjunction with a Yunnan-based research group, used this strategy in placing environmental monitoring equipment along parts of the province’s southern border. Once made aware of the equipment, local government officials grew concerned. The participating group was not punished. However, its equipment, valued at nearly US$1 million, was destroyed and no compensation given (Interview 29). Environmental NGO leaders who report using this strategy also note that it is crucial for groups to not only survive but thrive and do the work that

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they think is necessary to meet their goals. For example, an environmental organization in Sichuan, working to save the Tibetan antelope from ecological degradation in the headwaters of the Yangtze, discovered that the antelope’s diminishing numbers were largely due to railroad construction that interrupted its migration path. His request for the state to cease work on the railroad for two hours each day when migration was most heavy was approved in only eight hours. He explains this rapid success as the result of his vow to give significant credit for the environmental protection efforts to the local highway bureau, by which the local officials could attach themselves to an issue that is increasingly salient to the general public (Hildebrandt 2009).52 Widespread use of the strategy supports the claim that governments care about receiving credit, and, by extending it to them, social organizations can ensure more effective engagement in their activities with little government inference or intervention. However, there are limits to the strategy. It would be unlikely to work well on activities in which the government is already engaged. If a group attempts to do a project too similar to a government-sponsored one, it could appear as though the group is undermining the government, making it look bad, or stealing its thunder; organizations must not appear to be competitors of the government (see also Davis 2005; Goodman 2005). Although most leaders believe this strategy is useful, some think that it is too functionalist and short-term. It works well in keeping groups afloat and engaging in the activities they are most interested in, but is not well-suited for building strong organizations or civil society. By giving credit due to the group to the government instead, some leaders believe it is difficult to convince potential supporters, donors, and other government agencies that these groups are important and effective service providers. The paradox is clear. To do their work in the short term, groups often need to create the impression that the government is responsible for their successful activities. But, in doing so, they risk losing attention and recognition, which can hamper long-term prospects for the organization; such recognition can be crucial for attracting the attention – and financial backing – of the international community. 4.7 The Costs of Adaptation Chinese social organizations employ the aforementioned tactics to take fuller advantage of the otherwise narrow political opportunity structure. These adaptations result in varying degrees of success and are not uniform across geographic region or issue areas. Tactics used by organizations in the same issue area might be more successful in one province than another (e.g., HIV/AIDS

52

According to an opinion poll released in the summer of 2005, 95 percent of respondents agreed that the government should increase its spending on environmental protection, and 97 percent suggested that the state should take the public’s concerns into consideration (China Development Brief, August 15, 2005).

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groups in Yunnan and Henan). Therefore, it is difficult to predict how useful one tactic might be. Even more vexing, however, is understanding whether groups are employing these tactics strategically or even consciously. In the wake of events like the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, or instances of very public government dissatisfaction with the work of social organizations, such as occurred in the Nu River dam project, some NGOs report having received a “clear message” and have moderated their behavior or activities in response (Interview 11). In particular, groups that have experienced conflicts with the state appear aware of the tactics they employ and the adaptations they make in the wake of problems. Many report that these tactics are of great import to the “game they play” to maintain good relations with governments, which are necessary for continuing their work. Most leaders who are upfront about making adaptations do not see themselves as compromising their overall goals. An environmental leader in Yunnan who has experienced recent negative state responses insists that his group continues to fulfill its charge of curtailing environmental degradation and “reach [for] the top of the mountain,” but it just needs to “climb that mountain in a safer, different way” (Interview 23). This fits well with the hypothesis explained at the beginning of this chapter, but it was not the most common response. Although all groups were willing to discuss the tactics they use to do their work, the vast majority of organizations insist that they do not make adaptations in response to cases of repression or other negative state responses. An environmental leader in Sichuan responded passionately, “There is no need to change! I am open. I have nothing to hide. I have done nothing wrong that needs changing” (Interview 64). Likewise, the leader of a gay organization in Yunnan insisted, “We do not need to change our methods because we do not do anything wrong!” (Interview 68).53 Chinese social organizations are often rewarded with greater political opportunities for working within the system, but punished for working against it. By making adaptations to the opportunity structure, groups have employed an effective medium-term survival strategy. Leaders most worried about their immediate future are those most willing to make these adaptations. Those who express a desire to effect fundamental change in their specific issue area are the 53

There are three possible explanations for this common reaction: first, leaders have simply internalized adaptation. The adaptations leaders make in response to the response of the state could be so deeply inculcated that they moderate their behavior unconsciously. Second, because many of these organizations are relatively new, and their leaders drawn from other organizations, they have learned how to take advantage of the current political opportunities and have made the adaptations before even starting the group; they knew what they could and could not do at their inception, and therefore have not needed to make a change. Third, by acknowledging change, leaders are also admitting that they were on the wrong side of the government, if for only a moment; they are quick to declare how their group goals have always complemented government interests.

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ones more likely to work outside or against the system. Although some groups deviate from the norm, social organizations display relatively similar strategies of adaptation across issue area. There is some important variation, however. Environmental groups boast higher rates of registration than do groups in other issue areas. Most groups are very transparent about their activities, although lesbian groups tend to be less transparent, if for no other reason than that the government has by and large ignored them. Not surprisingly, groups in all issue areas are careful not to employ antagonistic methods. Networking with other NGOs is relatively low in all issue areas; some older environmental groups are more likely to interact with domestic groups, as are lesbian groups, which are relatively small in number, making interactions a bit easier. Groups in each issue area, with the exception of lesbian organizations, are mindful to indulge the government’s reputational concerns. The greatest variation, however, comes with the degree to which organizations complement policies; most of this has to do with the fact that policies vary significantly across issue area and geographic region, as explained in the previous chapter. Although adaptations to the political opportunity structure are not seen as particularly onerous, they carry with them implications for the long-term viability of social organizations and the achievement of the group’s goals, as well. First, irrespective of registration status, social organizations will be circumscribed by the government in some way or another: registered groups, because of legal clarity, enjoy more political and economic opportunities but also must abide by a strict criteria. Unregistered groups save the effort of registration (which might actually preclude their existence completely) but are also more tightly tied to the state and are therefore restricted in a different, informal way. Over the long term, these unregistered groups face several problems, not the least of which is the difficulty (and legal impossibility) of fundraising. Second, to avoid government concerns of solidarity building, organizations have remained atomized and are resistant to networking with other groups. This has serious implications for civil society building and for achieving individual group goals of improving social services; coordination between groups is often crucial if these organizations hope to have a real impact on the issues they care about. Moreover, focusing on cultivating these ties with the government can distract groups from doing actual work and making an impact. Recent research on other labor groups in southern China has made a similar point that domestic NGOs exhibit an antisolidarity trend (Lee and Shen 2008). Third, tackling their specific issue area interests is also complicated by the push to match their work to government policies. This is not as problematic when the government has good policies, but it stifles the innovation and input that can be a valuable asset of nongovernmental organizations. Fourth, by giving credit to the government, groups will have difficulty building a reputation independent of their government partners, which can hurt prospects for fundraising. Finally, a far-reaching implication is that those groups most successfully taking advantage of political opportunities are also those most comfortable

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with the status quo. The more benefits these adaptations yield, the less likely groups will be to operate outside the system or challenge the status quo. Fewer instances of repression represent a short-term success for some social organizations, but could also foretell a gloomy future for a vibrant, independent civil society in China. In other words, social organizations have adapted to the political opportunity structure (and the occasional changes in it, as evidenced by changing government preferences) to survive. But the adaptations necessary to ensure strength today are not always conducive to strength and viability in the medium and long term. What, at first glance, might seem to be an evolutionary cycle – where the fittest survive – might actually be counterevolutionary, in which the strongest today are the least fit over time. This chapter has demonstrated the dynamism with which social organizations adapt to political opportunity across issue areas and geographic regions. Nongovernmental organizations’ playbook of tactics include maintaining nonantagonistic postures, displaying high levels of transparency, avoiding links with other groups (especially those that have fallen out of favor with government officials), adapting directly to changing government interests, and indulging state concerns for recognition. Legal registration remains a far more complicated tactic that can vary significantly. This issue receives further attention in Chapter 6. The next section of the book (Part II) examines economic opportunities, the second subset of the opportunity structure, and one that proves most difficult for Chinese social organizations to navigate.

part ii ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITIES

5 More Money, More Problems Struggling with Economic Opportunities

Because China’s political system is still decidedly authoritarian, ruled by a single party for the last sixty years, it is reasonable to expect that political opportunities for social organizations are narrow. And they are. However, nongovernmental organization (NGO) leaders have learned how to make the adaptations necessary to carve out enough space within which to engage in their work. Although necessary, political opportunities alone are not sufficient to explain the existence of Chinese social organizations (nor predict their future). Resource mobilization literatures suggest that the emergence and growth of social organizations are tied closely to the availability and use of financial resources. Thus, we must expand the opportunity structure to include funding. It is on the matter of economic opportunities that NGO leaders express the kind of frustration that we might initially expect from a discussion of political opportunities. Although economic opportunities are perceived as plentiful in some issue areas, they are not as easily negotiated as political ones; the almost internalized adaptations that NGO leaders make to the political opportunity structure are less common with economic opportunities. Their options are fewer, their choices far more constrained. Due to waning interest in environmental issues, funding has diminished, reducing the number and size of groups in this particular issue area. However, an upsurge of interest in HIV/AIDS has provided a large opportunity window for groups focused on the disease or populations affected by it. Yet, contrary to assumptions in the resource mobilization literature, the influx of funding, although helping some groups in the short term, could create overreliance and foster intraissue area competition, which is likely to hurt organizations in the long term. Moreover, the method of funding distribution – with government agencies serving as go-betweens – introduces a potential political barrier to work, so that economic opportunities become wrapped up in political opportunities. Environmental groups have not shared in the spoils of this recent funding wave, although they have actually benefited from contraction in 95

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their funding: the issue area has fewer but more sustainable organizations, and individual groups have more funding from numerous sources. The economic opportunity structure in China, although allowing for growth in some issue areas, essentially keeps groups weak and unable to sustain themselves over the long term. As such, even an influx of resources and an increase in the number of groups will have little impact on creating a strong civil society. To understand the economic opportunity structure in China and how it might affect NGOs, it is helpful to envision the most ideal situation for social organizations. As it pertains to the economic opportunity structure, a strong and viable organization would have the following attributes. The amount of financial resources should be high, but they should also be hard-fought, obtained through extended efforts of the group and its leaders, not simply easily given. Of course, groups cannot grow without adequate financial resources, but if funding is too easily obtained, organizations are unlikely to possess the knowledge and experience necessary to exploit new resources when their current opportunities run out. Diversification should be high; groups should be drawing financial resources from a large number of funders, from both domestic and international sources, so that they are less vulnerable to the loss of one major funding source. Organizations should be drawing some overhead funds that can support long-term capacity building, not just individual, short-term projects that can rarely be used to hire staff, rent office space, and build the institutions that can make the group viable in the future. They should also be engaged in a relatively low level of donor-driven work. If groups are spending most of their time working on issues at the behest of their donors, and not in accordance with their own interests, leaders and staff may become more easily fatigued and disillusioned with the organization. Additionally, the market should be able to support the group; there should not be so many easily accessed financial resources that the number of groups will reach a point at which available economic opportunities cannot support all groups in the issue area. In addition, the organization should be engaged in work that is different enough from other groups in the same issue area to avoid destructive competition. 5.1 Money Matters: Foreign Funding, Easy Money Resource mobilization literatures have shown that the emergence and success of social organizations is often highly dependent on the availability and use of adequate financial resources. Although attention to money should not come at the expense of other factors – such as political or personal opportunities – the link between organization success and financial resources is crucial in China.1 1

There is considerable disagreement about what types of resources are most important in the social movement literature (Jenkins 1983). For some scholars, resources include money, facilities, labor, and legitimacy (McCarthy and Zald 1977), whereas others list land, labor, capital, and technical expertise (Tilly 1978). Sometimes, resources are distinguished by the tangible and

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Among Chinese social organizations, the size of a group’s budget is associated with its self-perceived level of success.2 Most survey respondents report relative success, but there is significant variation of reported success based on budget size.3 All leaders of organizations with ten or more full-time paid staff members (high budget) describe their group as successful or somewhat successful. Of the 58 groups with two or fewer staff members (low budget), four describe their organization as successful, 43 characterized it as “somewhat successful,” and 11 reported it was either “unsuccessful” or “somewhat unsuccessful.”4 Yet, even among respondents who report their organization is a success, concerns about funding remain. In in-depth interviews, organization leaders from all three issue areas were quick not only to point out the stress that financial problems place on them, but also to note that it far outstrips any pressure from the government; comparatively speaking, political opportunities appear to be the least of their concerns. Although registration is acknowledged to be a key issue, it is usually cited as the second most pressing concern after funding. Money reigns supreme in the hierarchy of social group concerns, across all issue areas, irrespective of the state of groups’ current financial health. Organization leaders see domestic economic opportunities as far too few to support the social organizations that have emerged in the last decade, let alone the groups that they expect to emerge in coming years. Only one group leader interviewed for this project believed that funding was of little concern to his group (Interview 32). This outlier was far eclipsed by the number of leaders, observers, and funders who perceive the lack of adequate or appropriate funding as a fundamental threat to the sustainability of organizations in particular and the state of civil society in general. The vast majority of survey respondents believe domestic funding opportunities are inadequate.5 Although responses did not vary significantly by issue area, there was significant variation by region:6 Over a third of organizations located in wealthy eastern provinces

2 3 4

5 6

intangible (Freeman 1979). Of course, nearly all of these resources are impossible to come by without enough money. And, for the purposes of this chapter, resources are defined by the ideal group economic opportunity structure posited earlier. This definition allows for inclusion of political opportunities inasmuch as they impact or flow from economic resources directly. The number of full-time staff members serves as a proxy for the size of an organization’s budget. See Appendix A for further explanation. Using an ordered probit regression, this relationship is statistically significant, p = .001. High-budget groups are defined here as those with ten or more full-time paid staff members; low-budget groups have zero to two staff members; medium-budget organizations are those with three to six full-time paid staff members; because only two answers were collected from groups with seven to nine staff members, both choosing “somewhat successful,” this was dropped from the table. Approximately 80 percent of leaders from the environmental and HIV/AIDS issue areas and 70 percent of leaders of gay and lesbian groups believed opportunities were inadequate. Unless otherwise noted, significance refers to Pearson’s chi-squared tests at the 95% confidence interval level or higher.

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think opportunities are adequate, whereas only slightly more than 15 percent from provinces targeted by the recent Western Development Strategy (hereafter development-targeted provinces) share the same view; none of the ten respondents from China’s central provinces (which included seven respondents from Henan Province) reports adequate domestic funding opportunities. Social organization leaders have a number of explanations for the lack of domestic economic opportunities. Almost all reasoned that, because China does not have a robust philanthropic culture, giving is far too low to support nonprofit organizations like theirs. Although the survey results confirmed this general sentiment – “there is no philanthropic culture in China” was most frequently ranked as the best explanation – there was significant variation across issue area: environmental organizations, which are usually larger and older, were far more likely to rank philanthropic culture first than HIV/AIDS organizations or gay and lesbian groups. The difference between gay and lesbian and environmental organizations might be best explained by their ranking of “not enough interest in our issue”: more than a fourth of gay and lesbian groups chose this as the best explanation, whereas no environmental organizations ranked it first. The cultural answer was not sufficient explanation for some interviewees, however. One environmental leader in Yunnan scoffed: “Chinese culture can change very quickly if you have a law that helps it do so,” a reference to the lack of effective tax policies to incentivize philanthropic giving (Interview 31). Another informant suggested that the greatest potential for indigenous support lies in local and national enterprises, but these businesses are encouraged to direct donations to government-run foundations, at the expense of independent ones (Interview 66). Although inadequate domestic funding does not make the Chinese economic opportunity structure unique, an additional cost associated with nonprofit NGO work in China is perhaps distinct. Most of the organizations interviewed for this research rely heavily on volunteers to get their work done. Although some successful organizations spoke with great enthusiasm about the explosion of volunteerism, this new interest has not changed an idiosyncrasy of volunteering in China: attracting and keeping volunteers is made difficult by the expectation that volunteers be paid. A recent citywide regulation in Beijing that mandated Olympic volunteers be compensated for their service only gave official credence to this odd practice; one leader bemoaned its passage, arguing that it would put an even greater financial stress on already money-stretched NGOs (Interview 78).7 7

To ensure an adequate number of volunteers for Beijing’s 2008 Summer Olympic Games, and to “create a more favorable social atmosphere for voluntary service” in general, the Beijing Municipal People’s Congress Standing Committee passed a regulation requiring organizations to have volunteers sign a contract, “subsidize” voluntary service, and even provide financial incentives for “outstanding” voluntary work (Xinhua News Agency, December 6, 2007).

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As domestic economic opportunities are limited, the emergence and success of social organizations depends on outside resources. Interviews and survey data confirm what is becoming conventional wisdom: the social organization groups in this book, like most other domestic NGOs in China, receive the bulk of their financial support from foreign sources. More than 64 percent of survey respondents report receiving some proportion of their funding from international foundations. For 37 percent of these organizations, this accounted for 80–100 percent of their budget; 28 percent of organizations took in 50–75 percent of their budget from international foundations. On first glance at the survey data, it appears that some domestic sources of funding are making their way into organization coffers. Forty percent of respondents report having received some funding from domestic government agencies, a figure that eclipses the mere 16 percent of groups that have received funding from foreign government agencies. However, based on interviews, it is clear that most of the money that appears to flow from the Chinese government is actually coming from international sources and therefore underestimates the total proportion of foreign funds in organization budgets; primarily in HIV/AIDS-related international funding schemes, provincial and local government agencies play key roles in resource allocation (a topic discussed at greater length in the next chapter).8 These survey results help confirm the widely reported claim that most social organizations in all three issue areas receive most of their funds from outside China. Yet, the survey is unable to capture the pattern of financial support in each of the three organization issue areas as perceived by NGO leaders themselves. Environmental NGOs began to emerge more than 15 years ago in China, owing their success to significant financial support from international organizations like the World Bank; overseas development agencies in Japan, Germany, and the Netherlands; and private donors such as the Ford Foundation. Although groups cropped up throughout the country, most development was centered in Yunnan Province, an internationally recognized “biodiversity hotspot.” Environmental leaders in the area describe this period – from the late 1990s to the early 2000s – as the “golden years” of environmental social organizations. But the money that was a fundamental component of these groups’ emergence has all but dried up. Even in a place like Yunnan, where demand for these groups remains high – with threats to the province’s natural environment only increasing – the supply of financial resources is waning. As a result, group 8

Examining the data by issue area seems to support this interpretation as well. Although there is no significant variation overall in funding source – organizations in all three issue area draw most of their financial support from foreign sources – gay and lesbian organizations, which tend to rely heavily on HIV/AIDS-related funds, drew a larger portion of their funding from domestic government sources than did groups in other issue areas: for instance, more than 50 percent of respondents from this issue area report domestic government financial support at the 50 percent level or higher whereas only one respondent from each of the other issue areas report similarly high levels.

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leaders and observers noted in interviews that environmental groups in Yunnan have dropped in size and number, from almost two dozen to fewer than five. The prospects for sustaining those groups that have survived the initial loss of funding sources are still grim, with opportunities for new resources limited. Environmental leaders recognize that, although their funds have withered away, social organizations in other issue areas are enjoying new funding opportunities: addressing the explosion of HIV/AIDS diagnoses in China has become the dominant focus of international donors, and groups working on this issue have been the primary beneficiaries of this increased attention. International organizations such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria (Global Fund, hereafter), development agencies including USAID, and new private donors like the Gates Foundation and Clinton Foundation, have had impacts on social organizations working on HIV/AIDS issues in China similar to those that funders had on environmental groups over a decade ago. These economic opportunities are not limited to organizations working solely on HIV/AIDS prevention. In fact, HIV/AIDS language has become the lingua franca of all gay groups in China.9 Even some lesbian groups have attempted to take advantage of these opportunities, albeit with less success; consequently, they face a far gloomier short-term funding situation.10 To confirm these narratives about the funding pattern groups, I estimated an ordinary least squares (OLS) model, with budget size as the dependent variable (using the number of full-time paid staff as a proxy) and issue area and region as independent variables (see Table 5.1).11 The excluded baseline categories are gay groups (for issue area) and eastern provinces (for region). The model shows that, as interviews also revealed, lesbian groups are significantly smaller than gay groups, with nearly 1.5 fewer staff on average, after controlling for region and issue area. Environmental organizations, which tend to be older, have more than 1.5 staff members than the far younger but growing gay groups. The darling of international donors, HIV/AIDS groups, have translated economic opportunities into larger budgets, boasting significantly more staff members – nearly four more staff members than gay groups – which also attract HIV/AIDS funding. But just because groups focus on HIV/AIDS does not mean they universally enjoy high budgets. 9

10 11

Such strong concern (and preoccupation) with matters of funding among gay and lesbian organizations goes against the grain of other work on such “identity-based” social organizations. Previous work on these movements either ignores the role of funding (Gamson 1995) or suggests the emergence is not captured by materialist explanations (Darnovsky, Epstein, and Flacks 1995). However, research within the resource mobilization framework demonstrates strong relationships between funding and success of gay-rights groups in the United States (Button, Rienzo, and Wald 1997). Because economic opportunity structure for gay and lesbian organizations is often different, this chapter sometimes analyzes the two separately. Knowing that gay and lesbian groups enjoy different levels of funding that would impact group budget, this model separates lesbian groups from gay ones.

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table 5.1. Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) Model Results for Organization Budget Size (by full-time paid staff members)

Variable Environmental organization HIV/AIDS organization Lesbian organization Development-targeted province Northeastern province Central province Constant N R2 F

Coefficient (standard error) 1.541* (0.777) 3.986* (0.784) −1.466* (0.381) 0.100 (0.730) −0.464 (0.838) −1.766* (0.980) 1.566* (0.438) 86 0.304 11.712***

*** represents p < .01; ** represents p < .05; * represents p < .10; two-tailed test using Huber-White standard errors.

The model shows that groups located in the central provinces, which are often engaged in HIV/AIDS-related projects but rarely at the behest or with the support of the government, have significantly fewer staff than do gay groups (1.766) and nearly six fewer than the average HIV/AIDS group. 5.2 Organization Leaders as Economic Actors Given the importance and concerns of funding for NGOs, their leaders are best understood as economic actors. Survey data on academic training and previous work experience help show why these leaders behave like social entrepreneurs,12 allowing us to better understand why their actions are shaped so strongly by the economic opportunities available to them.13 12

13

A long-time observer of Chinese social organizations carries the entrepreneurial analogy further: these organizations have two distinct groups of customers, the funders – that is, those who keep them in business most directly and have a controlling interest – and then the communities serviced by the group (Interview 2). Although several growing literatures in economics, sociology, and business have used the term “social entrepreneur,” they have not arrived at a consensus on its definition. Some scholars contend that these individuals are inherently risk-tolerant, innovative, and proactive (Peredo and McClean 2006). Given the limited political and economic opportunities in China, social

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Based on survey results, most organization leaders have advanced degrees, and many previously held jobs in finance-related sectors. Although a surprisingly large proportion of leaders report having only completed high school, most are highly educated. With little variation across all three issue areas, 27 percent of respondents either did not begin or complete postsecondary schooling, whereas 49 percent hold bachelor’s degrees, 17 percent hold master’s degrees, 6 percent are medical doctors, and 3 percent have Ph.Ds. Although respondents reported having engaged in various fields of study, financial-related training (e.g., sales, business management, economics, accounting) was most common at 24 percent. But educational background reveals little about leaders’ real-world, professional experiences. If the respondent is a decade or more removed from university, education might not be very illuminating when trying to explain his or her economic orientation. When asked about employment prior to current leadership position in a social organization, the plurality of respondents (38 percent) report work in business or industry. More than 20 percent of leaders had no previous work experience, having come directly from university. Slightly fewer than 20 percent had worked in other NGOs, either domestic or international, and less than 15 percent previously held positions in government.14 Although the survey found no significant variation across issue area on the question of previous work experience, one outlier is important to note, given patterns in funding and issue area growth: most leaders of gay and lesbian groups, 51 percent, previously held positions in business or industry, compared to 23 and 33 percent for HIV/AIDS and environmental organizations, respectively. In interviews, the leaders of these organizations are said to have increasingly adopted what one observer calls a “resource agenda” (Interview 25). This economic orientation is often encouraged by international funders and even by government agencies.15

14

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organizations studied in this book are not as risk-tolerant as this definition presumes. Many scholars emphasize that there is a normative good associated with social entrepreneurs and their work (Mort, Weerawardena, and Carnegie 2003). But some do not exclude nonaltruistic (material) motivations when using the term (Mair and Marti 2006; Shane, Locke, and Collins 2003). The most value-neutral definition is also the most inclusive and best suited for this book: Social entrepreneurs combine resources creatively, and exploit opportunities to meet social needs by creating new products, services, or organizations (Mair and Marti 2006). For some areas of the country that have not shared in the economic success of the coastal provinces, like Yunnan, these organizations offer an opportunity for unemployed college graduates. Similarly, other interviewees report that high salaries offered by organizations have successfully lured government officials away from the public sector. I attended a meeting in Beijing sponsored by an international development agency and various government bureaus that was designed to teach NGO leaders to adopt business marketing tools to attract volunteers into their organization and increase their overall capacity. Based on the language these leaders used, it would be hard to distinguish the crowd from other entrepreneurs. In fact, the instructor reported that this approach not only works, but is best understood by the audience.

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The implications of this economic orientation are numerous. These professionals are probably better prepared to recognize economic opportunities and take advantage of them. Like other entrepreneurs, however, they will also pursue the maximum financial rewards that require minimal effort. This can mean (and interviews tend to confirm) that leaders are exceedingly short-term oriented, which makes preparation for the future difficult, as discussed later in this chapter. Many pursued this line of work at least partly because there were adequate economic incentives to attract them (Frohlich, Oppenhiemer, and Young 1971; Oberschall 1973; Olson 1965; Salisbury 1969). That social entrepreneurs might be motivated by material rather than altruistic concerns raises the likelihood that, as a social organization loses funding, and it grows increasingly difficult to attract new sources, overall group performance will suffer (Weinstein 2005). Therefore, if the costs of leading a group start to outweigh the benefits, these sorts of social entrepreneurs can be expected to move to other employment, including in for-profit sectors (Breton and Breton 1969). 5.3 Donor-Created, Donor-Driven Organizations Foreign donors are important to organizations not only in shaping the work of groups but also in creating them.16 As a result, organizations are often engaged in activities ill-suited for solving social problems. Moreover, organizations are engaged in activities that do not match their interests, which can lead to disaffected leadership and staff, thereby negatively impacting the overall strength and viability of the groups; outsiders, who are not well acquainted with the realities of the situation, end up driving preferences (McCarthy and Zald 1977). Organization leaders are adaptive when it comes to political opportunities. So, too, do they adapt to economic opportunities. But adaptation comes in many forms and at many different points during the life cycle of a social organization. In China’s funding environment, much of the adaptation appears to have occurred before groups even are created; groups emerge in response to a supply of funds, as opposed to a problem. In this way, social organizations can be donor-created. Groups in all three issue areas can trace their origins to the direct intervention of international funders. One of the largest domestic environmental organizations in Yunnan, for instance, was created by international funding agencies and international NGOs to coordinate ecological protection efforts on the ground (Interview 31). More common is indirect creation, whereby international funders make known their desire to fund work in a given area, and interested budding social entrepreneurs create groups in response to available funds. Although there might well be a demand for the 16

To this extent, external resources are “initiatory” not “reactionary,” which is seen as the most common impact that external resources can have on social organizations (McAdam 1982; Morris 1981).

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work – for instance, a real environmental problem to be addressed – it is the supply of foreign funds that makes the setting ripe for the creation of organizations. Many of these groups that were brought to life by donors have begun to slowly die off as the initial supply of funding evaporates. Based on estimates provided by observers and leaders, the number of environmental organizations in Yunnan, a place long assumed to be a haven for these groups, has dropped significantly in the past few years. Respondents point to lack of funding as the primary reason for contraction in the environmental issue area (Interviews 6, 7, 8). At the same time, these insiders perceive a dramatic increase in groups working on HIV/AIDS issues in Yunnan. Just as international funds brought environmental NGOs to life, so, too, are they giving rise to new groups in the HIV/AIDS issue area and, somewhat unintentionally, in the gay and lesbian issue area as well. Given the patterns in funding, the story of donor-created organizations is best told using the example of groups that are currently emerging as a result of foreign funding. Donor-created organizations appear most frequently in the gay and lesbian issue area, where funds come almost exclusively from HIV/AIDS-related sources. One funder said that gay groups are “almost incapable” of raising funds other than those directed toward HIV/AIDS work (Interview 45). In the view of most leaders of gay groups, HIV/AIDS funds (from both foreign and domestic sources) are not just easy to obtain, they are the only option for funding. The dominance of HIV/AIDS funding in the life of gay groups is so significant that one donor representative claims to have seen no gay group that does not do some degree of HIV/AIDS prevention work (Interview 9). To further emphasize the importance of HIV/AIDS funds in group creation, one need only look at the other side of the gay and lesbian issue area: because lesbian women are not identified as a high-risk group for HIV/AIDS, there is little supply of funds and thus very limited development of organizations devoted to lesbians. The most liberal estimates suggest China has 14 lesbian organizations.17 17

Of course, available funds alone are not enough to create an organization. Individuals in the community must also be willing to take advantage of the opportunity. To emphasize the importance of both supply and interested individuals in group creation, an informant in Kunming recounts the story of opportunities lost in the Hong Kong gay community. During the early 1990s, the gay men in Hong Kong resisted working on HIV/AIDS issues, despite the virus’ impact on homosexual men. The community was most concerned with being stigmatized as a diseased population. Instead, the gay community collaborated with the government in an effort to play up the generalized nature of the epidemic and downplay the “gayness” of it. Gay Hong Kongers did not move closer to the issue until 1998, one year after Beijing took control of Hong Kong, when the local government launched an HIV-prevention program aimed directly at high-risk groups, such as gay men. But, by the time the gay community began to coalesce around the issue, they missed the chance to take full advantage of the economic opportunities presented by the issue and create a strong collection of gay social organizations. By that point, he argues, the interests of foreign donors had moved northward to mainland China and the HIV/AIDS crisis that was just beginning to boil there (Interview 9). This stands in stark contrast

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Adaptation might also come when leaders acknowledge that too many groups are devoted to the same issue; this has often occurred among environmental groups in Yunnan, where there are both diminishing funds and larger, more capable international NGOs with which groups must compete for staff, funds, and attention. Local NGO observers in the province suggest that leaders are changing their focus from traditional environmental projects (e.g., biodiversity conservation) toward more general issue areas (e.g., poverty alleviation and education). An environmental group in Kunming, founded only two years ago to address broadly defined ecological protection issues, has already refocused its activities on poverty alleviation; the organization collects secondhand clothing for children in a number of impoverished villages in southwest China (Interview 30). One of the oldest environmental groups in Yunnan began its work on traditional environmental issues and moved on to combating rural poverty (Interview 31). The marked increase in HIV/AIDS funds has led a small handful of environmental groups to devote some attention to the issue, in order to take advantage of its related economic and political opportunities.18 Although these groups were founded to address one issue, having realized that the economic opportunities for their original work are insufficient and therefore unsustainable over the long term, they changed their focus. Once donor-created, social organizations in China – particularly those that rely on easily accessible money, such as HIV/AIDS groups – are also donordriven, continually adapting to the economic opportunities that gave them life in order to sustain themselves. One NGO leader candidly admitted: “Our priorities must always be adapted to our funders’ priorities. Always” (Interviews 36, 25). Social organization leaders and observers widely believe that, because civil society groups lean so heavily on international sources, as international foundations and development agencies go, so go Chinese social organizations. If a group is not donor-driven, one leader laments, “[it] will die.” Even when organizations are not directly or indirectly donor-created, some donors purposefully distribute funding to less-established groups. They reason that these smaller groups will see more impact from grant money than will larger groups. But, more importantly, smaller organizations are thought more likely to modify their work to accommodate the funder. Although adaptation might be necessary to ensure organizations can stay afloat, a potential cost is associated with it as well. The availability of funds, particularly from HIV/AIDS-related sources, leads groups to engage in work they are not interested in. An international funder based in Yunnan insisted, “What groups want to do and have to do are different” (Interview 9). This

18

to the situation in mainland China, where social entrepreneurs early on seized the chance to deal with the health crisis and enjoy the economic opportunities that came with it. This is in keeping with resource mobilization literature that finds dependence on large donors makes organizations more likely to change their strategies in keeping with the goals and desires of that one funder; small funders are better but expensive, with high overhead costs (Oliver and Marwell 1992). They find that these other solutions raise little money and cost much.

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seems to primarily be a problem for gay organizations. Gay groups in all regions reported that leaders – and their constituents – are most concerned about issues other than HIV/AIDS. Moreover, the preponderance of interviewed leaders suggested that, although HIV/AIDS issues are necessary to address for the gay community and funders, this comes at the expense of other issues important to gays and lesbians: social and family pressure, workplace discrimination, and mental health. A representative from a Western government funder, charged with the task of coordinating HIV/AIDS-related grant-making to gay and lesbian groups in southwestern China, confirmed the issue preferences of these organizations. He noted, quite wryly, “AIDS has never been a primary area of interest for any of these gay groups” (Interview 25). A particularly telling interview with a young leader of a gay group made this point best. As with all other interviews I conducted with organization leaders, I asked him to name his group’s top five priority issues, to which he first responded “family pressure.” He offered his second highest priority issue, “social pressure,” quite quickly, then struggled to name a third. He finally arrived at HIV/AIDS, but only suggested that it “may be” the group’s third most important priority. Holding one hand a few inches from the table and extending the other toward the ceiling, he said, “[HIV/AIDS] is very unimportant compared to these first two.” But he added, “We have AIDS money, so we must do AIDS work” (Interview 73). One leader of a gay group in Yunnan Province suggested that disillusionment with a singular focus on HIV/AIDS has led some leaders to just “eat AIDS money” (chi aizibing fan); that is, pursue and accept HIV/AIDS-related monies but use them for issues the organizations are actually interested in addressing (Interview 19). A group in the same province receives all of its operational support from the Global Fund, but its leader admits that it does no AIDSrelated activities except for mentioning it in the presence of funders (Interview 15). In extreme cases, leaders simply spend the money on themselves. Similar claims were laid against leaders of gay groups in Sichuan, leading a former staffer to leave in disgust and start a new group supported with other available HIV/AIDS funds (Interview 15).19 Also, to the extent that groups are engaging in donor-driven work, many are taking the easiest option in work performed. In in-depth interviews, a number of NGO observers suggested that HIV/AIDS groups chose to service the most easily accessible communities and engage in low-cost, minimal-effort activities. For example, far more groups focus on outreach to college students, not commercial sex workers or even HIV-infected individuals, and most groups profess to spend a good amount of time doing condom distribution rather than taking an integrated approach to combating HIV/AIDS (e.g., fighting poverty and social stigma). Although some groups are reluctant to work with more 19

Scholars of social movements have pointed to factionalization as a key causal mechanism in explaining the rise of new “social entrepreneurs” (Jenkins 1983: 531).

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difficult populations because they are politically sensitive, most suggest that they do easy work because it ensures better results to present to the funder and, in many cases, it is simply what the funder requires.20 The vast majority of HIV/AIDS leaders and gay organizations entrusted to work on HIV/AIDS issues were quite honest about how the methods they use to address the issue can be ineffective and amount to taking the “easy road.” They recognize that, although plentiful now, there is fierce competition afoot for funds, and their work is rewarded with more funds only if they can show results (e.g., a high number of condoms distributed). Leaders contend that these measures of success are meaningless and often misleading: just because condoms are distributed, they are not necessary being used, nor are they getting to the populations with the greatest need for them. Despite criticisms, no organization seems willing to reject these metrics or otherwise take actions that risk losing a key economic opportunity. Similarly, leaders in all three issue areas also bemoaned the focus that foreign donors and international organizations place on training sessions and conferences, but they still participate in them. In their view, they have no other choice if they want to appease their funders and maintain their current resource levels. Thus, even when recognized as uninteresting and ineffective, the structure of the funding makes moving away from the “condoms and meetings” pathology, as one established leader called it (Interview 43), nearly impossible if groups intend to live another day.21 The survey explored this issue in HIV/AIDS and gay groups in a more covert manner. Respondents were asked to first rank a list of activities on which the groups spent the most and least time, then to use the same list to rank the activities based on what the group believes is most and least important.22 These two questions were designed to catch differences in the 20

21

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This finding challenges some assumptions about social entrepreneurs. Waddock and Post (1991) argue that such leaders are driven to find the best solution, believing that simple “one-sided” solutions are inappropriate. One particular vignette captures both the pervasiveness of the pathology and the unwillingness of leaders to resist it. At a fall 2007 meeting of the Global Fund, held in Kunming, leaders from HIV/AIDS and gay and lesbian groups were invited to a meeting with top administrators of the Fund. The Global Fund’s China representative boasted that the organization had already funneled over $14 million to civil society groups over the last five years. In the next two years, he predicted the figure would increase. In discussing the proposed apportionment of these funds, he noted that 42 percent of these funds were earmarked for meetings and training. A quiet but audible groan filled the room. One Yunnan-based organization leader leaned over toward my chair and angrily whispered “we’ve had enough meetings, that money needs to go to support actual work.” “Will you still take the money?” I later asked. “Of course. We have no other choice.” In other words, the state of the economic opportunities structure forces groups to be donor-driven even though this might negatively impact the group’s ability to solve social problems or stay viable over the long term. Based on a respondent’s identification of the type of group they represented (e.g., environmental, HIV/AIDS, or gay and lesbian), they were directed to a page that listed activities specific to their own issue area. In other words, an activity such as “dealing with family pressure” was offered to gay and lesbian respondents, but not to HIV/AIDS or environmental leaders.

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mean response to the “time spent” and “importance” question and further explore the degree to which groups might be doing work as directed by the funder but at odds with their beliefs about what is important. Consistent with the critique that funders push groups to focus too much on “condoms and meetings,” the survey finds significant variation between time spent on condom distribution and the importance that group leaders attach to it; a t-test finds that the mean rank of “time spent” on this activity is significantly higher than its mean rank of importance. This suggests that groups are doing work to accommodate funders, and beliefs might not align with behaviors. More importantly, and despite this variation, however, condom distribution was not ranked very high in either importance or time spent, which suggests that groups might not be doing nearly as much of this activity as is portrayed in interviews. Even more striking is the significant difference in mean ranks between time spent and importance of an activity such as “policy advocacy.” HIV/AIDS organizations spend little time on the activity but think it a very important issue. Gay and lesbian respondents also rank “human rights” significantly higher on importance than time spent. Both of these activities are difficult to pursue in China’s closed political system. Of course, these findings do not necessarily mean that groups pine for this kind of work. But they do have opinions about what issues are important, and these opinions do not always match closely the work they do. This pattern only emerged during interviews with HIV/AIDS or gay group leaders. No environmental group leaders, or observers of them, reported conflict between what groups did and what they believed was important. Respondents to the survey confirm these findings; I found no significant variation on any activity from any environmental organization. Thus, these organizations, although still constrained by the economic opportunity structure, are at least able to do the work that most interests them. A group that spends a significant amount of time on an activity, but thinks that it is ultimately unimportant, might simply be doing work to accommodate funders and not because it reflects a passionate commitment. The implication of such conflict could be that, when resources become scarce or interest in the issue wanes, the organization would not be expected to stay committed; if leaders are more economically motivated, then they could be expected to move onto another issue, another career, perhaps even outside the nonprofit sector. 5.4 Oversaturated Market: High Competition, Low Interaction The ideal social organization exists in a market that can support its continued existence, not just its initial emergence. However, in China, economic opportunities have helped give rise to too many groups in the HIV/AIDS and gay and lesbian issue areas, thereby oversaturating the market and leading to

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destructive competition.23 The number of groups in these issue areas has exploded in large part because funding is too easily obtained. A budding young NGO leader in Yunnan reported his experience of fundraising: “I sent an email to [a local “money maven”] and told him I wanted to start an AIDS group. He sent me a check a month later” (Interview 69). Given the limited economic opportunities available to groups in all NGO issue areas, one interviewee said it would be “unfair” to expect them not to jump at these easy opportunities (Interview 9). Leaders are mindful of how easy it is to secure funding for their own organization and fear that others will take advantage of the same opportunities. They also recognize that if the number of groups continues to grow, what were once easily accessible and plentiful monies will become exceedingly difficult to secure. Assuming this funding pie does not increase, and knowing that their future is dependent on just a few sources, organizations become competitive. This situation compelled one NGO consultant in Yunnan to argue that a negative relationship exists between money “thrown” at social organizations and the achievement of group solidarity and a collective good (Interview 27). Competition and in-fighting appear most frequently in the gay issue area. The number of these groups has exploded in places where the market cannot support new social organizations. The situation in Heilongjiang is a case in point. According to insider estimates, the provincial capital, Harbin, boasts ten gay groups; an even smaller city of less than a million people, Qiqihar, has twelve groups (Interview 38).24 Due to the availability of HIV/AIDS funds, the number of groups in many locales has increased to the point at which they are overlapping in their work; redundancy has bred competition in these issue areas. The availability of funds has also led to the unintentional creation of new groups. Entrepreneurial staff members of one group, seeing an economic opportunity, strike out on their own. When new opportunities arise outside the group but within the issue area, they are more likely to follow the money, leading to splintering and, as a result, more competition and overlapping; McCarthy and Zald (1977) previously theorized that more resources might well lead to more competition among social organizations. An environmental NGO leader in Sichuan admitted, “Nearly all NGO staff in China want to be their own king. They want to start up their own group and not stay under someone else’s control” (Interview 60). The result is two (or more) groups that are each smaller

23

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Although China, like most authoritarian polities, is most likely to see this competition because economic and political opportunities tend to be scarce, even democracies are not immune. For instance, bitter competition is common among NGOs in Mexico, where funding and political access are difficult to come by (Ronfeldt et al. 1998). For comparison, the provincial capital of Yunnan province, which has a reputation as being far more open toward nontraditional people – like gays and lesbians – has only a handful of gay groups.

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and less capable of achieving goals than the original one; their work overlaps and personal conflicts build, resulting in even more vicious competition. A prominent HIV/AIDS leader in Beijing agreed that competition among groups in his issue area is also fierce. He contends that because he has already had some conflicts with the government in recent years, other organization leaders are more willing to attack him. He believes some leaders have even informed on his activities. When asked to explain the rationale, he leaned forward in his chair and whispered: “They want to control the resource that I currently control” (Interview 79). One observer calls this destructive competition a “sad waste of social resources” (Interview 38), a threat to groups individually and civil society generally.25 The rise in the number of new social organizations drove one donor to argue that the HIV/AIDS and gay issue areas need contraction to ensure better work and long-term sustainability. He opined “China needs many more environmental NGOs and far fewer AIDS groups.” In these faster growing issue areas, leaders reported a high degree of atomization, which is antithetical to a strong civil society. Group leaders in the HIV/AIDS and gay issue areas have a rather low opinion of other leaders, particularly those who have secured the most funding on account of strong ties to the international community and their English-language skills. An NGO leader with a long history in Sichuan said, quite fatalistically, that even though money remains a problem, an influx in funds to those issue areas that do not enjoy much fundraising success will not solve their problems: “I do not think they could use it efficiently and effectively. As they gain more financial resources, corruption [among leaders] just goes up as well” (Interview 63). But the most scathing critiques are reserved for the small handful of leaders – whom I dub “money mavens” – who are flush with funding and have taken on a role similar to that of government agencies with monies from the Global Fund; they act as a go-between to distribute funds from private foundations to smaller groups incapable of fundraising themselves. These individuals are well known to international funding agencies and foundations and, according to these individuals themselves, are well acquainted with smaller groups doing work throughout China, thus putting them in the best position to distribute the money. But critics within the community, many of whom are actually recipients of this money and maintain close ties with these money mavens, are decidedly indignant about them. In numerous interviews, these mavens were likened to “warlords” who “sit atop a mountain of money,” ordering recipients around with scant regard for their own needs and challenges. Again, part of the critique falls to funders, who are described as “lazy” for relying so heavily on a select few leaders, without much understanding of the acrimony that exists within the community. One leader, a money maven himself, complained that some international 25

Assuming leaders are economic actors, more vicious competition – or even exit from the issue area completely – can result, since the presence of new social entrepreneurs will “wipe the profits away” (Breton and Breton 1969).

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donors gave money to a “corrupt” group leader (another money maven) who used the money to “manipulate” the elections of a network of organizations (Interview 79). One funder suggests that, although these mavens are good at getting money, they are the “most guilty of financial mismanagement” (Interview 76). Still, even those who reserve the strongest words for these money mavens take advantage of this financial opportunity. Most believe they have no choice. These mavens possess one of the most important abilities for securing significant grant money – English language facility – which most other leaders do not.26 Looking back to one of the issue areas before it experienced an influx of funding is instructive when exploring the impact of increased economic opportunities on competition and interaction. When resources were scarce, lesbian and gay groups both reported that they worked together. Before AIDS money entered the picture, in 2003, neither group had any real resources to develop as individual groups or as an issue area. Cooperation was the only way to engage in their desired work, a point that lesbian activists are more prone to bring up, but one that leaders of gay groups readily accept. Leaders of gay groups contend that interaction with lesbians is rare because their interests are too different, acknowledging that this is largely because of their funding source and its focus on HIV/AIDS.27 Although not giving up on interaction with gay groups altogether, lesbian organizations almost always work by themselves. The issue of competition over funds appears to be far less an issue among environmental groups for two reasons. First, there are fewer funds to actually fight over. Second, the work that the groups do is usually different enough that there is very little overlap; although it has contracted in recent years, the environmental issue area is still significantly larger than the other two in this study, and it addresses issues as diverse as pollution control, pesticide reduction, and environmental education. Although the loss of more easily accessible resources has driven some leaders away from the issue area, those who remain appear to be more driven and creative in their pursuit of funding. Less competition does not automatically translate into more interaction, however. Without doubt, there is wide recognition among social organizations that interaction is important for group and issue area development. An HIV/AIDS money maven insisted that, without interaction, “the health of all groups will 26

27

Not only are most grants required to be written in English, but most of the documentation about the grant – the announcements, requirements, etc. – are only listed in English. For example, the Global Fund, had not, as of December 2007, translated its China-specific funding information into Chinese; having admitted this at a meeting in Yunnan, a Global Fund representative was greeted with cynical laughter by a room full of NGO leaders. In smaller towns and cities, where funding is difficult to secure for both lesbian and gay groups, interaction is apparently more common. Although far less common today than in the last two decades, the primary form of cooperation among these groups is the arrangement of marriages of convenience, whereby one gay and one lesbian couple pair up in heterosexual marriages in order to avoid lingering social and family pressure to marry and produce offspring.

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be put in jeopardy” (Interview 48). But although they spend a good deal of time talking about the value of interaction within the issue area, few actually do it. No interview subject in any issue area believed that his or her issue area had adequate interaction. One of the oldest and most influential environmental NGO leaders in Yunnan reports that he knows of no substantive success stories of collaboration either within the issue area or outside it (Interview 29). Several observers argue that the degree to which groups cooperate – particularly in the HIV/AIDS issue area – depends almost completely on how much the donor encourages them to do so. Without funder-mandated cooperation, one NGO consultant insisted there would be even less interaction than there is now (Interview 9). The concern about competition is greatest in areas where domestic NGOs are not the only type of social organization. In places like Yunnan, domestic groups exist alongside international NGOs. For observers of domestic NGOs, the greater international NGO presence has coincided with the diminished presence of local groups. The growth of international NGOs may have led to fewer political and economic opportunities for local groups. As shown in Chapter 2, in some areas, such as Yunnan, provincial and local governments seem to prefer the presence of well-established international NGOs to domestic groups. A Chinese academic, who has studied the ebb and flow of social organizations in southwest China, notes that international NGOs very easily eclipse the abilities of domestic groups. Moreover, because these groups are incorporated in other countries and usually under the direction of headquarters based outside China, they must maintain particularly good relations with central and local governments to first enter and then remain in the country. If these organizations fall out of favor with the government, they can be easily dismissed from the province or country. Thus, for a government that is interested in having organizations play the role of service provider with little cost – or threat – to the government itself, international NGOs are the lowest cost, highest benefit solution (Interview 7). An international NGO representative, previously leader of a domestic environmental NGO, was critical of international organizations. He dubbed international NGOs “conservation crocodiles” that eat up resources wherever they go, at the expense of domestic NGOs (Interview 29). Given the tradition of NGOs paying volunteers, another leader suggested that local groups lose out on these “foot soldiers” as international NGOs can offer volunteers more compensation than can domestic organizations (Interview 78). Another key concern is that the larger, more sustainable resources of international NGOs are likely to woo away talented young staff from domestic NGOs. This brain drain resulted in one organization losing five staff members in the first half of 2007 alone.28 Even though some organizations take a certain amount of pride when their 28

Although the majority of interviewees did not explicitly suggest that a “brain drain” from domestic groups to international NGOs was problematic, those leaders who made mention

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staff members move on to more prominent positions in international NGOs, they fear that if the trend continues, their long-term future will be in peril. Although overlap in work is frustrating for some domestic groups, domestic NGO leaders express most concern about the tendency of international NGOs to engage in work that actually interferes with their work or directly undercuts their goals. An environmental group leader in Yunnan recounted one example where his group was working to wean farmers off harmful pesticides while international NGOs working on poverty alleviation schemes were purchasing the same pesticides to increase yields (Interview 18). A current environmental NGO leader contends that these international groups are competitors and not supporters of local NGOs (Interview 47); similar comments were made by some leaders about other domestic groups. Many leaders express open distaste for these groups, who sometimes act like big brothers rather than colleagues. One HIV/AIDS leader in Beijing grew particularly agitated when he recounted the story of one international NGO that “tried to tell us what to do” without having “proper understanding of the situation.” These groups attempt to control NGOs and, he notes, “even the government!” He insisted that he resists this pressure and would rather “go it alone” (Interview 80). But, like the critics of money mavens, despite these strong words, he admits to having no choice but to continue to interact with these international NGOs; his funding depends on cultivating ties with international groups, not severing them. Based on interviews, competition in some issue areas has reached the point of being debilitating to the growth of civil society in general. But survey results do not capture the characterization of competition expressed by observers and leaders in interviews. When asked directly in the survey if an organization viewed international NGOs as “more your competitor than partner,” only 9 percent agreed. Respondents were similarly reluctant to call other domestic groups competitors. Perhaps it is no surprise then that, in interviews, leaders acknowledged that interaction between groups, both domestic and international, is a good thing. But this does not mean that organizations follow through with it; on the issue of interaction, a sharp divide exists between belief and behavior. According to the survey, Chinese social organizations do not frequently interact with international NGOs. The modal response in the survey, given by 42 respondents, was “once a year.” Survey responses point to variation across issue area, although differences are not statistically significant. Although 15 percent of environmental groups report interaction with international NGOs either “rarely” or “never,” 19 percent of HIV/AIDS organizations and 35 percent of gay and lesbian groups report this. There appears to be a negative relationship between interaction with international NGOs and receiving foreign were quite concerned. Twelve survey respondents also indicated that the loss of staff to larger international NGOs amounted to harmful competition.

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table 5.2. Ordered Probit Model Results for Interaction with Domestic Nongovernmental Organizations Variable

Coefficient (standard error)

Full-time paid staff

0.158* (0.045) −0.379 (0.322) −0.488* (0.296) −0.232 (0.283) 0.482 (0.405) −0.305 (0.332) −1.578* (0.366) 0.361 (0.292) 1.424* (0.325) 84 21.150***

HIV/AIDS organization Environmental organization Development-targeted province Northeastern province Central province τ1 τ2 τ3 N χ2

*** represents p < .01; ** represents p < .05; * represents p < .10; two-tailed test using Huber-White standard errors.

funding; accepting foreign funding does not mean that groups are actually engaging and forming strong ties with global civil society. Respondents reported slightly more interaction with domestic NGOs, but interaction is still rare. The modal response to this question was “once a year,” given by a greater percentage than those who responded similarly about international NGOs (56 compared to 42 percent). A significantly smaller percentage of total respondents report rare or no interaction with domestic groups compared to international NGOs (5 compared to 26 percent). I estimated an ordered probit model, with interaction with other domestic NGOs as the dependent variable (see Table 5.2).29 Again, the excluded baseline categories are gay groups (for issue area) and eastern provinces (for region). As the model of international NGO interaction 29

I separated reports of contacts with other NGOs into four categories. Groups reporting contacts rarely or never are coded 1, once a year coded 2, once a month coded 3, once a week coded 4. The survey allowed respondents to distinguish between rarely and never, but model results showed that these categories are statistically indistinguishable, so I collapsed them into a single category.

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table 5.3. Predicted Probabilities of Interaction by Increasing Number of Full-time Paid Staff International NGOs

Domestic NGOs

Number of Staff Members

1

5

10

1

5

10

Rarely/Never Once a Year Once a Month Once a Week

0.16 0.46 0.31 0.07

0.06 0.34 0.42 0.18

0.02 0.17 0.42 0.4

0.16 0.65 0.16 0.03

0.06 0.55 0.29 0.1

0.01 0.31 0.38 0.3

Note: These predicted probabilities were estimated using CLARIFY (King, Tomz, and Wittenberg 2000). This table represents predicted probabilities for environmental groups in the developmenttargeted provinces. NGO, nongovernmental organization.

showed, larger groups interact more frequently with other domestic groups than do smaller ones. To illustrate the substantive effects of increasing full-time paid staff members (from one to five to ten) on international NGO and domestic NGO interaction, Table 5.3 presents predicted probabilities of interaction for an environmental group operating in the western provinces. Although leaders might not characterize other groups as competitors, the infrequency of interaction across groups suggests that building ties across groups and strengthening civil society remains problematic.30 High competition, low interaction, and the problems associated with this combination, are more the products of the economic opportunity structure – too many resources, too many groups – than of the individuals themselves. Some interviewees proffered solutions to this structural problem, most of which were decidedly radical. Several donor representatives suggested that HIV/AIDS money be withdrawn for a short period of time to “shock organizations into shape” (Interview 38). The logic is that the weakest groups will fold as leaders move onto more lucrative employment. The remaining organizations would benefit from hiring experienced staff from closed groups and could engage in their work without as much competition for financial and human resources in the future (Interviews 38, 40). Leaders of these groups did not, understandably, propose similar 30

Although intergroup tensions were reported in all issue areas, they were most common among the newer gay and lesbian groups and in particular between gay men and lesbian women. A prominent Yunnan-based leader of a gay group made it clear from the beginning of our conversations that the great number of gay groups and the considerably smaller number of lesbian groups do not “play well together.” Although the presence of competition and lack of cooperation has many structural causes, other, simpler explanations should not be ignored. This leader explained that the lack of networking comes from a general dislike of lesbian women among gay men. He noted, in all seriousness, “[lesbians] smoke a lot, they fight, and some of them even carry knives” (Interview 13).

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solutions that could work against their own short-term interests. But many were still cognizant of the paradoxical downside of increased economic opportunities. One leader said of HIV/AIDS funding, “It is coming too quickly to too many groups” (Interview 43). 5.5 Inadequate Funds to Build Capacity: Rich Project, Poor Organization Because of the nature of available economic opportunities, most social organizations are poorly prepared to stay viable over the long term. One key to sustainability is capacity building, an issue that featured prominently in every interview conducted for this research. However, two vastly different understandings of the concept emerged in the interviews. For donors, capacity building is about training. Many interviewees argued that foreign donors, and even international NGOs, have a responsibility to “teach domestic groups to fish” in order to ensure sustainability.31 For recipients, this instruction is unhelpful without overhead, core, or institutional funding. Nongovernmental organization leaders complain that the capacity building envisioned by donors does not ensure that organizations will have adequate funds to hire and retain staff, maintain proper office facilities, and meet other requirements to turn training into sustained action. One well-established NGO leader in Beijing likened Chinese NGOs to “small babies” and capacity building to the “skills of living.” Although this initially seems to match well with Western concepts of capacity building, she quickly conceded that the skills of living are meaningless “without enough food for the baby to stay alive” (Interview 78). During interviews, nearly every leader from all three issue areas argued that the key to success is capacity building and bemoaned the difficulty of doing it. Even groups that enjoyed the influx of HIV/AIDS-related funding lack the ability to build their institutions: the vast majority of their budget is earmarked as project-specific funds and not core support. Although a group might be flush with funding for an AIDS-related project, it might not have a proper office or adequate staff. In the rare instance that groups enjoy a large proportion of core 31

Knowing that international NGOs have far more financial resources than do domestic organizations – and assuming that they would be interested in growing domestic civil society – I asked the country representative from one of the largest environmental international NGOs operating in China if her organization was involved in supporting domestic NGOs. She insisted that the organization does not have adequate financial resources to help build domestic NGO capacity. But, more to the point, she feared that doing so might lead the government to “misunderstand” the groups’ actions (Interview 10). She went further, noting that the government is increasingly concerned with “orange revolutions” and doing anything that might appear a threat to the government, like supporting domestic civil society, would put their own organization at risk. Thus, the political opportunity structure again shapes the economic opportunity structure. And, although it might mean independent success for one group – this large international NGO – it comes at the potential expense of domestic groups at large.

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support, it is sometimes designated only for infrastructure costs (such as office space and computers) but not staffing. An environmental leader remarked, “the project is rich, but the organization is poor” (Interview 47).32 The importance given to capacity building and concern about inability to attract the kinds of funds to engage in it also emerge in survey results. When asked to rank eight different factors based on their importance in ensuring that a social organization is successful, a third of respondents chose “capacity building” as most important, and nearly 60 percent placed it among the top three factors. Younger, smaller groups might be expected to have more concerns about capacity building than older, larger ones, but the survey found no significant relationship between the age of group or the number of paid, full-time staff. In fact, six groups with no full-time paid staff members rank capacity building as the most important determinant of success; five groups with ten staff members or more also deem it the most important factor. There is, however, significant variation by issue area. A quarter of environmental and HIV/AIDS groups place capacity building in their top three determinants, but nearly half of gay and lesbian groups rank it similarly high. Based on interviews, the results from environmental groups are not surprising. Environmental organization leaders, although not immune from the problems of capacity building, expressed less concern with it. Most of those environmental groups operating today have survived a loss of funding and proven sustainable. Gay and lesbian groups, however, spoke at great length and passion about their concern with capacity building. Their future has yet to be written, and the fear is thus greater. Whether or not organizations ranked capacity building as one of the key determinants of current success in the survey, it remains a key concern of most groups as they attempt to achieve long-term sustainability. Nearly every leader interviewed agreed that capacity is impossible to build without proper funding to support it. Survey results confirm what in-depth interviews widely suggested (see Table 5.4): over half of respondents report that 85 percent or more of their funding was project-specific rather than core; nearly a quarter of organizations rely on project-specific funds for 100 percent of their overall funding. Less than 15 percent of respondents report project-specific funds at a 50 percent or lower level. Of the 89 total responses, only two report that all of their funding was core and relied on no project-specific funds. Although leaders in all groups expressed concern about the excessive reliance on project-specific funds and the limitations that it places on their ability to 32

As noted in the previous chapter, the Chinese government, particularly at the central level, is cautiously optimistic about the role that many NGOs can play in solving social problems like environmental degradation and HIV/AIDS transmission. However, like social organization leaders themselves, government officials are also aware of the importance of capacity building in the long-term success of these groups and, therefore, resolution of problems. Indicative of this, an official from the State Administration on Nongovernmental Organizations urged groups to “strengthen capacity building” in order to help the government ensure a more “harmonious society,” advice that is obviously easier given than implemented (Xinhua, November 27, 2007).

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table 5.4. Percent of Groups Reporting Project-Specific Funding Levels, by Issue Area Issue Area

0–50%

55–80%

85–95%

100%

Environmental HIV/AIDS Gay and Lesbian

8 25 14

31 30 26

46 20 34

15 25 26

build true institutional capacity, recipients of HIV/AIDS-related funds are far more dispirited in interviews. The survey does show significant variation across issue areas. Over a quarter of gay and lesbian organizations report that 100 percent of their funding was project-specific, whereas less than 15 percent of environmental groups report the same level. Groups that already lack capacity – those with no full-time paid staff members – do not enjoy the kind of funding that will help them build it: 60 percent of these groups rely on project-specific grants for 85 to 100 percent of their overall funding. However, although a larger proportion of HIV/AIDS and gay and lesbian groups report 100 percent of their funding as project-based, compared to environmental organizations (25 and 26 versus 15), roughly 60 percent of environmental and gay and lesbian groups report 85 percent levels or higher, compared to 45 percent of HIV/AIDS organizations. The fact that Chinese social organizations rely heavily on project-based funds is not itself unique. Nongovernmental organizations in many other polities draw much of their financial support from project-specific sources. The difference in the China context is that most of these organizations have no other choice. No leader interviewed for this book reported ever turning down money because of this (or any other) limitation. They all gave the same reason: we do not have the luxury to pick and choose funding. 5.6 Too Few Funders: Low Diversification, High Vulnerability To ensure strong and viable social organizations, funding must be drawn from several different sources. Diversification allows groups to survive the loss of one major funder. However, Chinese social organizations generally lack a diverse set of funding sources and are, as a result, vulnerable to collapse if they lose one crucial source. A high percentage of Chinese social organizations draw financial support from very few funding sources. Although 15 percent of survey respondents boast ten or more donors, most groups (64 percent) receive funds from three or fewer sources.33 As expected from interviews, the survey 33

These percentages do not account for those respondents who provided no answer. Because the survey did not list zero donors as an option, there is reason to believe that at least some of the roughly seventeen respondents who left the question blank receive no money from outside sources. I confirmed this interpretation by examining the number of full-time paid staff

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100 75 50 25 0 Environmental 3 or Fewer

HIV/AIDS 4 to 9

Gay and Lesbian 10 or more

figure 5.1. Number of funders by issue area, as percent of total funding

finds significant variation in funding diversification across organization issue areas. Gay and lesbian groups are the least diversified, with 77 percent of organizations relying on three or fewer donors; HIV/AIDS groups are only slightly more diversified, with 67 percent of respondents having three or few donors. Conversely, 67 percent of environmental organizations collect funds from four or more funders. With these results in mind, it is not surprising that younger groups – which are disproportionately from HIV/AIDS and gay and lesbian issue areas – also rely more on fewer funders than do older, more established organizations such as environmental groups (see Figure 5.1). To further examine the impact of issue area and regional difference on funding diversification, I estimated an OLS model (see Table 5.5, Model 1). Excluded baseline categories are gay groups (for issue area) and eastern provinces (for region). Consistent with interviews and bivariate results, the model shows that environmental groups boast a significantly higher number of funding sources than all other issue areas. HIV/AIDS and lesbian groups seem to be slightly more diversified than gay groups, although these differences are not statistically significant. Groups in the development-targeted provinces, which are also home to many of the gay and HIV/AIDS groups interviewed for this research, have significantly fewer donor sources than do organizations in all other regions. The relationship between registration status and diversification is particularly telling (see Table 5.5, Model 2): nearly 80 percent of unregistered groups have three or fewer funding sources, whereas more than a quarter only have one. By contrast, 65 percent of legally registered groups have four or more funders, and more than a quarter boast ten or more. This relationship is easily members, which I used as a proxy for size of budget. Over half of those respondents who left the question blank also had no paid full-time staff members, which would be indicative of having little or no budget at all. This interpretation of the data suggests that, although these groups might not have much diversity of funding, because they exist without funding presently, it will not be the sudden loss of money that will spell their end; although overall leader fatigue could most certainly play a role as well.

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table 5.5. Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) Model Results for Number of Funding Sources

Variable Environmental organization HIV/AIDS organization Lesbian organization Development-targeted province Northeastern province Central province Registration status Constant N R2 F

Model 1 Coefficient (standard error)

Model 2 Coefficient (standard error)

3.378*** (0.827) 1.120 (0.699) 1.133 (1.629) −1.339* (0.680) 0.615 (1.158) −1.063 (1.1076) –

2.142** (0.958) 0.446 (0.711) 1.482 (1.63) −1.403** (0.652) 0.699 (1.091) −0.548 (1.003) 2.112** (0.835) 2.799*** (0.431) 76 0.319 4.50***

3.134*** (0.467) 76 0.241 3.450***

*** represents p < .01; ** represents p < .05; * represents p < .10; two-tailed test using Huber-White standard errors.

explained by returning to the data presented in Chapter 3, which shows 83 percent of respondents from gay and lesbian groups report no legal registration, whereas only 29 percent of environmental groups are unregistered. Moreover, based on the earlier discussion about the role of government funding, it seems clear that gay groups, in particular, are drawing a disproportionate amount of their funding from a single source, usually directed to the group from international funders through government agencies such as the Chinese Centers for Disease Control. Making matters worse, some of the same groups that lack capacity-building core funding are also heavily reliant on few funders; the survey shows a strong relationship between the problem of diversification and overreliance on projectspecific funding. Of those organizations that report a level of project-specific monies of 85 to 100 percent of total funding, 37 percent of respondents rely on three or fewer funding sources. The most apocalyptic statements about the future of NGOs came from the HIV/AIDS and gay organizations. These groups are most vulnerable because

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they have been built around one major funding stream. An NGO consultant in Yunnan appropriately claims that gay organizations have been built on a “house of cards” that is just years from falling (Interview 27). With the loss of this economic opportunity, the future of the organization is put in jeopardy. Like a stock portfolio that is too heavily invested in one industry, groups that lack a larger number and diversity of funders risk folding altogether if one source dries up. At a Global Fund meeting in Yunnan, donor representatives from the funder asked groups what would happen without support from the Global Fund. One leader promptly declared, “Without this money . . . grassroots groups would disappear.” A leader of one of the oldest and most successful gay groups based in Beijing is well aware of the problem that a lack of funding diversity poses: “If Ford Foundation money is gone one day, we will have to shut our doors” (Interview 43). In some issue areas, the Ford Foundation has done groups a service by offering funding, including core support and overhead, but when this support is withdrawn, groups suffer. One of the most prominent gay groups in Yunnan enjoyed a large amount of core, institutional funding from its inception in 2002 because of the help of one funder, China UK-AIDS. During the four-year funding cycle, the group started the province’s first AIDS hotline and created a large gay activity center, providing a safe space for social interactions for Kunming’s gay population. The end of funding in 2006 heralded the end of the organization. It quickly was beset by leadership changes, with some leaders and staff leaving the organization in search of more stable and lucrative positions in international NGOs and the private sector. It is now an organization more in name than in function. Once housed in its large activity center, the group’s offices are now relegated to a one-bedroom apartment with no semblance of activity or presence, other than the name on the door. The group shrunk from more than ten full-time paid employees to one and a half (Interview 15). Strong anecdotal evidence from older environmental groups that lost singlesourced core funding validates some of the concerns of leaders and observers of the two younger issue areas. Entering the office of one environmental NGO in Yunnan was a particularly stark reminder of the financial comfort that these types of groups once enjoyed and the fate that has befallen them as international interest and provincial priorities have waned. Although the organization still had the same large office space of years past, well over half of the desks were empty and collecting a thick layer of dust. The organization lacked adequate administrative staff to answer phones; during my visits, the main line rang off the hook. The office still maintains a museum of cultural relics, but the display cases were clouded with dust. The office itself served as a museum as well – of the past success of environmental groups in this once thriving province (Interview 47). Although the organization still employs an uncharacteristically large eighteen-person staff, this has shrunk from twenty-six. The leader believes contraction in its staff will continue.

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Overreliance on one funder makes all groups vulnerable to collapse. But those drawing funds from a source devoted to one narrow issue, such as HIV/AIDS, are in an even more precarious and awkward position: if the disease is cured or otherwise contained, what will happen to the groups? In other words, might success in attacking the issue lead to long-term failure of the groups? The health crisis created a political opportunity, allowing these groups to emerge, increase in number, and, for the time being, thrive. The economic opportunities brought about by the scale of the crisis are a crucial factor in explaining the existence of these groups as well. Without the disease in China, HIV/AIDS groups would have neither political nor economic opportunities allowing them to exist; without an HIV/AIDS problem, they would also lose their purpose for existing. But the tie between the HIV/AIDS crisis and gay and lesbian groups is more ambiguous. Gay organization leaders continually mentioned that, without HIV/AIDS, they would never have emerged on the current scale; leaders of lesbian groups confirm the same point, although they acknowledge that they are only an unintended and partial beneficiary of the opportunities afforded to gay groups. These leaders expressed bittersweet resignation when I asked them what would happen to their group if HIV/AIDS was no longer a problem in China: there would be no money – no economic opportunity – and there would be no reason for them to exist – no political opportunity. Thus, without HIV/AIDS, most believed they would be no more. In an attempt to examine this attitude on a larger scale, the survey asked gay and lesbian respondents a simple hypothetical question: if AIDS were no longer a problem in China, would your organization still exist? The assessment for both gay and lesbian groups was more optimistic than interviews suggested. Only a third of gay groups believe that without HIV/AIDS their organization would be no more, whereas only one of twelve lesbian organizations feel similarly. Because lesbian groups do not generally share in the spoils of HIV/AIDS funding, this suggests that the end of the virus (and related funding) does not seem to impact their long-term assessment. For the third of gay groups that believed the end of HIV/AIDS would mean the end of their organization, the survey asked respondents to rank the most important reasons for their answer. Although 40 percent of respondents ranked “inability to attract funding” as the most important reason, half of the organizations indicated that the most important reason for their potential demise is that, without a focus on HIV/AIDS, they would “no longer be of use to the government.” Given the role of government in distributing funds, this means that concerns are probably twofold: groups risk losing both economic and political opportunity. Organizations that are more broadly focused on one issue are less vulnerable. Groups engaged in environmental protection, for instance, are unlikely to be put out of business anytime soon. In outlining the economic opportunities for social organizations, this chapter shows that an NGO’s options for funding are severely limited; it also underscores the often debilitating short- and long-term effects of those opportunities

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that are available. Lack of diversification, overreliance on foreign funders, oversaturation, and competition all can serve to weaken groups individually, and social organizations collectively. The difficulties of navigating economic opportunities can be emphasized further by exploring the extent to which economic and political opportunities are frequently intertwined, an issue taken up in the next chapter. In doing so, a more complex picture emerges about the opportunity structure as a whole. Moreover, the political opportunities that appear relatively easily adaptable to in previous chapters can be seen in a different, more menacing light.

6 Forever the Twain Shall Meet Economic and Political Opportunities Converge

The economic opportunity structure in China, although ensuring the emergence of certain organizations in some issue areas, makes the rise of other groups and long-term viability of all nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) difficult. To make matters worse, economic opportunities do not always stand in isolation from political ones. Although the government likely plays an indirect role in the general state of funding (e.g., the lack of tax incentives for donations decreases the likelihood that NGOs can draw heavily from domestic sources), at times, economic and political opportunities converge to the point at which the government plays a very direct role in manipulating the economic opportunity structure. In some instances, the government actually distributes foreign funds to groups, thereby closely entangling state and society. In doing so, some NGOs deviate from the ideal strong, viable organization that should boast low levels of embeddedness with government; the way funding is received should not tie groups too closely to the government. The paradox of economic success for many Chinese social organizations begs the question: what happens to NGOs that have not enjoyed any significant economic opportunities or confronted the consequences of having such opportunities? An examination of lesbian organizations sheds further light on this issue. Given that Chinese social organizations rely heavily on too few donors, which are often not indigenous and thus more likely to withdraw support when goals are met or interest wanes, and since many NGOs receive funding that ties them closely to the government, making them vulnerable to its whims and more easily controlled by its agents, how might organizations extricate themselves from these untenable positions? There are a number of solutions that some groups have devised to deal with the problems economic opportunities pose.

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6.1 Government as Economic Actor: High Embeddedness, Low Autonomy The most plentiful financial source for social organizations in China today is money related to HIV/AIDS prevention. The state is an integral player in the distribution of these funds; the government, like NGOs, is very much an economic actor. This leads to certain groups being more embedded with the government, which decreases their long-term ability to expand their portfolio of funding sources and increases their dependence on the government, thus producing a contraction in autonomy and a narrowed political opportunity.1 To ensure freer movement and full cooperation at all levels, HIV/AIDS funding schemes usually employ a “filter model,” whereby funds brought into China are directed first through the government. Government agents, usually the Chinese Centers for Disease Control (CDC), then pass funds to community-based or social organizations. This distribution mechanism can be traced back to 2001, with the U.K. international development agency’s first HIV/AIDS project in China; it has been adopted by private donors such as the Clinton Foundation and Gates Foundation, as well as by the largest single source of international funding to HIV/AIDS groups, the Global Fund. As in the original iteration of the model, Global Fund monies are given to a “primary recipient,” the Chinese government, which is represented by its chief agent, the CDC. The CDC then distributes funds down to local government agents, which distribute them to civil society groups (“subrecipients”). If groups are not registered, which is often the case, funds are held by another “subrecipient,” a government agent or government-organized NGO (GONGO), and ultimately distributed through this intermediary to the social organization (“sub-subrecipients,” in Global Fund parlance). Many of these recipients contend that government participation at all levels has been motivated less by concerns for disease prevention and control and more by the economic opportunities presented by these funding schemes. Moreover, the dominant distribution model allows the government to decide who ultimately receives financial support, thereby controlling social organizations and the destiny of the fastest growing NGO issue area in China today. Observers believe that the government works with certain groups based on the perceived economic benefit they can provide. Organization leaders claim that the government prefers to work with one high-risk group (gay men) over others (intravenous drug users, commercial sex workers) simply because this is where most of the international funding is going; it presents the best economic opportunity for the government.2 As evidence of this orientation, some gay 1 2

These economic opportunities are embedded in others, as Granovetter (1985) argues, and can impact economic behavior in unexpected ways. To my surprise, no interviewee believed the government was reluctant to work with these other groups because they represent individuals who engage in illegal behavior. They insist it is an issue of economic opportunity, nothing more.

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groups have been created at the request of government officials for the primary purpose of “eating” HIV/AIDS funds. One story widely circulated within the HIV/AIDS and gay organization community claims that a CDC official in Heilongjiang Province, understanding that he needed to have a “civil society partner” to secure HIV/AIDS funds, enlisted his niece to start a gay men’s group. Observers believe this is neither an enlightened action about the importance of reaching the gay community, nor an example of waning homophobia in the country, but was simply a way to obtain the economic opportunities such a group could bring the local government (Interview 38). Government agencies are so eager to collect a share of HIV/AIDS funds that some religious affairs bureaus have begun work on AIDS projects.3 An HIV/AIDS leader candidly noted that local governments are keen on HIV/AIDS projects in Yunnan because, “[they] like getting new facilities” (Interview 66).4 But beyond simply seizing an economic opportunity of their own, HIV/AIDS funding schemes have also resulted in sporadic instances of officials skimming off the top.5 A former leader of a gay group in Yunnan cited one example when his organization had received two new computers from their foreign donor agency. Just days after receiving and installing the computers, officials from the group’s government sponsor – its monetary go-between – took the computers. When I asked why, he responded without pause: “Because the sponsor wanted nice new computers” (Interview 13). Even more troubling was the report by a leader from an NGO that represents intravenous drug users, who claims that local government health officials were charging 10 RMB for methadone treatments that were supposed to be free, thanks to Global Fund support (Interview 50). A leader of a gay group in Beijing is more charitable in his characterization; he claims that, with little oversight by the funder and with government agencies serving as intermediary, money is often “lost along the way” (Interview 43). By virtue of its role as financial go-between, agents of the government sometimes intervene in the day-to-day operations of recipient organizations. In some 3 4

5

Even within the corporate entity, there are a diverse set of interests. Oi (1992) notes that this reality leads to frequent competition for limited resources in China. Often, the government matches international funders with different government agencies. For instance, in Yunnan, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), through two separate contractors, funded two separate NGOs. To secure government sponsorship, both groups were required to find different agencies, one at the provincial level, another at the city level. This funding structure not only led to competition and overlap between the groups, but uniquely, competition between the government agencies themselves (Interview 9). Thus, the problem of too much money is not limited to fights between and among HIV/AIDS groups; the conflict over money makes its way to levels of government and even among offices and bureaus at each level. The filter scheme, as employed in China, mandates an exceedingly high number of government agencies at several levels to play a role in the dispersion. When recipient groups are not registered, this adds another set of hands through which funds must pass. And another opportunity for graft.

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cases, this intervention appears to have a financial motive. Concerned that there was not enough money to go around – or, put more directly, enough for the government sponsor to share in the spoils and still have the group do its assigned work – a leader of a gay group was instructed that his community space, which operated as a downscale tea house, should begin to stock beer, which the government sponsor thought would sell better and increase the previously small receipts. This was in direct contradiction to the agreement with his international funder. As the group’s economic and political opportunities depended on a good relationship with the government first and the funder second, the group acquiesced and began to sell beer (Interview 13). Instances of impropriety and intervention aside, the prominent government role in dispensing funds has had some positive impacts on social organizations, HIV/AIDS prevention, and even the gay and lesbian community in China. Numerous HIV/AIDS and gay and lesbian groups in Sichuan report that the early entry of the UK-AIDS project – and the over 30 million British pounds that came along with it – has had a lasting impact in leading the government to be more open to NGOs in general. HIV/AIDS funds can, in some areas, create a political as well as economic opportunity; recipients contend that without the funding, organizations would not be as plentiful nor would they enjoy such close and often positive relations with local governments. Survey results show that leaders who receive funds through the government report better relationships with it than those who do not. The strongest relationship between the two appears when respondents are asked to rate their relationship with the provincial government, the primary distributor of HIV/AIDS funds. Two-thirds of groups receiving funds through the government characterized their relationship with the provincial government as good or very good; less than half of organizations not receiving funds through the government responded the same way. A similar pattern of results at the local and central government levels suggests an overall positive relationship between recipients and governments. There are two plausible interpretations of the data. As most interviews suggest, those groups with a priori good relationships will receive money from the government. This explanation is more compelling when we consider the apparently high number of groups that have come into existence at the behest of local or provincial governments to attract money to the area. Alternatively, when social organizations receive funds through the government, their relationships with them improves. Regardless of which explanation is more accurate, one point cannot be overemphasized: the nature of this funding forces social organizations to maintain good relations with the government and its various agents. They have no choice. If the relationship sours, the groups could lose not just a political opportunity but also their funding, an economic opportunity. In its role as a distributor of international HIV/AIDS funds, the government controls the destiny of the fastest growing issue area of NGOs in China, making this economic opportunity nearly indistinguishable from a political one.

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Although the Global Fund attempts to funnel 50 percent of their round-six funds6 to “civil society,” the government’s own representative agency, the CDC, decides which groups receive the money. The CDC provides a list of “recommended” groups to the Global Fund. In theory, the Global Fund has final say over distribution, but its China representative admits that few changes occur between the government’s recommended list and the eventual recipients of funding. The Global Fund provided its own definition of civil society or grassroots organizations, but it was unacceptable to the CDC and was redefined to better reflect the government’s interests. The new definition was far broader, leading to a breakdown in funding that does not seem to reflect the Global Fund’s professed goals of growing civil society. Of the 50 percent of funds directed to civil society groups, only 15 percent is earmarked for NGOs, 20 percent for GONGOs, and the remainder for research institutions that are usually government affiliated. This has led some observers to question the overall independence of groups receiving HIV/AIDS monies (Interview 9).7 Moreover, the “state-to-state” nature of the Global Fund limits the degree to which it can attempt to influence the Chinese government. At a meeting of the Global Fund in Kunming on November 11, 2007, a leader of an NGO focused on infected citizens argued that, despite receiving some resources, groups such as his, which he calls “true grassroots organizations,” are unable to play the role intended by the Global Fund (Interview 52). As if straight out of the transnational advocacy playbook (e.g., Keck and Sikkink 1998), he implored the Global Fund to pressure the government to include more truly independent NGOs. The Chair of the Global Fund promptly replied that although he was sympathetic to the issue raised by the leader, because the Global Fund is “country-led” and relies on a strong partnership with the governments of those countries in which it operates, it “will not impose or pressure governments to do one thing or another.” He was emphatic in noting that the Global Fund “must work within the framework of existing national laws and will not do anything to oppose it.”8 6 7

8

The sixth round of Global Fund grants was approved in November 2006. Concerns about the lack of independence among recipients and corruption among lower level government officials reached a head in 2010, when the Global Fund suspended the monies bound for China in May 2011. The suspension was lifted four months later with the Chinese government having agreed to make changes. However, no details on such changes have been released to the public (“Global Fund lifts China grant freeze” Associated Press, August 23, 2011). There is a somewhat common perception among social organizations that international NGOs – particularly those in which the government plays an important role – are too concerned about their government relations at the expense of domestic NGOs. As noted in the previous chapter, an HIV/AIDS group leader from Henan complained that, on a recent visit by UNAIDS chief Peter Piet, no NGOs were invited to participate (Interview 54). Although she blames the provincial government in part for this oversight, she believes the international organizations could go further in insisting that NGOs play a more prominent role in the province’s battle against HIV/AIDS.

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According to one donor representative, this filtering scheme has the goal of increasing the capacity of the local community (Interview 25). But, among leaders who are the financial beneficiaries of the scheme, there is wide recognition that this model is not well suited to achieve that goal. They are also aware that the provincial and local governments prefer the model because it allows them to ensure that groups do not become too big or too difficult to control. Government control of groups is helped by the lack of registration among groups and, oddly, the very funding structure that gives groups a disincentive to legally register in the first place. As discussed in Chapter 4, because the process of registration can be difficult to navigate, many groups remain unregistered. Unregistered social organizations cannot engage in direct fundraising, however, which limits economic opportunities.9 According to the survey, 60 percent of HIV/AIDS groups and 81 percent of gay men’s organizations, both of which rely heavily on Global Fund and other HIV/AIDS-related monies, are unregistered. One of the perceived advantages of Global Fund money is that recipients do not have to be a registered NGO; this provides welcome economic opportunities for unregistered groups (Interview 9). Although the central government encourages the registration of social organizations in order to keep closer tabs on them, provincial and local governments have different preferences. As evidence of these preferences, few unregistered organizations report much pressure by local and provincial governments to be registered. In Yunnan and Guangxi provinces, for example, government agencies rarely encourage registration (Interview 20). Some governments rationalize the position by claiming that if they have a tie to the group through a funding mechanism, registration is extraneous; others simply claim ignorance about the process. Social organization leaders have a different explanation. They contend that local governments have little incentive to ensure that groups are registered. Because the government chooses recipients for the main HIV/AIDS funding scheme, it maintains more control over them. If organizations do register, they will gain financial independence to pursue funding options aside from Global Fund and other government-administered funding, thus eliminating the need for a government intermediary. More funding opportunities for organizations can translate into fewer opportunities for government control and intervention in the lives of 9

This concern is not shared by all leaders. First, a majority of organizations receiving HIV/AIDS funding did not make explicit this connection between registration and fundraising. For many of them, it seemed that they were content with the status quo. For others, the requirements of registration loomed too large, and the costs of the process did not outweigh the benefits. But, for others, the lack of registration did not rule out the possibility of independent fundraising to make this connection. A former environmental NGO leader suggested that registration is not necessary and that there are ways to fundraise even without this legal status; instead of spending the time and resources to register her group, she simply used her personal bank account to maintain the small budget for her group (Interview 64). A leader of a gay group in Yunnan, also unregistered, does the same thing (Interview 68).

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these groups; as noted earlier, it might limit the opportunities for government agencies to share in the spoils of funding as well. Although registration is the best long-term solution for ensuring the sustainability of these group, the relative ease of collecting Global Fund support is a perverse incentive for social organizations to stay unregistered. By registering, they increase their long-term ability to secure new funds, but run the risk of upsetting their relationship with local government officials (who prefer they stay unregistered) and losing their short-term economic windfall as a result. One group in rural Yunnan, on the suggestion of its international NGO partner, successfully registered and received legal NGO status in 2003, becoming one of the earliest of HIV/AIDS groups to do so. This independence led to a deterioration of its previously close relationship with the government; it lost out on Global Fund monies, which most other HIV/AIDS and gay groups in the province enjoy (Interview 28). Thus, for some social organizations, operating without registration but in cooperation with the government may well be the most economical way to collect funds in China. For unregistered social organizations, this short-term incentive has longterm consequences; by accepting some international funds, like those provided by the Global Fund, many social organizations have unwittingly entered into a Faustian bargain. In the short term, they secure funds with little effort. But the long-term costs could be debilitating: groups are not only reliant on one funding source and vulnerable to collapse when they lose it, but they are also too reliant on the goodwill of the government. Certainly, central, provincial, and local governments do not play a role in the financial lives of all social organizations studied in this book: nearly 62 percent of survey respondents report never having received funds from the government. More than 40 percent of HIV/AIDS and gay and lesbian organizations receive government funds, whereas less than a third of environmental groups do. Of those groups that are registered, 42 percent have received funds from the government, compared to 35 percent of unregistered organizations. It is difficult to know exactly how much of this government money is being filtered from international funders, but considering that a greater proportion of HIV/AIDS groups report receiving it, it can reasonably be assumed that the majority of this money is from the Global Fund or similar major international donors. This conclusion about source of funding is supported by the survey. Respondents were asked to provide the name of government agencies from which they received funds. The modal response in the survey was similar to that given in interviews: 77 percent of organizations report that funds were given to them by health-related agencies (e.g., health bureaus, ChinaAIDS). The Chinese CDC, the primary recipient and implementing agency of Global Fund monies, was listed by nearly half of the respondents. Only 17 percent of respondents report having received funds from environmental agencies; in all these cases, environmental protection bureaus at either local or provincial levels were listed as the granting agency.

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Survey results show that the money is also headed toward the many areas of the country that probably need the support most. Roughly half of organizations in the poorer, development-targeted central and northwestern provinces – areas beset with environmental problems and HIV/AIDS cases – report receiving funds from the government; just over a third from the more economically prosperous eastern provinces report receiving government funds. Although HIV/AIDS-related projects can provide an economic windfall, motivating some provincial and local governments to work on the issue and in coordination with social organizations, there is important regional variation. When other government concerns outweigh the expected value of these economic opportunities, tight relationships between groups and government do not emerge. In Henan Province, the government is not eager to engage in HIV/AIDS work, regardless of potential for economic benefit. An NGO leader from the province believes that there are far fewer economic opportunities for HIV/AIDS groups in Henan than in other provinces largely because the government is “uncomfortable” with the issue (Interview 54). Another leader from the HIV/AIDS issue area who, until recently, worked in Henan, believes the government is concerned that too active engagement in HIV/AIDS prevention will actually scare away economic investment, for fear that the province is diseased (Interview 41).10 There is also concern that certain international donors are not politically safe. An NGO leader in Henan reports that if government officials find fault with a group’s primary donor, the organization will fall under immediate suspicion, and its work could be curtailed. Donors with reputations for supporting democratization efforts, namely Open Society Institute and National Endowment for Democracy, fall under particular scrutiny.11 When groups receive funding from these sources, their widened economic opportunity might amount to a narrowed political opportunity. An HIV/AIDS leader in Beijing argues that, although he takes money from these organizations, he understands there is a risk involved because some foreign funding can be a political liability; he prefers accepting money from funders solely devoted to HIV/AIDS, such as the Gates Foundation (Interview 79). The two leaders who discussed the linkage of Western funders and increased government scrutiny both accepted funds from the same donor, and both 10

11

To the extent that the government is concerned about HIV/AIDS, it appears most interested in protecting its reputation – as discussed in the previous chapter – and ensuring that the crisis does not continue to cripple the province’s economic development. One of the rare public comments of provincial officials emphasized the goal of getting HIV/AIDS-infected residents jobs to ensure they are economically productive (Xinhua March 7, 2008). A 2007 article in the Globe, a government-published Chinese newsmagazine, implicated these funders, which it calls “fake think tanks,” in a number of coups or other politically distributive behavior throughout the world. The article contends that the U.S. government pulls the strings behind these organizations. “Investigation: America’s Fake Think Tanks” [in Chinese] (Globe, December 16, 2007).

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experience conflict. Although these leaders were convinced that taking funds from some organizations might negatively impact their political opportunities, these examples are outliers. Survey results suggest that this view is not widely held. When asked to rank a series of five reasons why conflict might emerge between social organizations and any level of government, although a quarter of respondents ranked “group’s closeness to Western foundations” as the first or second most important reason for conflict, almost 60 percent ranked it the least important. No environmental leaders expressed concern that their relationship with Western funders might somehow negatively impact their relationship with the government. In some provinces (such as Yunnan), the economic costs of environmental protection outstrip the benefits; large infrastructure projects, for instance, might threaten natural ecology, but they also present significant monetary gains for the province and government officials, whose promotions depend on economic growth. Added to the fact that there are fewer economic opportunities from environment-related funding, compared to HIV/AIDS and gay issue areas, governments in these areas are decidedly more reluctant to forge relationships with environmental organizations (Interview 23). As a result, these groups do not report as close ties with the government. Yet, as embeddedness results from the current dominant HIV/AIDS-related funding schemes, this lack of ties could amount to a widened political opportunity for groups in the environmental and (to some extent) lesbian issue areas. Without the government playing a key role in the dispersion of funds, these organizations can keep the government at a greater distance and enjoy more autonomy and less intervention than those flush with money. 6.2 Organizations Without Resources: No Money, No Problems? Even social organizations that are most financially secure today face an uncertain future. Among HIV/AIDS and gay organizations, adaptations to the economic structure have been difficult and have left groups weak and ill-equipped for long-term viability. Although they enjoy medium to high levels of financial resources today, funds often came to these groups easily, giving them little knowledge of how to raise funds on their own. Both have low diversification in number of funders, rely heavily on foreign sources, and are donor-driven. In each of these issue areas, institutional core support is low, market saturation is high, and most have high levels of embeddedness with the government. When asked if his group would exist without HIV/AIDS in China, one leader of a gay group responded with a curt “not likely” and instructed me to look at lesbian groups for an answer (Interview 15). The implication is that, without HIV/AIDS-related funds, gay groups would be just as insignificant as lesbian groups. This impression pervades gay communities in China, as well as some lesbian ones. While at a gay community center in Kunming, I spoke informally to a lesbian woman, inquiring why she was spending time at a place that

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was heavily dominated by men. Did she have any involvement with the one small lesbian group in the city? She looked at me puzzled, paused briefly, and responded, “There are no lesbian groups in Kunming. How could there be? They have no AIDS money!” To be sure, lesbian groups have not ignored the HIV/AIDS issue. They are well aware of the economic opportunities that it has created for many social organizations. One leader of a lesbian group in Yunnan (a self-described anomaly) has participated in meetings on HIV/AIDS – usually as the only lesbian representative in a room of nearly 100 participants – and, as a result, has received some AIDS-related monies (Interview 26). She rationalizes receipt of this small amount of money by reminding me that lesbians are not immune from HIV/AIDS. But most other lesbian groups report having little to do with the HIV/AIDS issue. Most groups have not had any success or interest in pursuing HIV/AIDS-related funds. This lack of economic opportunities creates a challenge for the development of lesbian social organizations. Indeed, the number of these organizations is far overshadowed by gay groups. Moreover, lesbian organizations lack close relationships with government officials who have a vested financial and political interest in building ties with HIV/AIDS-related organizations, including gay groups. At the same time, the lack of these economic opportunities has some advantages. In many respects, lesbian groups more closely resemble the strong, viable organization type than do groups from other issue areas. Unlike many HIV/AIDS and gay organizations, lesbian groups have more freedom to work on issues they are passionate about. For example, the survey results show no variation between what they spent most time doing and what they thought was most important without donor-driven requirements. They can focus on topics that are more interesting to most of the community, such as homophobia, workplace discrimination, family and social pressure, and even same-sex marriage.12 Because of the lack of easy money, those who engage in the work tend to be highly motivated and driven, rely more on other lesbian groups, and therefore have built stronger ties of solidarity with their cohort than have gay groups. The limited financial resources are generally hard-fought and from domestic sources. Lesbian groups tend to rely more on member contributions; in one weekly meeting that I attended in Beijing, all participants (including me) were asked to donate 15 RMB (approximately $2). This leads some leaders of lesbian groups to conclude that their groups are more “grassroots” because their funding comes not from above but from below. Perhaps the biggest problem with the state of HIV/AIDS and gay groups today – the nature of a group’s economic windfall and the accompanying ties that bind it to the government – will be avoided by lesbian groups by 12

I address the issue of same-sex marriage, discrimination, and homophobia in greater depth elsewhere (Hildebrandt 2011a).

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virtue of the fact that they do not receive this kind of funding. In fact, lesbian organizations do not report any support from the state. In being ignored by the government, they are able to do much of their work unencumbered and without interference.13 One leader suggested that gay and lesbian groups represent the best chances for a strong civil society in China. I am not convinced. Gay groups, like organizations in the HIV/AIDS issue area, are single-issue oriented, beholden to the whim of funders and the continued presence of a singular problem. They are well-funded, but rely heavily on just a few funders. The availability of funding sources has also led to a sharp increase in the number of groups, which has also led to competition. Lesbian groups, however, are not overly exposed to one issue area or funding source, and are able to sustain their organization on their own. But although lesbian groups are not bound by the limitations that come with increased economic opportunities among HIV/AIDS and gay organizations, and might thus be more easily self-sustainable and viable over the long term, they are not strong. Although many of these organizations have relied on member donations, this resource is finite; the groups’ financial resources are limited to the number of active and out lesbian women. As a result, the groups are few in number and small in size. Leaders of lesbian groups themselves do not foresee any significant growth in the future. 6.3 Creating Self-Sustaining Organizations Most social organizations work within the confines of the economic opportunity structure because they see little choice to do otherwise. Still, groups have attempted to overcome the constraints of this structure but also show the difficulty of doing so, given the context and implications of adaptations. Even those who currently enjoy financial security are concerned about the future and are often fatalistic about their inability to do much about it. An environmental group in Yunnan, with the help of core funding from the U.S.-based Rockefeller Brothers Fund, has increased its full-time permanent staff from one to eighteen in just five years. But, despite this growth, its leader expressed concern that the funding will dry up and they will have no other economic opportunities that would allow them to continue. He admits to worrying about long-term financial sustainability “every day” but has yet to devise many solutions to become more self-sustaining and ensure a long future (Interviews 5, 17). A prominent HIV/AIDS leader in Yunnan, who has never had problems attracting adequate funds, worries that when AIDS money dries up, his organization and most others will perish (Interview 14). A government official, who sometimes works in coordination with HIV/ AIDS organizations, encourages the groups to prepare for when money dries 13

Ogden (2002) speculates that when the state is looking the other way or ignoring groups for any reason, these organizations might be able to push the envelope more than other groups.

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up from main funders in both private and public sectors (Interview 22).14 The most obvious option for many groups is to simply apply for funding from a larger range of donors. However, the capacity for most groups to cast their net wider for more funding is quite low. Groups from all three issue areas express frustration that grant writing has become so professionalized that, to secure money, organizations must have enough money to hire outside help. As I showed earlier, many of these groups cannot pursue other funding options without being legally registered, and thus they have a perverse incentive to remain unregistered. An international NGO representative argues that domestic groups must simply be more creative in building their organization’s capacity (Interview 40). But this is easier said than done, and creative funding options carry costs of their own. That Chinese social organizations heavily rely on project-based grants does not make them unique, but funding mechanisms used by similar groups in other polities are not so easily employed in China. In attempts to become sustainable, some groups have explored the possibility of recreating themselves as member-based organizations. One of the oldest surviving environmental groups in Yunnan, with a history going as far back as 1998, tried this tactic. This attempt to take advantage of new economic opportunities resulted in the loss of political ones. As a member-based organization, the leader notes that they had a hard time being exclusionary; they were unable to control “unruly” members who were more antagonistic toward the government, thus putting the group and its work in peril. Moreover, he noted that the frequent large meetings necessary under the member-based structure required the group to regularly inform the government, which severely limited the numbers and candidness of the meetings it could hold. The leader soon concluded that being “projectbased” (i.e., relying on project-specific outside grants) allowed the group to do its work and not risk attracting the ire of government officials (Interview 31). Organizations like this one are left with no good option: by abandoning the member-based model, the group returned to a far more sporadic, unreliable source of funding, making its long-term future financially more uncertain. Other groups have developed a hybrid model, including some supplementary business activities carried on in addition to more traditional nonprofit fundraising. One of the few success stories comes out of Sichuan, where an environmental group has maintained a staff of four full-time paid members for nearly a decade. Although half of its budget comes from international and domestic funders, the remaining 50 percent is brought in through proceeds from the sale of environment-related books and photos (Interview 60). Similarly, many groups have begun to do consulting work, charging for what used to be free services. Among organizations in the environmental issue 14

This government official estimated that these funds could taper off in three years. Group leaders are a bit more sanguine, believing that HIV/AIDS funds will dry up within the next decade (Interview 14).

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area, this is an increasingly popular strategy to blunt the impact of lost outside funding. With business and industries attempting to improve their environmental reputation and performance, and new government policies that require environmental impact assessments for major development projects, there are many opportunities for groups in this issue area to make money by doing the same work they have always done, now in service to paying clients. Although several groups expressed the need to adopt such a business model, they are worried about how this tactic might be perceived.15 One well-established environmental leader is open to doing side work as a consultant to ensure financial stability, but when it comes to charging for access to the organization’s pollution database (the most public face of their work), he insisted that they had no plans to do so. He was concerned that this would lead people to assume that their motivations are purely financial and that they are not interested in actually attacking pollution, their primary concern (Interview 5). Moving to a business model can also lead to a loss of political opportunity. A gay group in Yunnan operates a for-profit, advertiser-supported gay website (Interview 68). This business model raises some problems, as their major advertisers are “money boy” (male prostitute) services, which are illegal; the website is thus vulnerable to being shuttered by government censors. Funders are actively encouraging many HIV/AIDS and gay groups to create a “commercial component” to increase their ability to survive beyond the normal five-year funding cycle. The lack of adequate funds and desire to ensure long-term sustainability has also led groups to engage in activities that might improve their financial situation but do not help them avoid the same kinds of problems that were common with the past economic opportunity structure. In adopting a more business-centered model, they might well run into the same kind of competition that was debilitating in the purely nonprofit phase of their existence. One of the few government officials that I interviewed for this project suggested that, as a result of this option, the number of environmental NGOs in Yunnan has dropped significantly because many are reinventing themselves as for-profit businesses; in some cases, however, after leaving their nonprofit roots, they are pushed out by more experienced businesses that do similar work 15

In their description of social entrepreneurs, Peredo and McLean (2006) explain that groups can boast varying levels of “social means” orientation. Their typology maintains that, at one end of the spectrum, NGOs are exclusively interested in social means, whereas for entrepreneurs in other groups, social means are either chiefly, prominent, or, at the other end of the spectrum, subordinate to more traditional business goals. In this case, the social entrepreneur is simply a business leader who uses social issues – “cause-branding” – to increase profits. This literature does not discuss the tendency or ability of entrepreneurs to move between the levels, but the distinction helps illustrate that Chinese social organizations, although beginning with exclusive means, have sometimes moved across the spectrum, starting with exclusive social means and gravitating toward chiefly or prominent levels. Furthermore, the literature does not discuss, but this book contends, that the overall environment and its lack of adequate economic opportunities have played a key role in forcing leaders to change their groups’ prioritization of social means, even though they might otherwise be unwilling to do so.

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(Interview 22). One funder recounted a situation in which two tea houses in Yunnan and Guangxi provinces were created as community centers to reach out to the gay community and provide a forum for HIV/AIDS prevention education (Interview 25). As they began to integrate commercial components into the venture, the teahouses began competing as businesses, and all previous cooperation broke down. When invited to NGO meetings, the divisiveness grew to the point that they would not attend the same meeting. Competition for previous constituents has now turned into competition for customers. The cost of making these groups sustainable by pursuing a commercial route could therefore work against the interests of the community, not to mention civil society writ large. Even hybrid funding solutions are not a panacea. A spartanly furnished teahouse serves as a popular lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community center in Kunming. Each weekend night, the venue is packed, mostly with gay customers. Although there for the opportunity to socialize, customers always politely sit through the lectures about safe sex that are interspersed between the night’s entertainment, usually a drag show. The logic of the social organization that runs it, and the international donor that encourages it, is that HIV/AIDS prevention efforts can piggyback on more appealing social activities. The audience is captive and thus organization efforts are assumed to be more effective. This business model works now because it is one of the few gay bars in town and just about the only affordable one. Over the long term, the model is likely to be unsustainable as the city grows and more alternatives for entertainment, without lectures, become available. In other words, this hybrid model might be a good short-term fix, but not a viable long-term solution. The economic opportunity structure in China does not provide the basis for strong, viable organizations that are able to sustain themselves over the long term. There is variation across and within issue area: for example, HIV/AIDS and gay organizations have enjoyed an influx in funding. Yet, this amounts to a kind of resource curse: increased economic opportunities breed overreliance, vulnerability, and competition, and often compels leaders to make poor decisions. In the short term, even among those groups that may be strong, few are viable. Environmental groups, conversely, no longer enjoy the easy financial resources of the past. But those that have survived this loss of opportunities have adapted to the structure and are engaged in work that interests them. Lesbian groups, unlike their gay counterparts, have not been able to take advantage of new economic opportunities. Similar to environmental groups, these organizations are able to work on issues that more closely match their interests. Yet, both environmental and lesbian groups, without many opportunities for more financial support, remain weak. The implication of these findings for the future of civil society is important: even if we observe significant increases in organizational resources and number of groups, we should not expect the emergence of a strong civil society in these three issue areas.

part iii PERSONAL OPPORTUNITIES

7 Strong Individual Relationships, Weak Institutional Ties The Double-Edged Pursuit of Personal Opportunities

To diminish the possibility of attracting a negative response, social organizations do not avoid the state, but engage it. However, Chinese social organizations do not necessarily engage the state through the most formal of means, as the previous discussions of registration show. In fact, informal relations are exceedingly common and important. Based on insights drawn from outside China, this point should not be entirely surprising. Scholars of social movements have previously argued that informal relations can be crucial for the emergence and success of these groups (McAdam 1996a). However, received wisdom from scholars of Chinese politics might lead us to make the opposite assumption. Many rising social actors, like entrepreneurs and bankers, have sought out formal ties to the state and party (Dickson 2003, 2008; Tsai 2002). To better understand the role of informal relations in the life of Chinese social organizations, I posit a third type of opportunity: personal opportunities. For nearly all organizations, personal opportunities are necessary to take advantage of the other two types, political and economic. An in-depth exploration of personal opportunities can help more fully identify and explain state– social organization relations in China, particularly those features that lead some to suggest that state–society relations are idiosyncratic (Saich 2000: 132) or what respondents vaguely refer to as wenhua tese (cultural uniqueness). To show how personal relationships are a key type of opportunity for social organizations, I lower the level of analysis from the organization to the individual, treating group leaders less as informants or proxies for the organizations they lead (as done in previous chapters), but more as individuals. Previous studies of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in China have paid close attention to leaders in conducting analyses, but have been less conscious about distinguishing between leaders as heads of organizations and leaders as individual actors. By analytically distinguishing between individuals as leaders of social organizations and individuals themselves, I can more effectively highlight the role that 141

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personal relationships – and thus individual leaders – have in adapting to and taking advantage of political opportunities in general. Changing the level of analysis is also important to capture how group leaders forge relations with government officials (not institutions) and the long-term implications of doing so. This attention to individuals and the ties between them is not new in studies of Chinese politics. Oi (1985) questioned the dominant assumption that groups are the basis of politics and drew the focus on individuals within them instead. Previous work on environmental Chinese NGOs has also devoted considerable attention to individual leaders as a way of telling the story (Mertha 2008; Schwartz 2004; Yang 2005); others have specifically highlighted the role of personal networks in ensuring success for NGOs in China (Ru and Ortolano 2009; Spires 2011). The conditions under which personal opportunities emerge are similar to that of patron–client ties in China. When institutional arrangements are difficult to secure, when the existence of groups is impossible under formal institutional arrangements (e.g., unregistered groups), or when interests are simply not served by institutions, individual relationships between leaders and officials become important (Oi 1985: 252). Since individual ties are built when institutional arrangements cannot be made, personal opportunities are perhaps most important for groups that are not legally registered. Yet, informal relations are not limited to these organizations. Irrespective of registration status, social organization leaders place high importance on relationships with government officials to ensure group success. Within these relationships, government officials (patrons) hold and disperse opportunities to the social organization leaders (clients). That is, individual government officials play a key role in explaining group success and failure. When leaders who have not fallen out of favor with the government are asked to discuss the reasons for government–group conflict (or a negative state response toward an organization), they are far more likely to place blame on the social group actors rather than on the group. In the rare case in which leaders blame the government, it is not broken institutions that are used to explain repression, but rather the “crooked officials” within it. Social organization success is explained similarly: individuals, not institutions, are cited as having made the difference. For these reasons, it should be clear that personal opportunities are not akin to social capital. Whereas social capital exists when contacts are built within multiple arenas and between a larger number of diverse individuals, personal opportunities are considerably more atomized; as such, personal opportunities are ultimately isolating, whereas social capital is incorporating. Social capital is far more powerful because it can overcome structural impediments to organizing for a collective purpose. Personal opportunities, however, are strong only for certain individuals in certain circumstances. Finally, social capital is both a marker of civil society and an important contributor to it. However, personal

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opportunities represent one way for an individual or organization to exist in an environment that is hostile to civil society and the aggregation of interests. Certainly, in Chinese social organizations, individual leaders are quite important; not surprisingly, many groups display a truly personalistic orientation. Groups tend to rise and fall with their leaders. They are often nothing without these individuals. Although important for the life of the organization, these leaders are also those who feel nearly all the pressure if the state responds negatively. Understanding the personalistic nature of social organizations is imperative for understanding how leaders establish relationships – and thus create opportunities – with government officials as individuals, not institutions. Although the exploitation of personal opportunities is a good short-term solution for the emergence of social organizations, it has far-reaching negative effects on the long-term viability of groups and civil society at large. If leaders understand state–society relations as little more than a series of strong personal ties, it is no real surprise that when a leader comes into conflict with the government, other NGO leaders explain the variation as a personal problem – and blame the leader as much as (if not more than) the government. The perception of “politics as personal” inoculates broken institutions from criticism and correction. Social actors are less likely to push for institutional change if their needs can be met by a better individual or ameliorated by eliminating a bad one. 7.1 Deep and Shallow Embeddedness In defining the political opportunity structure at the beginning of this book, I relied on insights from the corporatist paradigm, which have proven useful for explaining why and how an authoritarian state creates political space for social organizations. To the extent that this literature fails to properly take into account the role of society in the state–society arrangement, I drew on work from the political process (or rationalist) school of social movement literature. However, both of these theoretical frames are less helpful in explaining the dynamic of individual relationships that make up personal opportunities. This chapter is also mindful of concerns that the corporatist paradigm has an “institutional bias” and is often inattentive to the importance of individual agency (Molina and Rhodes 2002). To this end, I draw on a third strand of theory: because of its focus on relationships, the concept of “embeddedness” is particularly helpful in explaining the nature and implications of personal opportunities. The contemporary usage of embeddedness is derived from Granovetter’s adaptation of an idea originally posited by Polanyi (1944), who first used the term in suggesting that economics – and the act of market exchange – takes place within the broader context of society, rather than the inverse. Granovetter later operationalized the concept as a measure of relationships and put a finer point on Polanyi’s original argument that transactions are dependent on

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social relations. He suggests that individuals who are more embedded in social relationships are more likely to conduct transactions successfully (Granovetter 1985, 2005). Strong linkages between individuals – a high degree of embeddedness – is thought to increase trust between parties and decrease the chances of malfeasance. Despite the advantages of these close ties, embeddedness is not a panacea for trans- (or inter)actions, either. In fact, embeddedness might be useful only in limited quantities and has the potential of becoming a liability (Krippner 2001: 795). Granovetter (1985: 491) warns that, even in the situation of high embeddedness, there is still a possibility for malfeasance; as with all personal relationships, “you always hurt the ones you love.” To differentiate between the kinds of relationships that are most problematic, Uzzi (1996) distinguishes between impersonal “arms-length” and close “embedded” ties. Although he agrees that the latter can create trust and mutual understanding, he also notes that when ties are most highly embedded, there is a high rate of failure; when conditions change, those with embedded ties have a difficult time adapting because they are “locked in” these relationships.1 Therefore, weak ties, rather than strong ones, might be most sustainable (Granovetter 1973).2 As it relates to the notion of personal opportunities, the key insight from this literature is that individual relationships can be of great benefit to social organizations in the short term, decreasing their “transaction costs,” but can also be burdensome in the long term. The concept of “embeddedness” has a logical parallel in the Chinese idea of guanxi. The cultivation of guanxi – the building of personal relationships – was once a cultural expectation in China. However, it is now more accurately described as deliberate and rational behavior, a necessity in both politics and economics. Recent scholarly analyses of guanxi have treated it as a “strong tie” because of reliance on frequent interaction, high intimacy, and repeated exchanges (Bian 1997).3 Despite the prevalence of guanxi in literature on Chinese politics, the notion of embeddedness has only recently been applied to the China context to explain state–social organization interaction in China (e.g., Ho and Edmonds 2008). Even then, it has largely been used to achieve the same ends as corporatist literature: to emphasize the importance of the state in the life of activists. However, it is not that organizations are simply 1 2

3

Uzzi’s findings stand in contrast to those of Gerlach and Hine (1970), who argue that interpersonal bonds lead to more solidarity and allow groups to be highly adaptive. Fukuyama (1999) posits a similar argument, suggesting that a “small radius of trust” is unlikely to survive great change. For instance, in light of increased levels of economic development and the rise of modernization, many traditionally tight neighborhoods were leveled; the strong ties that existed among neighbors were unable to survive this particular change (see also Scott [1999] on “high modernism,” p. 87). Spires also notes that NGOs’ reliance upon personal connections is not necessarily an example of guanxi simply because it occurs in the Chinese context; such personal connections often lack the long-term quality that is common within the notion of guanxi (2011: 16).

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embedded within the state. Rather, and more problematic, individual organization leaders are linked to individual government officials. By speaking in terms of embeddedness, we can gain leverage on how personal opportunities – relations between individual leaders in a social organizations and officials within governmental institutions – can be important for explaining short-term success but also carry with them some serious costs for the long-term viability of organizations and the future of civil society in China. Embeddedness is so common among Chinese social organizations that it is not entirely helpful to simply refer to embeddedness broadly; there is variation in the degree to which groups rely on informal, personal opportunities to operate in the country. As such, I distinguish between what I term “deep embeddedness” and “shallow embeddedness.” Shallow embeddedness will occur when organizations are able to create relations with several individuals within many different institutions at all levels of government. Because they are more diffuse, these ties are weaker in nature, making groups more likely to survive over the long term primarily because they are not locked in a deeply embedded relationship with individual government officials. Deep embeddedness is most likely to occur when an organizational leader is unable (or perhaps unwilling) to build relationships with government institutions and key government officials. This situation is particularly common among groups that cannot legally register or are dissuaded by government officials from doing so. It is these relationships that are most difficult to sustain when conditions change. In the case of China, if an organizational leader is strongly linked to an individual government official, and that official loses influence or decides to break off his or her relationship with the organization, the organization is left without any link to the state. Deeply embedded relationships, relying on very few strong ties, are unlikely to be sustainable over the long term. 7.2 The Importance of Individual Organization Leaders Chinese NGOs are highly personalistic groups; organizations are strongly shaped by those who lead them.4 Social organization leaders are deeply engaged 4

Some personalities might be better suited to the task than others. A well-established environmental leader in Yunnan described four types of potential leaders in China: Xunmin, although smart, are usually willing to follow the lead of the government; Yumin, are “foolish people” who will never oppose the government, irrespective of the situation; Baomin, are well-meaning “short-tempered rebels,” who, owing to their passion and antagonistic posture, are usually ineffective organization leaders; whereas Diaomin are strong-willed, prepared to challenge the government, but only do so “cleverly.” Xunmin and Yumin are more common among group leaders in China; however, the latter is usually too ineffective to leave a positive or negative legacy on organizations. This informant believes that the fourth type of personality, Diaomin, are the most important leaders in grassroots politics. These are the “true change agents,” leaders (of which he includes himself) who will be most difficult to suppress and therefore have the most lasting impact on groups in particular and civil society in general. At the same time, he is very wary of “destructive” personalities, namely the Baomin, because they risk hurting the cause of

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in all facets of their groups and play important roles in their emergence, success, and viability. This point cannot be overstated: the leader of a gay men’s organization in Kunming not only oversees the finances, organization, and planning, but also regularly dresses up in drag (complete with feather boa and tiara) at the group’s weekly gatherings. Showing just how reliant organizations are on individual leaders is difficult. However, presenting survey data on the size of groups is one way to emphasize that organizations are often little more than a extension of the leader him- or herself. Among respondents, the average number of paid full-time staff members was just three; 70 percent of respondents reported having three or fewer staff members in their organization. Even more telling, 35 percent of respondents had no full-time paid staff members. In these cases, leaders operate organizations for no pay and, to the extent that they have any other help, it is provided on a voluntary basis. This evidence suggests that many organizations do not exist beyond their leaders. Therefore, we can characterize these groups as personalistic not only because those who lead them tend to be very strong-minded and controlling individuals, but more fundamentally because they are one of a very few individuals within the organization itself. Another way to display the importance of individual leaders in Chinese social organizations is to show how, when there are problems with the state, individual leaders are targeted, not the organization. One prominent individual at the helm of an organization gives the government a clear, identifiable target for negative state response. Personal histories can follow leaders from group to group and exacerbate the situation, increasing the chances that the leader will be targeted; previous work often creates a legacy that can be used against individuals. If an individual displayed antagonistic behavior in the past, it might come back to haunt him or her. One environmental leader contended that one of his colleagues has had frequent problems with the government in large part because he worked with Greenpeace in the last decade, an international organization that has long represented the prototypical “antagonistic” organization for the Chinese government (Interview 4). This can lead to two different scenarios. If one individual leader has a bad relationship with the government, this can attract negative attention – and perhaps even negative government response – to the organization as a whole. Alternatively, if negative responses are limited to the individuals themselves and not the group, the organization might effectively be insulated from negative response. In the rare instance of negative response reported in interviews and survey responses, the second scenario is far more common than the first in all three issue areas. When the government has more influence over social organizations, such as with gay men’s groups working on HIV/AIDS issues, the tendency of blaming all other effective leaders. This leader explicitly noted, as well, that such leaders are far more a threat to the overall success of Chinese civil society than are government officials (Interview 23).

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individual leaders, but keeping the group intact, is most likely to play out. For example, in Yunnan, the government patron of an HIV/AIDS organization, an official with the provincial health education bureau, grew displeased with the actions of its leader because of claims that he gave too much credit to the local gay community and too little to the government partner. That is, the official feared losing accolades that might increase his own prospects for promotion. However, the patron did not shutter the organization or break his links with the group; rather, he used his position as government sponsor to call for the ouster of the leader (Interview 9). Based on the discussion about corporatist arrangements in Chapter 2, there seem to be two potential explanations for this “chop off the head, but save the body” strategy. First, local governments still need the help of social organizations for meeting social service demands; in addition, in some cases, these groups provide a key economic opportunity for officials that they would be unlikely to sacrifice by dismantling the entire organization. Second, at both local and central levels, government officials have trumpeted the presence of NGOs as evidence of their devotion to the myriad social problems they address, as well as proof of their increasing inclusion of “grassroots democracy” in governance. Thus, punishing activists, but not organizations, might diminish the appearance of a government being “anti-NGO” or against civil society. Activists without any organizational home, such as prominent HIV/AIDS activist Hu Jia, most frequently experience the more direct and sometimes brutal forms of negative state response. This might be because those who choose to go it alone do not have the burden of an organization that they may wish to maintain over the long term, and thus may be unwilling to take positions and actions that might attract negative attention. Alternatively, the government could, as I suggested earlier, be more willing to crack down on “individuals” who break laws – rather than organizations – to show that it does not have any particular bias against NGOs, per se. In other words, without an organization that a government agency or patron might wish to maintain, individual activists might be even more vulnerable. The personal nature of conflicts among groups could, therefore, effectively insulate the group at large. Although most informants suggest that government officials themselves keep their eyes on leaders, not groups, for good measure, some leaders admitted to making a conscious effort to actively insulate their groups from criticism in an effort to save them. An environmental leader in Yunnan who has experienced instances of “interference” and “repression” individually, has gone to great pains to avoid making his own experiences with government too public, for fear that doing so might hurt the larger organization. Bearing the brunt of negative response in order to allow his organization to still flourish is undoubtably a selfless act, but is it actually effective or even worth the effort? The act of insulation is only important if the organization

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can exist without its leadership. The very personalistic nature of these organizations – the lack of institutionalization within them, either by design (e.g., for individual leaders to hold onto power) or accident – makes organizations themselves weak. Even if they are insulated from negative state response, they are unlikely to survive long once their leader has left, willingly or unwillingly. In placing individual leaders as the sole opportunity maker of the organization, social organizations run the risk of falling with the leader, even if they do not experience negative state response directly. In the case of the HIV/AIDS group whose leader was pushed out by its government patron, new leadership was recruited for the group. However, given how integral individual leaders are for groups, the group’s strength and institutional memory was all but lost with this major leadership change (Interview 9). Therefore, even if the government does not intend to kill the social organization, which can be a “goose that lays the golden egg,” by limiting their repression to individual leaders, groups will still likely feel strong negative effects. In recognition of the personalistic nature of groups, leaders of other groups commonly explain an organization’s problems as being the result of individual interests that conflict with the group’s original goals. By extension, they blame organization leaders for instances of conflict between groups and government. They do not uniformly blame the specific issue area, nor do they usually explicitly blame the entire social organization. Repression is more commonly believed to be the result of “personal” issues, “a problem of personalities, not of organizations” (Interviews 27, 28, 40). It is the “silly mistakes” of individual leaders that serve as the most proximate cause of negative state response (Interviews 5, 74, 75); these leaders are described as “bugs” within the government system (Interview 64). Criticisms are not reserved only for personal enemies or competitors. A young leader of an HIV/AIDS organization based in Yunnan explained the conflictual relationship between his mentor, a leader based in Beijing, and the government as the result of his mentor’s organization’s use of methods “inappropriate for the Chinese political environment.” He likened these methods to a flower grown in one soil and then transplanted to a drastically differently soil. There is nothing inherently wrong with this flower, it might in fact be “very beautiful,” but it cannot survive in this new environment. He suggests that the most successful NGO leaders in China are adapting methods to the nation’s unique political environment; they are “using parts of that beautiful flower to make a modified, equally beautiful flower, that will actually thrive in this new soil” (Interview 69). An environmental leader in Yunnan insists that “leaders make mistakes, organizations do not” (Interview 30). This is somewhat misleading, as it implies that there is an organization existing independently of its leader. This is rarely the case. However, when it comes to placing blame, organization leaders are clear: interview data suggested that, when there was a negative state response,

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individual leaders, not the government itself, were often faulted. The survey supports these findings. Respondents were asked to rank five different factors that were the cause of “friction” between NGOs and government.5 Forty-five percent of respondents placed blame with the group leaders most directly, ranking this option first or second; 67 percent of all respondents ranked this choice among the top three options. To explore this sentiment further, the survey later asked respondents to respond to the opposite position, “Friction between government and groups should not be blamed on the leader.” On this question, respondents were a bit more forgiving toward group leaders than on the previous question and were far less critical than the view of leaders expressed in the interview. Nevertheless, nearly half of respondents disagreed with the statement; that is, they believed that organization leaders were at fault for negative state response. Individual leaders are not just a target for negative response from the government. They also attract the ire of other organization leaders, in part because of blame placed on them for tensions with the government and perhaps owing to a desire to keep their distance lest their connection to other groups negatively impact their own relations with government officials. When one gay group fell upon hard times in Yunnan, its current leadership blamed its past leadership for the problems (despite the more convincing evidence that its demise was due to the loss of its sole funder) (Interviews 15, 36). Conflicts between organizations are frequently written off less as institutional turf wars than as “personality conflicts.” The presence of personality problems was noted by one leader to explain a breakdown in cooperation between herself and other environmental groups in Sichuan (Interview 64). An HIV/AIDS leader acknowledged that the strong personalities that head different organizations clash, thus hindering networking (Interview 45). Criticism of leaders is particularly common among gay and lesbian organizations. A growing critique from some in the community is that the leaders of many of these organizations are not gay themselves or not out of the closet. In other cases, they are criticized, as noted in the previous chapter, for being alternatively too independent or not independent enough. An HIV/AIDS activist based in Beijing, who has attracted positive international attention from human rights organizations and (perhaps as a result) negative attention from the central government, has lost his influence in the local HIV/AIDS community because he is viewed as too confrontational. As discussed in the last two chapters, he is avoided by other groups out of concern that the appearance of 5

Respondents were presented with several different choices, all derived from earlier in-depth interview: groups failed to put the government at ease; groups are too close to Western funders, provincial differences (which, per interviews and pre-test analysis, was the “safe” proxy for blaming the government directly), groups are too close to the media, and leaders of the groups do not know how to relate to the government properly.

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close relations with one antagonistic leader could hurt the long-term viability of other groups as well (Interview 3). Many NGO observers in China (and even some leaders themselves) express fear that the personalistic nature of organizations has led to authoritarian behavior in some leaders. Critics within the HIV/AIDS issue area claim that those leaders best able to cultivate relationships with the government are often most destructive to the overall cause of both HIV/AIDS prevention and civil society building. Funding schemes that distribute funds to a small number of leaders who boast superior English-language skills and close ties to international NGOs and foundations have led to what several informants termed civil society “warlordism.” These key NGO leaders have undue control over smaller groups in the issue area and are able to insist that if these other organizations want to have any chance of maintaining a seat at the table – and a place at the funding trough – they must first consult this key leader. Such leaders are also likened to “emperors sitting atop a hill, giving orders” to those who accept the money (Interview 38).6 These individuals are said to have caused divisive conflict among groups and, more to the point, “sold out” the rest of civil society for the betterment of their own groups’ long-term viability. 7.3 Taking Full Advantage of Personal Opportunities To avoid a negative state response, social organizations must adapt to the entire opportunity structure. However, effectively adapting to political and economic opportunities often requires first taking advantage of personal opportunities. When asked with which level of government his organization had best relations, one leader, like many others, responded that evaluating relationships depended more on individual officials rather than the level of government (Interview 23). After organization leaders themselves, individual government officials are believed to have the most power to “make or break” organizations; understanding the relationships between government officials and social organization leaders is the best way to know why some groups succeed and others fail. Relationships are important in large part because, “if the government official trusts the leader, then he will trust the group” (Interview 78). Forging strong personal relationships with individuals, rather than institutions, is part of what some call a “special culture” between state and society in China.7 One leader noted that he has “many friends” in the government, 6

7

Williamson (1975: 255) calls individuals who are most adept at “dissembling relative transaction advantages” “opportunists.” Informants criticize these leaders using the same word. These critics would be unlikely to disagree with his additional claim that opportunists seek self-interests “with guile” (Williamson 1975: 255). This focus on officials, rather than institutions, often goes beyond an organization’s relationship with the government. For instance, groups engaged in environmental work note that they have resolved to focus not on institutions, such as industries and businesses, but on individuals within them. This is part of a general reluctance to work with anyone in an aggregated way.

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but avoids working directly with government institutions themselves (Interview 79). Individual officials within the government can often be helpful for social organizations, but the institutions are “neither helpful nor unhelpful. They are just there” (Interview 80). Put simply, adapting to personal opportunities involves building relationships with individuals in the government, ensuring that the bureaucracy and ineffectiveness of government institutions does not interfere with the work of the organization. It follows that any action that would work against them (e.g., not sufficiently crediting officials, being overly antagonistic, damaging an official’s reputation and therefore his or her prospects for promotion, etc.) works against the long-term interests of the social organization. Sometimes, these informal relations can make up for a deficit of formal opportunities. For example, as discussed in previous chapters, Henan is politically closed to most social organizations, HIV/AIDS groups in particular. Despite unwelcoming government institutions, some leaders have still successfully operated in the province. Group leaders in the province explicitly note that personal opportunities are their only viable option since government institutions are generally not open to NGOs. A leader of an HIV/AIDS organization in Henan, who has avoided negative state responses, credits the strong personal relationships she has forged with government officials, adding that success is ensured in part because they “seem to like me as a person” (Interview 45). Linking with individuals in the government is also important for gay groups in nearly all geographic areas. Individuals are more easily influenced than institutions, which is important for all new social organizations, but particularly those that are less socially acceptable, like gay groups. These informal relations are important in convincing otherwise reluctant or skeptical institutions that gay groups can help solve pressing social problems, such as HIV/AIDS. A young leader of the gay group in Yunnan notes that individuals might be more easily persuaded that gay groups can serve a purpose, even if the whole of society might not (Interview 73). Confirming the findings of the in-depth interviews, 73 percent of survey respondents somewhat agreed, agreed, or strongly agreed with the statement that “to be successful, good personal relationships with government are crucial”; fewer than a fourth of respondents disagreed with the statement, and only 3 percent strongly disagreed.8 When examining the perceived importance of individual relationships in organizational success, the survey found no significant variation across issue area, geographic region, registration status, budget size, or age. In other words, the perceived importance of personal 8

To further confirm this finding, the survey included an additional question on the same issue but worded somewhat differently: respondents were asked to what extent they agreed with the statement that “in dealing with the government, personal relationships matter most.” A difference of means test found no discernible variation between responses given on these two questions.

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opportunities transcends all other boundaries that have resulted in other important variations.9 Personal opportunities are most likely viewed as crucial because building relationships with government officials can be a prerequisite for taking advantage of the other two important types of opportunities. For instance, becoming legally registered is difficult or impossible for many social organizations. In these cases, group leaders must forge personal ties with local officials to ensure that they can continue their work unhindered. Similarly, another key adaptation tactic is to adjust to the changing policies of local governments. However, as noted in previous chapters, it is sometimes difficult for leaders to know exactly what the state’s interests are. In these cases, a close personal relationship with a government official can allow social organizations to gain a better understanding of these preferences and adapt accordingly. Among organizations that rely on funding filtered through the government, it is imperative for leaders to establish informal ties with local officials to ensure that they can enjoy a share of, for example, HIV/AIDS-related monies. Social organization leaders are honest about the importance of personal opportunities and candid about the ways in which they go about forging individual relationships with government officials. One environmental leader suggests that all groups need to find a patron in the government “as quickly as possible.” He believes that the consequence of not doing so is that the group will simply cease to exist (Interview 23). The task of finding a patron can be made easier for social organization leaders by hiring staff members who were previously government officials. Former officials use their “old connections” with officials to ensure good relationships. In addition, building compromise and maintaining a conciliatory posture is key to forging relationships with officials. An HIV/AIDS leader in Yunnan remarked that, even when the work of the group meshes well with government interests, “individual officials must be dealt with delicately.” Leaders must take great care to use the “right words” so as not to offend them (Interview 28). Relationships are further massaged in the “old Chinese way” by traveling and eating together. Wealthier organizations achieve this goal by sponsoring domestic and international “study tours” for government officials. Although 9

Having estimated a simple ordinary least squares (OLS) regression model, I found some interesting variation based upon a group’s interaction with foreign and domestic media: foreign media contacts had a significant effect on perceived importance of personal relationships (p = .007). Respondents who reported more frequent foreign media contacts were far more likely to agree that personal relationships with government were key for organization success. One potential explanation for this variation is that those who have ties with the foreign media are more aware of how different politics operate in China; they are more likely to be self-aware that personal relationships trump institutional ties, whereas those without this interaction with foreign media are less likely to have conversations with outsiders who might make them aware of the uniqueness of how things operate in China and thus more aware of the actual inner workings.

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effective, this tactic is neither employed nor endorsed by all leaders. In fact, there is considerably more debate about how to take advantage of the personal opportunity structure than about how to adapt to political and economic opportunities. Some leaders believe this tactic amounts to nothing more than bribery. In insisting that NGOs in China need to forge more “formal” relations, an environmental leader in Yunnan insisted that social organizations should not pursue friendships with government officials; he points to the “old Chinese way” employed by his fellow leaders, insisting that these frequent banquets, gift giving, and study tours, are akin to corruption (Interview 23). In essence, this leader seems to understand the costs associated with deep embeddedness and, in his call for more “formal” or “authentic” NGO– government relationships, is advocating for a shallower kind of embeddedness with the state. However, although some of these tactics might be suspect, they might also be effective ways of building individual relationships with officials and, thereby, building personal opportunities. Suggestive of this, the leader who cultivates ties through friendship has not experienced any negative response (Interview 10), whereas the one who dismisses the tactic as corruption has had considerable tensions with local and provincial governments (Interview 23). Aside from specific tactics of relationship building, taking full advantage of personal opportunities depends heavily on finding the “right person” in the “right agency” and then building trust with that individual. As such, we should expect considerable variation in this part of the overall opportunity structure in that great variation exists in the kind of government officials leaders encounter. In areas as diverse as the more open Sichuan Province and the more closed Henan, local governments are said to comprise “good officials and bad officials,” who can make life easier or more difficult for social organizations. What makes an official “good” or “right”? In other words, what makes an individual ideal for taking advantage of personal opportunities? Not surprisingly, relationship building is easiest when government officials are willing to be convinced of the value of the relationship. The ideal official is open and progressive enough to welcome relationships with social organization leaders. At the same time, he or she cannot be too progressive or too open, as this might attract criticism from other government officials and cause him or her to lose his or her position; if patrons stick their necks out too far, as the Chinese idiom warns, like a lead bird, they will be shot (qiang da chu tou niao). The consequences for the social organization could also be great. Leaders would lose their patrons and have to start the process of finding another. This task would be likely more difficult as they might forever be associated with a “bad seed,” a troublemaking official. Thus, social organizations have a great incentive to build ties with a visionary official, but a more private, decidedly careful one. A potentially rogue government official, although perhaps initially easy to attract as a patron, would not be a wise way of building personal opportunities over the longer term.

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Knowing that personal opportunities require relationships with individual officials, it is not surprising that groups exploit these kinds of opportunities more at the local level than at the center. Despite the possibility of conflict in group goals and government interests, as discussed in previous chapters, local officials are more accessible to groups and therefore more easily used to take advantage of personal opportunities. However, when groups are on the outs with local government officials – in some cases because of their particular issue area being low on the government’s list of priorities or being directly contradictory to government interests – these leaders can seek out a patron at the central government level. Although the center can sometimes prove to be a powerful advocate for social organizations, because of geographic distance and political and economic decentralization, these officials cannot always effectively shelter their clients from harm or help them expand their opportunity structure at the local level. 7.4 Exploring the Implications of Personal Opportunities Although exploiting personal opportunities can be crucial for success, the prominence of individual relationships in the lives of Chinese social organizations carries costs as well. To explore these implications, I first move the level of analysis from individual leaders to social organizations and show how personal opportunities can negatively affect the short- and long-term viability of many groups. I then move the level of analysis up once more to civil society and show how personal opportunities can impede the overall health of civil society. In the end, I argue that the importance of personal opportunities in state–society relations, although helping some social organizations emerge, might seriously decrease the likelihood of political reform and political change in China. 7.4.1 Implications for Social Organizations As the interview and survey data show, leaders from nearly all groups believe personal opportunities are crucial for success, irrespective of issue area or geographic region. However, not all organizations have equal access to government officials. Younger leaders, in particular, lack extensive experience in the social sector and rarely have preexisting ties with government officials. These leaders are unlikely to have the personal connections or financial resources to hire former government officials, one key tactic for building relationships for organizations. Moreover, if government officials ally with an organization in order to receive benefits, whether economic (e.g., outside funding opportunities) or political (e.g., addressing a key problem effectively and thus improving the official’s reputation), they are more likely to be receptive to overtures from those who can deliver them: more experienced, established leaders, not inexperienced, younger ones.

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When organizations operate in locales with officials who are more closedminded, personal opportunities become very difficult to exploit even if the institutions appear open.10 An environmental leader explained, “Legally, Yunnan is still the best place for NGOs, but provincial officials are not very enlightened.” Without the possibility of this personal opportunity, the overall situation for environmental groups in the province is grim (Interview 10). This problem is even more acute for gay groups. Leaders in this issue area note that it is quite difficult to find open-minded officials who are willing to build relationships with these social organizations; their saving grace, many suggest, is that, by virtue of their work on HIV/AIDS, they can sometimes offer important economic benefit to individual officials. For all groups, the relative importance of government officials over institutions might be beneficial in that, when closed-minded officials eventually retire or are transferred, more enlightened individuals might take their place. Conversely, the movement of individuals within the government could work against groups if progressive officials are pushed out and replaced by those who are less willing to cultivate and maintain these relationships. Even in the more ideal first scenario, relationship building requires time and energy; the cultivation and continuous massaging of ties can distract from a group’s substantive work. Because of the tremendous effort necessary to build personal relationships, most organization leaders create ties with just a few, and sometimes only one, important government official. Such over-reliance on one official is not always of their choosing. Disincentives occur, such as economic opportunities to diversify links with officials; if an official in one agency is in competition for funding or promotions, he or she might discourage clients from building ties to other agencies and other officials.11 Although strong, these ties lead to situation of deep embeddedness, which makes it difficult for leaders to adapt if their patron retires, is fired, or his or her interests in the group or issue area wane. Moreover, as Granovetter (1985) warns, these strong personal relationships are vulnerable to contentious break-ups. If personal conflicts occur between the individual leaders and officials – both of whom are likely to be strong-willed personalities – the entire group is put at the mercy of the soured relationship. 10

11

An informant makes the point well by explaining that the negative response felt by many HIV/AIDS organizations in Henan is due to the lingering power of one official. The former party chief of Henan, Li Changchun, led the effort to cover up the plasma selling scheme that has been identified as the key means of initial transmission of HIV/AIDS in the province, and is now head of the central propaganda department in Beijing. This new position is said to have given him a unique opportunity to push for a contracted opportunity for groups in the provinces, to help him avoid situations in which he might be criticized and his personal reputation damaged (Interview 45). The way promotions are decided (as dictated by the cadre responsibility system) can discourage cooperation between agencies and officials, as well.

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The problem of overreliance is best illustrated by the example of one of Yunnan’s previously most successful environmental groups. As the logic of personal opportunities would dictate, this organization owed its emergence and initial success to securing a strong relationship with a government patron in the provincial government. In particular, a high-ranking provincial government official, who was also a personal friend of the organization’s leader, lobbied the governor to make the province’s office of biodiversity (one of the governor’s personal pet projects) the group’s official government sponsor. However, the governor was soon removed from his position because of charges of corruption; the office of biodiversity was stripped of its functions, absorbed by the department of agriculture, and later jettisoned altogether. In one fell swoop, the social organization lost its individual government patron and its means for political and personal opportunities (Interview 6). In this case, even some limited institutional ties were not enough to inoculate a group from the effects of soured personal relationships. The perceived importance of personal opportunities has also contributed to a general reluctance to even bother building institutional ties, which would allow groups to become more shallowly embedded with the government. For instance, an environmental leader in Sichuan reasons that because she has built a strong personal relationship with a few local government leaders, there is no need for the organization to become legally registered. If problems arise, she believes that she can simply speak with her patron (Interview 64). Although this has worked well for the organization thus far, legal registration carries with it some benefits that can help ensure a group’s long-term viability, as noted in previous chapters. This kind of institutionalization also helps groups rely less on a deeply embedded relationship with one official and diversify, becoming more shallowly embedded, and thus more likely viable over the long term. 7.4.2 Implications for Civil Society In a previous study examining the embeddedness of NGOs in China, Ho and Edmonds outline one key expected result of the orientation: although he does not foresee “overnight revolutions” as a result of embedded activism, he does point to the likelihood of “incremental political change” (2008: 3). I am not as sanguine. The high degree of deep embeddedness common among Chinese social organizations carries with it lasting implications that will hurt the longterm viability of the groups and make any meaningful political change unlikely. Because personal opportunities rely so heavily on individuals, it makes the very notion of social organization success or failure appear idiosyncratic; variation is, after all, found not at an institutional level but at an individual one. This is particularly problematic in trying to predict when and where a negative state response might emerge. Even more importantly, however, the focus on individual relationships, inherent in the idea of personal opportunities, leads to a strong and vicious

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feedback loop: individuals are seen as the key to success or failure and so social actors focus all of their attention on cultivating or mending these ties. When things go wrong, they place blame not on the institutions, but on the failure of leaders to properly massage personal ties with individual officials. Adding to the problem, if the government has, in fact, purposely focused its negative response on individual “activists” to avoid the appearance of cracking down on organizations and opposing “democracy” and “civil society,” it might well have succeeded. Even those leaders who have felt the effects of a negative state response seem to “buy” the story that the government is only seeking to stop individual law breakers, rather than entire social organization. Moreover, to the extent that government is blamed, criticism falls to some “bad seed” government officials (Interview 78).12 As a result, the importance of individuals is further magnified, and the institutional problems that do exist are effectively ignored. In explaining success as a matter of individuals – as the direct result of good personal relationships – rather than putting faith in institutions, leaders hold out for the right person. To be sure, governmental institutions are not vaunted or overly romanticized, but they are not held responsible when things go wrong, either. The government is treated as a given, and it is contingent upon individual organization leaders to work within or around it: as one leader insists “if you do not deal with an idiot [the government] in a smart way, you [a social organization leader] are an idiot yourself” (Interview 45). If leaders come into conflict with the state, it is not the state that moved in their way; rather, the individual leader ignored the state. In being neither a “good thing” nor a “bad thing,” institutions are just an “ignored thing.” Institutions, in sum, are simply thought to not matter much to these social actors. This attitude might well explain why Chinese social organizations spend little time advocating for institutional change, even in private. After all, why change something that does not matter? The mere existence of these groups will not strengthen civil society or help bring about political change if leaders continue to focus on making personal changes and not push for institutional improvements. Previous work suggests a similar result in other contexts. Dickson (2008) argues that embedded relationships of capitalists within the Communist Party has led to weak social mobilization for political change; the main side effect is a general breaking 12

A Chinese academic who specializes in domestic NGO issues agrees with the explanation offered by most leaders that tensions with the government are the result of soured personal relationships. Moreover, she agrees that a group’s initial and continued success is dependent upon maintaining good personal relationships with key government officials (Interview 35). She notes that a similar phenomenon exists in recent cases of corruption. When a high-ranking official or businessperson is accused and put on trial for corruption, citizens commonly believe that, although there was actual wrongdoing, the accused also “stepped on the toes” of government officials or otherwise fell out of favor with a key patron, thereby forfeiting the chance of protection from accusations and charges.

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down of cross-societal linkages. The reason is similar to the claim I make: inadequate pressure is placed on institutions because these social actors have too much to lose from pressuring for this change. The institution is responsive enough to their own needs that the benefits of pressuring them do not outweigh the costs. Leaders of Chinese social organizations will not always stick to institutionalized channels in adapting to the overall opportunity structure. Nearly every organization in all three issue areas studied in this book displays some level of embeddedness. Many of these leaders are quite self-reflective about the need to rely on these personal relationships, and a good number recognize the limitations associated with it. Organization leaders do not always have the choice of choosing institutional, deep ties, despite the negative effects of doing so; in some cases, as shown in previous chapters, institutional channels are unavailable or the government agent prefers that they not be used.

8 Social Organizations and the Future of Chinese Civil Society

Having avoided a harsh negative state response, the vast majority of Chinese social organizations featured in this study operate relatively unencumbered, albeit within a narrow political space. To explain this relative success, it is necessary to understand the entire opportunity structure in which these organizations operate and examine various adaptations they have made in order to do so. Only by understanding why these groups are successful can we then speculate on their long-term viability and, relatedly, the effect that social organizations might have on the political status quo in China. Despite the lack of broad-based repression of nongovernmental organization (NGO) leaders and groups, and although most groups have effectively learned to navigate changing political conditions, their long-term future is bleak. Due in part to the very adaptations groups make to the whole of this structure – beyond political opportunities and including what I have called economic and personal opportunities – the success of many groups, particularly in the newer issue areas (e.g., HIV/AIDS), is likely to wane over time. To be sure, this book is not the last word on social organizations in China. However, it represents an important step in increasing our understanding of how these groups exist in an authoritarian polity. The cross-regional, multiissue area nature of this study also gives us the best look yet at the larger universe of social organizations in the country. As with other similarly designed research projects, care must be taken in generalizing outside the particular cases featured in this study. But the conceptual and analytical frameworks employed in this book were done so with other cases in mind; the insights gathered here can be important for further research on other organizations in China and other authoritarian (and perhaps even nonauthoritarian) polities. The success of the social organizations featured in this book depends on the specific issue areas on which they focus, in so far as they usually (although not always) are engaged in work that can be of use to the state; there is reason to believe that other 159

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types of social organizations deal with the opportunity structure in similar ways. Indeed, groups that operate in areas of poverty alleviation, education, and even some organizations that are more religiously oriented, have similarly adapted to the structure. And, as in the issue areas in this study, we might also expect costs of adaptation to be high and success to be limited. 8.1 Reviewing Major Findings This book defined the political opportunity structure and showed that, to understand this structure, we must examine several different state policies, from the broad to the specific. As shown in Chapter 2, some policy decisions have indirectly created a demand for social organizations. For example, economic development has increased industrialization, but also caused acute, widespread ecological degradation; it has improved infrastructure, which has also facilitated easier movement of peoples, thus contributing to the spread of infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS; and it has provided new opportunities for gays and lesbians to move to larger, more progressive urban centers and built communities of like-minded individuals. Others have defined the context in which these groups operate. For example, economic and political decentralization gives local governments more discretion, and the cadre responsibility system provides conflicting incentives for these officials that can, in some cases, increase political space for some groups and decrease it for others. Through the registration regulation system, the most formal and direct means of state construction of the political opportunity structure, the state has sought to manage these groups. Social organization leaders perceive this opportunity structure and the state more generally as fixed, something that will not be changed through any of their actions. As such, they believe that working within the system, sometimes outside it, but never against it, is key for ensuring their existence and increasing chances of success. Survey data in Chapter 3 showed that, contrary to opinion polls of the general public, which gives the central government high marks and local governments low approval ratings, there is a slightly better impression of local governments than of the central government among social organization leaders. These findings are because of the fact that these leaders’ political opportunities are determined by local, not central officials. Social organization leaders have no choice but to cultivate strong relationships with those at this level. It is worth presenting again the argument for why perception is important in this book. In authoritarian polities, the perception of state policy, goals, and priorities – and, even more directly to the point of this book, the response of the government toward social actors – is perhaps even more important than actual policy and government actions because of the disconnect between rhetoric and action and the lack of transparency. Political opportunities vary across issue areas and regions of China in unexpected ways. For example, although the central government has voiced

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concern about environmental degradation, political opportunities for environmental organizations depend most on the changing priorities and preferences of provincial and local governments, to which social organizations usually adapt. Although the central government might initially open the policy window, local governments retain control over how wide or narrow this opening remains over time. In making this point, this book adds to corporatist theories, increasingly used to explain state–society relations in China, by disaggregating the state to examine how these arrangements differ at various levels of government and across (and sometimes within) issue areas. It also shows how the actions of social actors affect the corporatist relationship. In addition, the findings in this book suggest that some assumptions drawn from the new social movement literature about the uniformity of experiences among groups in similar issue area do not hold in China. In sum, social organizations do not see political opportunities as particularly vexing or their relationship with the state as problematic. Leaders in all three issue areas have started organizations that fit well with the interests of the state from their inception or have adapted the work of preexisting organizations to better complement government policies. Groups employ a multitude of tactics to adapt to the narrow political opportunity structure. Chapter 4 showed how organizations employ nonantagonistic postures to convince government officials that their intent is not to interfere with or work against government interests. They display high levels of transparency to prove that the social organization is not engaged in nefarious activities occurring under the government’s radar. Social organizations generally avoid networking with each other to assuage state fears of NGO solidaritybuilding within and across issue and geographic regions. Nongovernmental organization leaders frame their activities in a way that most complements current central and local government interests. Organizations also indulge government official’s desires to receive recognition (and avoid criticism) for successes. A more complex adaptation involves obtaining legal registration. Obtaining legal registration, depending on the type of group and the geographic area, can widen or narrow the opportunity structure. Although political opportunities are important, this book demonstrates that Chinese social organizations must negotiate more than just the political context; how organizations adapt to the entire opportunity structure is an important determinant in explaining and predicting emergence, strength, and viability. As such, Chapters 5 and 6 explored the economic opportunity structure and showed how it also looms large in the lives of Chinese social organizations. In comparison to political opportunities, economic opportunities are more difficult for organizations to negotiate. Although organizations have strategically adapted to take advantage of funding resources, the current financial windfall in some issue areas (e.g., those focused on HIV/AIDS and gay issues) comes with serious costs. Organizations in these issue areas lack diversification in the number and kinds of funding sources and are, therefore, more vulnerable to

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collapse with the loss of just one crucial source. Moreover, one of the most abundant funding sources – grant money for prevention of HIV/AIDS – gives the government a key role in the distribution of resources. Control over this economic opportunity allows the government to intervene in the lives of social organizations, which can contract political opportunities. By implication, organizations that have not shared in similar financial success (e.g., environmental NGOs) might be more viable over the long term. The findings in this chapter complicate predictions found in resource mobilization literatures, which usually suggest that more resources lead to more opportunities, greater emergence, and, presumably, a healthier organization over the long term. Finally, the book introduced a third subset of the opportunity structure, personal opportunities, in Chapter 7. Leaders in all three issue areas pursue informal relations with individuals within the government rather than forge more sustainable formal institutional ties. In times of strife or success, leaders blame or credit the personal relationship, not the institution. This orientation has made organizations reluctant to push for institutional change and has placed their future in the hands of a few government officials. The importance of personal opportunities extends to and has implications for relationships among social organizations as well: when explaining conflict between government and society, leaders place more blame on the leader of the organization than on the government, creating more division and atomization within issue areas. 8.2 Making Change, at the Margins The attention paid to agency in this book should not be confused with a belief that social organizations in China have complete control over their destiny; being attuned to the changing opportunity structure usually ensures a group can continue to exist, but it does not mean that it is effecting large change. Due largely to the vast power asymmetries that exist within the relationship between NGOs and the authoritarian state, the changes that these organizations can make, although important in their own right, are not akin to the larger policy outcomes scholars have seen with other social actors in China (Tsai 2002, 2007).1 The majority of Chinese social organizations are far more passive actors than we might otherwise assume of NGOs generally. What we see among most NGOs is change making at the margins. But even such small changes are important: an environmental NGO that stopped construction of a railroad that interfered with the migratory path of the Tibetan antelope; another that mobilized local citizens to put a temporary halt to a planned dam project; the HIV/AIDS organization that started a methadone treatment scheme for drug addicts and convinced local officials to create similar clinics elsewhere; NGOs that have distributed condoms, promoted safe sex, and perhaps saved thousands from infection; and the countless gay and lesbian 1

I am grateful to an anonymous reviewer for this point.

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organizations that have created safe spaces for individuals coming to terms with their sexuality in an environment that is still relatively closed-minded on issues of sexuality. Making change is possible, and the agency of social organizations does matter. But these possibilities are limited and remain highly dependent on the shifting opportunity structure (not to mention the interests of the state). 8.3 High Costs of Adapting to the Opportunity Structure This book establishes that organizations are constrained by the opportunity structure and thus have no choice but to adapt to it. Organizations employ adaptive tactics despite the costs that they can carry. As high as these costs may be, the costs of not adapting are considerably higher; not adapting would elicit a strong negative response and put the future of the organization in serious danger. The issue of social organization registration shows how all three subsets of the opportunity structure come together in unexpected ways to constrain the options available for organizations to adapt. In turn, these constraints have long-term costs. As shown through survey and interview data, a considerable proportion of NGOs operating in China today are not legally registered. However, not all groups see legal registration as the best way to take advantage of the narrow opportunity structure; this novel finding is quite different from studies of other social actors (such as entrepreneurs and private firms), who have actually pursued formal ties and recognition in the form of party membership to gain more autonomy and independence and avoid scrutiny (e.g., Dickson 2003, 2008; Tsai 2002, 2007). Organizations that are not registered have not necessarily failed in their efforts to achieve this status. For many, being unregistered is by design and sometimes directly related to adaptations made to take advantage of limited economic opportunities and equally important personal opportunities. Often, to ensure economic opportunities, leaders must build strong personal relationships. Legal registration is not a prerequisite for either of these; in fact, sometimes it is seen as redundant or counterproductive because it conflicts with the interests of local government officials. Yet, in the end, all social organizations will be circumscribed by the government in some way or another, regardless of registration status: because of legal clarity, registered groups enjoy more political and economic opportunities but also must abide by a strict criterion. Unregistered groups save the effort of registration (which might preclude their existence completely) but are also more tightly tied to the state and are therefore restricted in a different, informal way. Although adaptations to the political opportunity structure are not always seen as particularly onerous, they carry with them implications for the longterm viability of social organizations and the achievement of organizational goals. The issue of social organization registration provides an ideal example of how political, economic, and personal opportunities put social actors in an

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untenable position. The current incentive structure has given local governments a reason to allow unregistered groups to exist in the short term, but, over the long term, the position of these groups might not be secure. Without registration, fundraising is difficult; and without legal status, if the central government does indeed want to make a push to purge the country of unregistered social organizations, their long-term future is in jeopardy. 8.4 Limitations to Long-Term Viability Although most of the social organizations studied in this book have forged a successful “harmonious” existence with the state in the immediate term, they have not built a foundation for long-term viability. In coming to this conclusion, it was necessary to pay close attention to both agent (social organization leaders) and (opportunity) structure. Although the former maintains a good deal of discretion in the choices NGO leaders make, adaptations are made within and constrained by the latter. The adaptations and associated costs vary across issue area and geographic region. Although I agree with Dalton’s (1994) suggestion that environmental groups are an important type of NGO to study because they are an early actor in the societal space and thus have often served as a “political reference point” by showing other groups what strategies work, because of variation in experiences across China, the value of this reference point is less clear. This is particularly evident when looking at economic opportunities and the changing trend in fundraising: environmental groups once enjoyed great financial stability but have been attracting less funding, whereas HIV/AIDS organizations are riding a wave of popularity in the international donor community. But more money is not everything. Even well-funded groups may not enjoy the other types of opportunities necessary to be successful. Although HIV/AIDS groups generally enjoy a confluence of political, economic, and personal opportunities in Yunnan and Sichuan, those working in Henan have a considerably more difficult time adapting to the narrower political and personal opportunity structure in that province; local interests are simply less complementary to the goals of these social organizations. Those that have survived tend to be better off. But it is not all within their control. Environmental groups that enjoyed relatively wide political opportunities in some areas, such as Yunnan, face a narrowed structure, owing to changing local government priorities. To the extent that gay and lesbian groups work on HIV/AIDS projects, they enjoy relatively high economic opportunities in the short term, but this has revealed some problems; despite larger financial resources, groups have a low degree of funding diversification, which leads to competition and the breakdown of cooperation among groups in this area. Groups that do not rely on HIV/AIDSrelated funds, particularly lesbian groups, do not have a distinct short-term (or even long-term) financial advantage and are fewer in number, but are therefore able to operate closer to their interests, rather than those dictated by the funder.

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Also, because they are small, these groups tend to be ignored by local and central officials, which is in itself a type of political opportunity. For the short term, HIV/AIDS NGOs are poised to grow even faster. But for the long term, like NGOs in general, their future is bleak. These particularized groups depend highly on international funding. They are, therefore, vulnerable to the changing whims of international donors (as environmental groups once were) and the loss of money associated with it. Also, a major medical breakthrough to cure the disease would be welcomed news to the affected populations, but would spell the near immediate end of this NGO sector, on which the hopes of many for China’s future civil society rest. The costs of adapting for the short term have some clear long-term consequences. As a result, the outlook among organization leaders is not sanguine. When asked how NGOs might develop in a way to ensure viability in the future, one veteran leader was resigned to a bleak future, “It is impossible. There is no way” (Interview 63). To explain this grim assessment, three points deserve particular mention. First, groups have a difficult time becoming institutionalized. As noted earlier, registration offers a good example of such difficulties. Institutionalization – which can come about through many mechanisms, including legal registration and cultivating ties with government institutions, not officials – is key to the persistence of organizations amid economic, social, or political change in most political contexts, including in the United States (e.g., Skocpol and Fiorina 1999). Of course, institutionalization is not a panacea. As social organizations become more professionalized, they also run the risk of prioritizing survival over original objectives (Dalton 1994; Michels 1954; Weber 1978). This observation is closely related to my second point. Social organizations may be adapting to the extent that they are no longer nonprofit social actors as originally conceived. Put differently, the adaptations have changed the notion of what it means to be a social organization in China. As explained in Chapter 6, constrained by a narrow economic opportunity structure and faced with few options for attracting more financial resources, social organizations have adopted for-profit business models. In addition, the difficulty of registering as an NGO, as discussed in Chapters 4 and 6, has driven many groups to reform themselves as corporations. Such social organization evolution is not new, nor is it limited to China. Hoffer (1967: 51) derided a similar phenomenon in the United States: although starting out as noble, mass movements, almost all “end up as a racket, a cult, or a corporation.” Third, there is inadequate cooperation among social organizations in China because there are few incentives and many disincentives to build networks with other NGOs inside and outside China. This has several causes, including increased competition for financial and human resources (as discussed in Chapter 5); it is also the result of a key adaptation tactic (discussed in Chapter 4), wherein groups purposely minimize links with organizations for fear that the government will feel threatened. In making this last point, the project draws

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the analysis to the issue of conflicting interests of social organizations within issue areas and across them. By demonstrating infrequency of cooperation among groups and the prevalence of hard-nosed competition, I am able to argue that assumptions about intra- and cross-sectoral solidarity among NGOs do not hold up in China today. Only once we explore the space in which individual social organizations must operate and understand the nature and extent of adaptations they make to exist in it, can we begin to answer the questions of primary interest to the civil society literature. This study of Chinese NGOs in three different issue areas suggests that China’s domestic civil society, to the extent that there is one, is plagued by problems. As reviewed earlier, adaptations carry costs at an organizational level. Although leaders do not seem concerned about it, there are also costs for civil society. In sum, groups whose long-term financial future is in doubt, organizations that do not form bonds of solidarity with groups in the same or different issue areas, and leaders who have built personal ties but no institutional ones, will not form a firm foundation for strong, aggregated civil society. Although many organizations have made necessary adaptations, civil society as a whole remains weak and atomized. 8.5 Social Organizations and Regime Resiliency Having established that Chinese NGOs, although often successful today, are short-term oriented and not well institutionalized, the puzzle discussed at the beginning of this book – that Chinese social organizations have emerged and proliferated while the authoritarian regime remains – should be far less vexing. Although this book cannot predict whether China will see significant political reform in the near future, it can say with relative certainty that if regime change does occur, it is unlikely to be on account of the kinds of groups featured in this book. This conclusion accords with the work of other China scholars, who suggest social actors who have brought about political change in other polities are not playing the same role in China; with social organizations, like private firms and entrepreneurs, the regime has again shown its resiliency in the face of forces that have challenged or upended the political status quo elsewhere (Dickson 2003; Pearson 1997; Tsai 2007). Although an examination of Chinese social organizations is not necessarily helpful for answering the question, “Will China democratize?” it does offer insights into how and why the regime has maintained its grip on power. Certainly, resiliency is not always the result of careful, purposeful design. The state has made a series of policy decisions that have created an opportunity structure that constrains the choices of social organizations and, in doing so, hurts their long-term viability. This, in turn, has contributed to a weak civil society. But the regime is not resilient simply because China lacks a strong civil society. Rather, it is resilient (in part) because of the very actions that social organizations have taken in order to exist within

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the opportunity structure.2 Like any good codependent relationship, the status quo is maintained and power asymmetries that existed at the outset remain. As I have shown throughout this book, the most successful NGOs in China have adapted best to the opportunity structure by demonstrating their value to the state. These groups have come to play the role of service provider, an orientation that is increasingly common among social organizations in both authoritarian and democratic polities, alike (e.g., Australia, Japan, Russia). In accepting this service provider position, NGOs have been given one of the few available means of emerging and playing an important role in governance. However, in doing so, these organizations may have also unwittingly helped strengthen the state in three ways. First, as shown in the previous chapters, groups are successful to the extent to which they provide a benefit to the state. In many cases, this means that social organizations do the work that the government, particularly at the local level, lacks the (human or financial) capacity or political will to do itself. Therefore, these groups can increase the resiliency of the regime by helping the government deal with pressing social problems (e.g., wide spread water pollution, spreading HIV/AIDS) that might otherwise have undermined its control. These groups are not replacing the state. Instead, they are performing a service that the government recognizes needs addressing but has not yet done itself. Social organizations are assisting the state in its economic transition by shouldering a burden that might distract or interfere with other priorities. Second and relatedly, by helping resolve social problems, Chinese social organizations might increase the legitimacy of the state by improving the government’s image in the eyes of the general public. This occurs when the government receives credit for when things go right, but avoids blame when they do not. One of the key adaptation tactics for NGOs is to give credit for successful activities to local and central governments, regardless of actual assistance provided. As more social organizations are given such responsibilities, governments might be insulated from criticism when problems are not solved or the activities in which these groups are engaged become unpopular; this outcome is quite probable for social organizations in the issue areas studied in this book, as they address problems that are particularly difficult to resolve. To understand the impact of increased responsibility on the social sector and its relationship to regime resiliency, it is instructive to briefly examine the effect that political decentralization has had on local and provincial governments. As the central government has extended more authority and discretion to local governments, Beijing has become increasingly insulated from criticism, such that opinion polls report consistently high approval rates for the central government and 2

A similar phenomenon has been noted among environmentalists elsewhere. When these activists display a rational orientation, working within (rather than against) the system to meet their goals, they are engaging in “functional green politics.” As a result, established political dynamics are reinforced and reform is thwarted (Torgerson 1999: 135–6).

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exceedingly low rates for local governments. In many instances, this belief is helped by central government reports that publicly criticize local government officials when problems arise.3 Third, the social service orientation of most social organizations might also serve the interests of regime resiliency by providing an outlet for societal participation in governance that is nonthreatening to the political monopoly of the state. Environmental, HIV/AIDS, and gay and lesbian NGOs could act as a release valve for pent-up grievances within society. These social organizations are innocuous to the state, and keeping them in line is not costly. Instead of having to use costly coercive means to limit the activities of these organizations, most leaders have made adaptations that effectively amount to self-control. Despite the emergence of Chinese social organizations, the authoritarian regime remains. As demonstrated, the way in which social organizations have gone about adapting to the opportunity structure by embracing the role of service provider might well have increased the resiliency of the regime. However, the regime remains not just because NGOs have moderated their overall orientation. The leaders of these groups have not, by and large, pushed for significant political reform (let alone regime change) because organization leaders are either unable or unwilling to do so. First, the nature of political, economic, and personal opportunities makes groups simply unable to advocate for change, for doing so would hurt their short- and long-term prospects for continuing their work. Many of the social organizations discussed in this book are successful because they have become deeply embedded within the state. Their financial resources, in particular, are dependent on maintaining good relationships with government officials. Therefore, they are unable to take actions or advocate for positions that would be in direct opposition to the government for which these officials work. As Dickson (2008) has similarly argued, such relationships usually lead to weak social mobilization for political change. Almost implicit in this explanation is that many of these social organization leaders would push for political change if they thought they could get away with it. However, given this book’s re-imagining of NGO leaders as rational, economic actors, who take a cost–benefit approach to their work, an additional explanation for the lack of political change must be proposed: these leaders might also be unwilling to push for a change to the status quo.4 Despite the real difficulties associated with operating, the problems of long-term viability, 3

4

Much attention has been given to exploring how the state can maintain its control in light of the loss of any real ideology. One crucial survival mechanism has been playing levels of government against each other, taking easy routes by passing underfunded policies and blaming the local government when they fail; in rare but public occasions, the central government has played the savior, thus solidifying its role as ultimate protector. The emperor may be far, but can still have an influence if he desires. I explore this issue as it pertains to environmental NGOs elsewhere, in Hildebrandt (2009). It also bears noting that, in being highly personalistic, an issue discussed in Chapter 7, Chinese social organizations are rarely an example of democracy at work. Decision making is usually

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and the inability to affect political outcomes, Chinese social organizations and their leaders do not express feelings of alienation from politics, as some suggest (Almond and Verba 1965; Seeman 1966). In fact, these groups are often heavily involved in the political process. Rather than working against the system, they accept it at face value, working within (or sometimes around) it. Financial resources are limited, political opportunities are subject to drastic and rapid change, and personal relationships are not institutionalized. Although bad for fledgling organizations, this situation can be good for those already established: the opportunity structure can exclude some social organizations, which can minimize competition. Moreover, those groups that are relatively successful, at least in the short term, owe much of this success (and political, economic, and personal opportunities) to the government. In fact, because success is so clearly dependent on building strong relationships with government officials, these NGO leaders might prefer an authoritarian government that acts as a kingmaker, picking and choosing what groups should exist. The successful have an interest in maintaining the status quo. Those who are most successful have political and economic disincentives to push for political change (Dickson 2003; Tsai 2007). Those groups that have been successful under the current rules of the game not only believe these rules are unlikely to change, but have perfected their play such that a change would put them at a disadvantage: it would require them to learn an entirely new system, build new personal relationships, and find new financial resources. As narrow as the opportunity structure might be, at least it is known; as prospect theory would dictate, these leaders are likely risk acceptant over losses, but risk averse over gains that might be made with a change to the political status quo (Kahneman and Tversky 1979). 8.6 From Oppositional to Strategically Limiting Organization (and Back Again) The conceptual and analytical frameworks in this book are particularly powerful in that they accommodate for and can help explain change and movement of organizations. One key for social organizations to avoid negative state response, at least in the immediate term, was to behave more like service providers to the state than advocates for society. There is growing evidence that social organizations in China that have previously maintained more antagonistic postures (or work in areas that are more likely to draw government ire) are making adaptations necessary to engage in their activities less encumbered. Religious organizations in Yunnan, for instance, have found ways to operate more openly: groups have begun work on poverty alleviation and public health issues, both of which fit with local government needs and interests. Provided quite authoritarian; these NGOs usually reflect the preferences of the leader at the top rather than of staff, members, and constituents below.

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these organizations maintain a singular focus on these activities, officials seem to be turning a blind eye to their religious orientation. The embrace of adaptation – and thus movement into the strategic, self-limiting category of social organization – is particularly apparent among international NGOs: The Nature Conservancy (TNC) China has long made strategic adaptations to ensure it can maintain a presence in areas of the country where local officials might usually be unwelcoming to more traditional environmental activists; Greenpeace has deviated from its usual tactics in order to operate openly and directly in China (rather than through its Hong Kong office, as in the past); and despite its deeply Christian background and mission, the Salvation Army has carved out an important niche working on poverty alleviation in Henan, a province otherwise hostile toward all NGOs. The conceptual framework does not limit its accommodation and explanation of movement to just one direction; if an organization can gravitate from an oppositional orientation to a self-limiting one, there is no reason it cannot become more activist and oppositional over time. However, the obstacles for this shift are numerous, and the costs it can incur are high. The circumstances under which movement in this direction might occur are decidedly narrow and do not apply to all organizations in all situations. But it is important to still pay adequate attention to this shift, primarily because it is these organizations that look most like our traditional conceptions of NGOs, are more likely to pursue broader policy change or political reform, and are least likely to contribute to regime resiliency. Because this book focused on organizations from issue areas that were most likely to have avoided a negative state response, and because most of these groups ensured success (and avoided repression) by maintaining a social service provider orientation, it is difficult to say with a high degree of certainty why and how some groups can be more advocacy-oriented and oppositional; the selection criteria likely excluded many groups that were, in fact, advocates. Nonetheless, three patterns emerged from this research that suggest some conditions under which social organizations are more likely to resemble more traditional NGOs. First, organizations that have strong relationships with the central government and the international community are better positioned to absorb some (although not all) of the costs associated with changing their orientation. This category includes an environmental NGO in Yunnan that has, in the past, taken an advocacy posture in opposing the development of large hydropower projects in the province. It is able to do so in part because of a positive relationship with the central government; it has used this support as insulation against opposition from local governments. In addition, it is relatively well-funded by international donors, making it less dependent on the goodwill of local officials than are those groups whose economic opportunities flow from these relationships. Ties to the international community not only provide the financial safety net for organizations to be more advocacy-oriented, but likely the

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encouragement to do so as well. However, this might be a short-term position. If groups are too advocacy oriented, central government patrons might lose patience and withdraw support. As noted in Chapter 5, even if these patrons remain supportive of their groups, because of their distance from the groups and political decentralization, this insulation can be limited. Second, groups that are small and that represent “unseen” populations are sometimes effectively ignored by the state, which gives them more latitude to operate as advocacy organizations than as social service providers. When the state is looking the other way or simply not seeing it, a social organization is able to do more than those that attract government attention (Ogden 2002). This category includes most lesbian organizations. As with gay groups, these NGOs represent a minority population that has long been ignored by society and the state alike.5 But, unlike gay groups, they have not attracted the attention that gay groups have because of the growing HIV/AIDS problem. As such, lesbian organizations have engaged in advocacy work, such as pushing for same-sex marriage in China. They even have adopted a “human rights frame” to their activities, without attracting much attention, let alone incurring a negative state response. Moreover, these groups do not have much outside funding and therefore do not have donors telling them what to do; some funders, such as the Global Fund and the Gates Foundation, would have a clear disincentive to allow groups it funds to be too advocacy-oriented, as it could put their entire foundation’s presence and operations in the country at risk. However, the small size of these groups, although allowing them more latitude in their activities and orientation, also means that their influence on society at large, and the regime in particular, is likely to be minimal. Finally, in the third category are those groups – and their leaders, in particular – who simply have nothing to lose. This is best exemplified by the few HIV/AIDS organizations that focus explicitly on infected individuals (ganranzhe). The leader of one of these groups based in Beijing readily admits to pushing for policy change and even criticizing the government’s inattention to the concerns of those already infected with HIV/AIDS. He explained that taking an advocacy or even antagonistic orientation had potentially high benefits because he himself was infected with HIV, and very low costs because he had nothing to lose; due to his poor health, he did not have a longer time horizon with which to be concerned. This category might also include groups that are operating in the interest of, and probably led by, victims of severe pollution, petitioners, and even religious groups.6 Groups in this category, however, are 5

6

Lesbians have long been forgotten by governments. Sometimes, this general ignorance can be a benefit: when antihomosexuality laws were promulgated by Queen Victoria, they did not even mention lesbian women, apparently because the Queen thought them not to even exist in the country (Castle 1995: 11). For religious organizations, the ultimate reward for their activities might be seen as in the afterlife. Thus, the costs of taking an advocacy position on Earth may be perceived as relatively unimportant.

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few in number. Moreover, the effect of this orientation tends to be alienation from other groups, which puts the long-term future of these nothing-to-lose groups in doubt. 8.7 Implications for Donors and Policymakers In addition to illuminating our understanding of the routine relationship of social organizations and the state in China, this book can also inform domestic and international policy relating to key issues in China and aboard. The end of the Cold War heralded the birth of “new security studies,” and scholars began to examine the role that nontraditional threats have on international security. These threats have the potential to cause domestic instability and can even spill across national borders. The issue areas featured in this book address new security issues that loom large in the East Asian region and around the world. In China, environmental degradation, for example, has caused economic losses, pollution-related illness and death, and led to protests throughout the country. Thus, at a domestic level, the Chinese government has a clear incentive to resolve these issues. Recent cases of cross-border water pollution in northern China and air pollution traveling eastward have led to an increased interest in these security issues among international organizations and foreign governments. Therefore, this book helps us better understand how the Chinese government intends to deal with pressing social problems (e.g., environmental degradation and public health crises) that, if not properly resolved, have the potential to cause domestic instability and even spill across borders, leading to regional and international conflict. In addition to outlining the issues that threaten security in a post-Cold War world, political scientists have highlighted the importance of NGOs in helping defuse these threats (Matthews 1989). In recognition of the threat these issues pose, and the role social actors can play in resolving them, the U.S. government has provided increasing levels of technical and financial support to China. On HIV/AIDS, for instance, USAID has spent $4 million over the last two years to fund AIDS prevention and control in two provinces in southwest China. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has been engaged in AIDS programs throughout the country. In addition, the U.S. government has pledged $3 billion to the Global Fund; China is a major beneficiary of this money. Nearly all of this financial and technical support is designed with domestic nongovernmental groups in mind. International donors earmark money for these social groups, or the Chinese government itself “subcontracts” the implementation of projects to NGOs. The social organizations under study in this book stand on the front lines of controlling the spread of HIV/AIDS and blunting the impacts of environmental degradation. With this context in mind, this research is important for policymakers for two primary reasons. First, if the goal of international support is to prevent conflict by addressing new security threats, we need to understand the particular

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context in which the primary agents of change in China – domestic NGOs – must operate. As such, this book increases our understanding of how the relationship between the Chinese government and domestic social organizations helps (or sometimes hinders) the goal of resolving new security concerns, such as environmental degradation and the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and also better aligns expectations with reality. This book can provide foreign aid agencies and international NGOs further guidance as to how their support of Chinese social organizations might be better used to create robust, effective, and self-sustaining groups. Efforts of foreign government and international foundations to combat AIDS in China should be commended. But financial support can sometimes be a curse rather than a blessing. Since funding is often contingent on evidence of effectiveness, programs focus on populations easiest to reach and methods cheapest to implement; these projects rarely use best practices or focus on the neediest populations. Innovation is stunted and prevention is prioritized at the expense of those already infected. It is also clear that how these groups are supported can create overreliance; donors are not building the sustainable groups they might hope to build. Funding schemes are fostering competition in some instances or, in the most mild cases, simply not bringing cooperation within and across NGO issue areas as we might expect (or hope). Moreover, donors presume a responsible orientation of these organizations. Once these assumptions are put aside, perhaps oversight will be increased, leading to more effective activities and stronger organizations. But, in supporting domestic NGOs, the international community does not always limit its goals to resolving new security threats. It also often supports civil society development in hopes of affecting political reform in China. Groups like those featured in this study have, in recent history, played key roles in leading the charge for reform in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union (e.g., Dawson 1995). This study shows that, although many organizations have made necessary adaptations, civil society as a whole remains weak and atomized and confirms conclusions drawn by a small but growing Chinaspecific literature: the presence of social organizations in China is unlikely to lead to the democratization that has occurred in other contexts. By operating in a constrained political space, often in the service of the state, these social organizations might actually help forestall political change rather than prompt it. Even more fundamentally, this book reveals a tension between solving social problems and building a strong civil society. To solve problems, social organizations must forge a positive working relationship with the government; in China, it is necessary for organizations to build these relations if they are to exist at all. Although the social organizations discussed in this book might help mitigate social problems, in doing so, they are not necessarily simultaneously serving as a force for political reform. Pushing for regime change would likely eliminate the chances that these groups can operate at all and thus diminish

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the chance that the problems they were initially entrusted to address will be solved. Relatedly, if the primary goal of supporting environmental, HIV/AIDS, and even gay and lesbian organizations is to help mitigate the effects of pressing social problems and diminish threats to global security, is the lack of political change and the strengthening of the regime in China problematic? Perhaps not. In recent decades, scholars have debated the effect of regime type in dealing with problems of environmental degradation. Some believe the environment cannot be properly protected without the openness and flexibility that comes with democratic institutions (Torgerson 1999: xi) and that authoritarianism is simply antithetical to the principles of environmentalism (Dobson 1994; Paehlke 1996). Others, however, suggest that democracy and democratic freedoms can sometimes work against the interests of environmental protection (Hardin 1968); these scholars note that democracy is concerned with process, whereas environmentalism is about outcomes, and the two are not necessarily complementary (Goodin 1992; Levy 2004: 54). At the very least, these insights should convince policymakers that their expectations about the power of social organizations in achieving two sometimes unrelated aims are unrealistic. If the international community is supporting Chinese social organizations to deal with issues like environmental degradation and HIV/AIDS, this might be the multipronged attack necessary to solve complex issues. If the international community is supporting Chinese NGOs to affect political change, it is likely to be unsatisfied with results.

appendix a Sources and Research Methods

This research project relied on three major means of collecting data: official news stories, in-depth interviews, and a web-based survey. First, to capture the political context in which my research subjects are currently operating, I gathered official news stories, published by the government news agency Xinhua, that pertained to the three issues under study (environmental, HIV/AIDS, gay and lesbian) and the role of social actors, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and civil society, and place-specific articles that discuss the overall political environment. These sources proved particularly useful, given the emphasis that this project places on understanding social group actors’ perceptions of the state; when actors do not interact with different levels of government on a regular basis, widely disseminated reports, even if mistrusted, go far in shaping their perceptions. A.1 In-depth Interviews Second, to begin the collection of these perceptions, I interviewed eighty different individuals from July 2007 to December 2008 (a full list of interviewees is presented in Appendix A, Table A.1). Of these eighty individuals, fifteen represented international NGOs or funding agencies (five were expatriates, ten were Chinese nationals),1 and sixty-five were current or former NGO leaders. Twenty-four individuals were interviewed primarily for their background on environmental groups, twenty-five for HIV/AIDS groups, and twenty-one for gay and lesbian groups. In some cases, interviews covered more than one of the three topics. The remaining interviews explored more general topics relating to NGO development and volunteerism in China. Fifty interviews were conducted 1

The vast majority of these informants, although currently employed by international NGOs, previously held leadership positions in domestic NGOs.

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176

table a.1. In-depth interview subjects No.

Date

Location

Position

Interview Focus

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20.

July 1, 2007 July 3, 2007 July 4, 2007 July 12, 2007 July 16, 2007 July 16, 2007 July 23, 2007 July 23, 2007 July 30, 2007 August 8, 2007 August 10, 2007 August 10, 2007 August 13, 2007 August 14, 2007 August 15, 2007 August 19, 2007 August 24, 2007 August 24, 2007 August 28, 2007 August 29, 2007

Beijing Beijing Beijing Beijing Beijing Beijing Kunming Kunming Kunming Kunming Kunming Kunming Kunming Kunming Kunming Kunming Kunming Kunming Kunming Kunming

Environment HIV/AIDS; Gay/Lesbian Civil Society Environment; HIV Environment Environment Environment Environment HIV/AIDS; Gay/Lesbian Environment Environment Environment Gay/Lesbian; HIV/AIDS Gay/Lesbian; HIV/AIDS Gay/Lesbian Environment Environment Environment Gay/Lesbian; HIV/AIDS HIV/AIDS

21. 22.

August 29, 2007 August 29, 2007

Kunming Kunming

23. 24. 25.

September 3, 2007 September 5, 2007 September 7, 2007

Kunming Kunming Kunming

26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32.

September 7, 2007 September 10, 2007 September 12, 2007 September 12, 2007 September 14, 2007 September 16, 2007 September 18, 2007

Kunming Kunming Kunming Kunming Kunming Kunming Kunming

33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38.

September 19, 2007 September 21, 2007 September 21, 2007 September 24, 2007 September 24, 2007 September 25, 2007

Kunming Beijing Beijing Beijing Beijing Beijing

Journalist Journalist NGO Analyst Journalist NGO Leader NGO Leader/Donor Academic INGO Representative INGO Representative Local INGO Leader INGO Representative INGO Representative Former NGO Leader NGO Leader NGO Leader NGO Leader NGO Leader NGO Leader NGO Leader Local Donor Representative Former NGO Leader Provincial Govt. Representative NGO Leader Local Consultant Local Donor Representative NGO Leader Local Consultant INGO Representative Former NGO Leader NGO Leader NGO Leader NGO Network Leader Former NGO Leader NGO Leader Academic NGO Leader Former NGO Leader Local Donor Representative

HIV/AIDS HIV/AIDS Environment HIV/AIDS HIV/AIDS; Gay/Lesbian Gay/Lesbian HIV/AIDS; Gay/Lesbian HIV/AIDS Environment Environment Environment Civil Society Environment HIV/AIDS; Gay/Lesbian Civil Society Environment Environment HIV/AIDS; Gay/Lesbian

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No.

Date

Location

Position

Interview Focus

39.

September 26, 2007

Beijing

HIV/AIDS

40. 41. 42. 43. 44. 45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53. 54. 55. 56. 57. 58. 59. 60. 61. 62. 63. 64. 65. 66. 67. 68. 69. 70. 71. 72. 73. 74. 75. 76. 77. 78. 79. 80.

September 28, 2007 September 29, 2007 October 6, 2007 October 8, 2007 October 11, 2007 October 15, 2007 November 6, 2007 November 6, 2007 November 9, 2007 November 9, 2007 November 10, 2007 November 10, 2007 November 11, 2007 November 11, 2007 November 12, 2007 November 14, 2007 November 14, 2007 November 14, 2007 November 14, 2007 November 14, 2007 November 14, 2007 November 14, 2007 November 14, 2007 November 15, 2007 November 15, 2007 November 15, 2007 November 22, 2007 November 23, 2007 November 23, 2007 November 24, 2007 November 26, 2007 November 27, 2007 November 29, 2007 December 3, 2007 December 4, 2007 December 4, 2007 December 4, 2007 December 6, 2007 December 12, 2007 December 17, 2007 December 18, 2007

Beijing Beijing Beijing Beijing Beijing Hong Kong Kunming Kunming Kunming Kunming Kunming Kunming Kunming Kunming Kunming Chengdu Chengdu Chengdu Chengdu Chengdu Chengdu Chengdu Chengdu Chengdu Chengdu Chengdu Kunming Kunming Kunming Kunming Kunming Kunming Kunming Kunming Kunming Kunming Kunming Beijing Beijing Beijing Beijing

Local Donor Representative Local INGO Leader NGO Leader NGO Leader NGO Leader NGO Leader Donor Representative NGO Leader NGO Leader NGO Leader/Donor NGO Leader NGO Leader INGO Representative NGO Leader Donor Representative NGO Leader NGO Leader NGO Leader NGO Leader NGO Leader NGO Leader/Lawyer NGO Leader NGO Leader NGO Leader NGO Leader Former NGO Leader NGO Leader INGO Representative INGO Representative NGO Leader NGO Leader Donor Representative NGO Leader NGO Leader NGO Leader NGO Leader NGO Leader Donor Representative NGO Leader NGO Leader NGO Leader NGO Leader

HIV/AIDS HIV/AIDS Gay/Lesbian Gay/Lesbian Gay/Lesbian Gay/Lesbian; HIV/AIDS Gay/Lesbian Environment HIV/AIDS Gay/Lesbian HIV/AIDS HIV/AIDS HIV/AIDS HIV/AIDS HIV/AIDS Environment Environment Gay/Lesbian; HIV/AIDS Environment Environment Environment Gay/Lesbian Gay/Lesbian Civil Society Environment Environment Environment; HIV Environment Gay/Lesbian HIV/AIDS HIV/AIDS; Gay/Lesbian Gay/Lesbian Gay/Lesbian Gay/Lesbian HIV/AIDS HIV/AIDS Gay/Lesbian Environment Volunteerism HIV/AIDS HIV/AIDS

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in Mandarin Chinese, thirty in English. Occasionally, informants were interviewed more than once, usually to clarify responses from the initial meeting. In these cases, the additional interviews were not included in the overall count. These figures do not include a number of unplanned, “accidental” participant observations. My informants would sometimes invite me to local and regional conferences or meetings with international funders, other NGOs, and sometimes even government officials. I gleaned a great deal of helpful information from these experiences, but because the interactions were not structured along the lines of my other interviews, I do not include these in the overall interview number count. Informants were identified primarily through snowball sampling methods. Because I was based in one of the primary research sites (Kunming) and spent significant time in the other (Beijing), it did not take long for me to identify key actors in all three of my case studies (or, in many cases, for key actors to identify me!). Upon the conclusion of most interviews, I inquired about others who might be important to contact. Informants were always willing to provide names, although many of these contacts were people they themselves had only heard of and not actually met. Near the conclusion of my in-depth interview stage, I reached a point of informant saturation: every contact informants proposed had already been interviewed. At this point, I was confident that I had identified all major (and many minor) players in the primary research sites. At the onset of this research, the interview portion of my fieldwork was focused primarily in two locations: Beijing, the national capital, and Kunming, the provincial seat of Yunnan, in China’s southwest. Although both sites are home to numerous social groups in all three of the sectors studied in this project, I chose these two cities because I expected them to provide considerable and important regional variation. Kunming provides a good representation of China’s relatively underdeveloped periphery, in contrast to the more economically prosperous areas, such as Beijing. By virtue of its distance from the central government, the province has been required to go it alone in solving many social problems. The need for social groups to fill in the gaps where the state has shirked responsibility is greater here than in wealthier provinces. Historically, Yunnan Province has had an independent streak. It continues to live up to this reputation today. Yunnan is a trailblazer in Chinese NGO development. Beijing, the site of the central government, is a key area to engage in my field research. Many of the country’s largest and most influential NGOs were founded in Beijing. Moreover, Beijing is one of the primary locations for joint meetings and conferences: all three social group sectors in this study hold frequent gatherings there that bring together group leaders and participants from far and wide. In sum, compared to social groups in Beijing, I expected social groups in Yunnan to have greater autonomy; their relationship with the central government is potentially quite different from that of groups based in Beijing. In addition, because the province serves as a trailblazer, many newer groups throughout China look to Yunnan-based groups as a model to follow in their own work.

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However, I quickly learned that the reality of variation across the two sites was decidedly more complex than I assumed. Specifically, the political situation, as it pertained to NGOs, varied with group charge and differed across locales in the same province. Very early in my field research, I decided to expand the interview portion of research to areas where the level of NGO autonomy was even higher (Sichuan Province) and lower (Henan Province) than the two sites originally chosen. These additional sites would better prepare me to analyze the universe of state response in my cases across the country and also allow me to design a better informed and more efficient survey instrument. In accordance with the protocol approved by the University of Wisconsin’s Institutional Review Board,2 I began each interview by introducing myself and then the research topic. I then briefly explained why they were being asked to participate, informed them of the anonymous nature of the interviews, and finally asked for oral consent to proceed with the interview. Although I did not record the interviews, I did ask for the informants’ permission to take written notes; in no instance was this request refused. However, occasionally informants would ask me for reassurance that their direct quotes would not be connected to their name in the final product. Because these in-depth interviews were semi-structured, no two meetings were alike. However, I had explicit goals for each interview and topics that I hoped to cover. The typical interview lasted one hour (some were as brief as thirty minutes and others as long as four hours) and began with the informant giving a brief introduction of the history and work of his or her organization. I would then usually ask about the informant’s perception of policy toward his or her group and/or issue area. Has it changed over time? Is it more hospitable now than it was when you began? This line of questioning usually led to a discussion about the group’s interaction with and perception of different levels of government, from the center down to the local government. Usually, interviews then moved into an examination of the organization’s relationship with other domestic NGOs and international organizations. Once the interview was further along and some rapport achieved, I would begin to ask the informant about how the state, at all levels, perceives the group’s work and how the group responds. Provided the informant felt comfortable with this line of questioning, we would often discuss what he or she saw as the root cause of state–social organization conflict. The final portion of the interview was always reserved for informants to ask me questions. Few informants took me up on this offer. However, those who did were most keen to get a preview of my findings, which confirmed some of their suspicion and challenged others. This portion of the interview also gave the informant an opportunity to learn from me about other groups engaged in similar and different work, of which, in many cases, they were previously unaware. 2

The University of Wisconsin–Madison, Social and Behavioral Sciences IRB approved the protocol on July 10, 2007. It expired on April 19, 2008 (Protocol Number SE-2007-0258, PI: Melanie Manion, Co-Investigator: Timothy Hildebrandt).

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The majority of interviews were conducted in relatively public places, most often chosen by the informant: restaurants, cafes, ´ teahouses, shopping malls, and the like. The predominance of meetings in public places seems less to do with preference than necessity. Most of the subjects do not have permanent, formal office space. In those cases in which groups were better funded and had office space, group leaders almost always invited me to their office. In the rare instance, interviews were conducted in an informant’s home but only at his or her suggestion. These interviews served several important functions for this research. First, they operated as an exploratory exercise that gave broader context to the project: they introduced me to unexpected relationships between many different variables and guided me in my inclusion of relevant variables and elimination of irrelevant ones (King, Keohane, and Verba 1994). Second, the answers provided in the in-depth interviews served as a base from which I designed a more efficient and valid survey instrument. The interviews helped me formulate a better set of questions and hone vocabulary used in the survey. A.2 Web-based Survey Having conducted the in-depth interviews and after designing the survey instrument, I pretested the instrument with three key informants based in Beijing. All of these informants had a background in domestic NGOs in China, although none was currently on staff: two informants are now journalists (one for the state-run Xinhua News Agency, another for a Western agency), and a third is a graduate student in the natural sciences. I used cognitive pretesting, which involves asking informants to think aloud their answers, thereby more easily identifying confusing or inappropriate questions in the survey (Krosnick 1999). This process allowed me to ensure that I asked questions efficiently and used appropriate language that would not cause informants to grow concerned about political sensitivity, which might prevent them from completing the survey. Perhaps most importantly, these pretest informants ensured that the survey, written in Chinese, was free of major language errors. Because the survey was distributed online, I conducted another round of pretests to ensure navigability of the survey website and make a rough estimate about the time necessary to complete the survey. As the unit of analysis is the social group and not the members themselves, the surveys were designed to be completed by group leaders; the survey explored questions that an average group participant might not be prepared to answer. I grew confident in my decision to interview and survey group leaders (as opposed to rank-and-file members) after two instances in which leaders referred me to average members: on the whole, these interviewees were reluctant to answer my questions with any conviction and suggested that nearly every answer they gave “depended upon many factors.” They were particularly uncomfortable

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181

discussing anything that pertained to government or policy because they had “no interaction with them.” Instructions to the survey included the information that the survey was intended only for group leaders and only those representing one of the three cases of this book. No compensation was offered or given to those who chose to participate in the survey. Although this strategy might have resulted in a higher number of respondents, previous surveys conducted in China, some of which focused on one of the NGO sectors in this project, found that monetary compensation led to a higher number of responses from those who were unqualified to provide them; one colleague reported to me that a large number of previously unknown (and presumably nonexistent) “groups” emerged for the sole purpose of answering surveys and collecting compensation. The self-administered survey included a total of eighty-eight questions, divided into twelve sections (the full survey, in Chinese, appears n Appendix B). Questions on some topics were asked in several different ways at different points throughout the survey to increase internal validity; this tactic is particularly helpful for capturing opinions on sensitive topics. Nearly all questions were closed-category; respondents were forced to choose one response or rank several answers on a given scale. In a few instances, respondents were asked to give an open-ended answer, but these usually required only one to two words. A good majority of respondents who completed all of the closed-ended questions skipped the open-ended ones. The first section asks a series of relatively simple questions including the age of the organization and its general brand of work (e.g., environmental, HIV/AIDS, gay and lesbian); based on this answer, respondents were filtered to a separate page that asked them to rank a series of activities based, first, on how much time they spent on each and, next, on how important they think they are. The second section asked respondents about the frequency of contact with domestic and international media, as well as a number of questions in which they are asked to evaluate the level of success their group has achieved, how they measure it, and what factors are most important in achieving it. Next, respondents were asked to rank central, provincial, and local governments based on their amount of interaction, approval of the group’s work, ability to help the group, willingness to help, and, in actuality, which level is most helpful. The survey then has three additional sections (fourth, fifth, and sixth), in which a series of similar questions are asked about each different level of government. These questions ask about the frequency of formal and informal meetings; how this level’s policies complement the group’s work; and its level of approval of the issues, NGOs in general, and the specific group. It also asks respondents to rate their relationship with this level. The seventh section explores more directly the issue of state response. These questions ask about the role of personal relationships in both good and bad relationships with the government. They also ask respondents why they think

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certain groups have conflicts with the state, and ask them to compare the political openness of their province with others. The eighth and ninth sections ask a number of questions about the group’s relations with international and domestic NGOs, including questions about frequency of cooperation and overall assessment of the impact of their presence. The tenth section explores the funding situation of groups. It asks respondents to input the percentage of funding from different sources (e.g., domestic foundations, international foundations, member donations, government, etc.), the number of different funders on which it relies, and the percentage of funding that is project-based versus core support. The survey does not ask respondents about actual budgets. This question was asked in interviews and, even though this information is sometimes public, group leaders were always reluctant to provide me with numbers. Several informants suggested that the question might turn off survey respondents. The eleventh section asks groups about their current registration status. If they are registered, it asks what type of registration they have and, if not, asks them to rank the reasons why they have not legally registered their group. Finally, the last section asks demographic questions about the informant (presumably, organization leaders). What is the highest academic degree achieved? What was their academic major? What type of work did they do before their current job? How many years have they been with the group? This section concludes with questions about the number of full-time paid staff (intended to serve as a proxy for the size of group’s overall budget, a question that proved too sensitive in interviews to elicit a useful response), the actual location of the group (by province), and finally whether their group’s leadership is appointed by their government sponsoring agency. As in previous work on Chinese NGOs (Wu 2004), I used this question to identify government-organized nongovernmental organization (GONGO) respondents. Of 100 responses, eleven reported that their leadership was indeed appointed by their government sponsor. Prospective respondents were instructed to visit a personal website, http: //minjianzuzhi.googlepages.com, which then directed them to the web-based survey at http://www.surveymonkey.com, from March 3 to March 12, 2008. This distribution strategy means that survey completion was based on selfselection. Although this method of survey administration probably increased response bias, it also minimized nonresponse bias: Internet surveys tend to have higher response rates than do mailed surveys. I expected this mode to result in a high response rate because the groups tend to be very Internet-savvy (Cook, Heath, and Thompson 2000): for most contemporary social groups in China, the Internet is the primary (sometimes only) means of disseminating group information, communicating, and organizing more generally. Because the universe of cases is unknown – there are no reliable counts on the total number of NGOs in China, let alone figures representing my specific cases – this survey was not intended to be a probability sample. Rather,

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it was designed to collect more information about the social organizations of interest. In this regard, it served as an expansion of the interviews conducted earlier in the project. However, the means of dissemination allowed me to collect responses from all across China at a speed with which in-depth interviews could not compete. I relied on two different methods of survey dissemination. First, I sent an e-mail containing a link to the survey website to 210 e-mail addresses; these addresses were gathered from contacts previously made, Chinese directories on NGOs, and a handful for NGO web hubs. By virtue of its relatively long history, the environmental sector had the largest number (ninety-six) of these e-mail contacts; seventy-eight e-mails were sent to HIV/AIDS group leaders, and thirty-six to gay and lesbian groups. Of these original e-mails, twenty-five automatically bounced back, meaning they were no longer active accounts. Because I was not concerned about nonprobability selection, I hoped to increase the number of responses through snowball selection. I therefore asked all respondents (both before they began the survey and on completion) to send the link to others in their issue area who might be willing to complete it. At least two respondents posted the link to prominent NGO listservs targeting the environmental and HIV/AIDS communities. Because I relied on snowball selection to increase the number of responses, it is impossible to report a response rate. However, of the 186 respondents who began the survey, 100 completed it. Groups from the three sectors under study in this project were represented almost equally among these 100 responses. Interestingly, this means that, despite sending three times the number of e-mails to environmental groups compared to gay and lesbian groups, gay and lesbian groups responded at a much higher rate. Environmental groups are almost certainly underrepresented in the survey, whereas gay and lesbian groups are overrepresented. I reinterviewed several key informants to ask about this result. Most suggested that underparticipation in the survey by environmental leaders might be the result of research fatigue. As I noted in the introduction of this book, environmental groups, because they are the oldest contemporary social organization in China, and largely successful, become the empirical case for studies of Chinese civil society. In fact, during interviews, many of my informants reported that I was just the latest in a long line of researchers interested in Chinese environmental NGOs. Gay and lesbian groups, conversely, are still understudied in China. As a result, they are enthusiastic about getting the ear of anyone interested in their work. This is particularly apparent with lesbian groups. The most prominent leaders of lesbian groups in China have estimated the number of formal lesbian organizations at anywhere from ten to fourteen. Upon dissemination of the survey, I heard from several of these leaders that they were making a concerted effort to get 100 percent participation from their sector. And it would seem they were successful: of the 100 responses, fourteen came from lesbian groups. To explore questions about regional variation, I asked respondents to indicate their group’s location from a drop-down list of China’s thirty-three

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provincial-level administrative regions. The ninety-five respondents who answered this question represent twenty-two different administrative regions: seventeen groups were from Beijing and fifteen from Yunnan, representing the two cities where I conducted most of my in-depth interviews. The next largest response frequency came from Sichuan (seven responses), a politically open province, and Henan (seven responses), a notoriously difficult place for NGOs to operate. For the purposes of data analysis, I categorize provinces by distance from Beijing in miles: from 0 (Beijing), 1–400, and then in increments of 200 until 1,200 or more. I also divided group location into four areas of development: developed eastern provinces (e.g., Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong), “western development” provinces (e.g., Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu, Guizhou, Qinghai, Shaanxi, Guangzi, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Tibet, Xinjiang, and Chongqing), northeastern provinces (e.g., Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning), and central China (e.g., Shanxi, Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi). Using the distance coding schema, seventeen responses came from Beijing, twenty from within 1–400 miles from the political capital, eight from 400–600 miles, twelve from 600–800, and another twelve from 800–1,000 miles. Five responses came from 1,000 to 1,200 miles, whereas nineteen came from over 1,200 miles from Beijing. Based on level of development, forty-three responses came from the developed east, thirty from the “western development” provinces, nine from the northeast, and eleven from the central provinces.

appendix b Survey Instrument (Chinese)

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Index

Africa, 27, 55 Anhui, 34 assimilationist, 14. See also self-limiting organizations; LGBT rights Australia, 82, 167 authoritarian resilience, 6, 15, 166, 167–168 authoritarianism, 6, 15, 109 autonomy, 1, 3, 13, 163 Beijing, 19, 28, 32, 37, 39, 41, 64, 76, 110, 131, 178 brain drain, 112 cadre responsibility system, 34–35 environmental veto system, 35 center-local relations, 32, 33, 34, 39, 82–83. See also decentralization central government, 42–44, 71, 160 NGO criticisms, 41, 43 relationship with donors, 128–129 chilling effect. See self-limiting organizations Chinese Center for Disease Control, 125, 126 Christianity, 57, 84, 170. See also religious organizations civil society, xi, 1, 32, 113, 115, 127, 128, 156–158, 165, 166, 173 criticisms, 7 literatures, 6 Clinton Foundation, 100, 125. See also funding; HIV/AIDS prevention codependency, 2, 15, 166 Color Revolutions, 43–44. See also democratization

competition among domestic NGOs, 101, 107, 109–110 between international and domestic NGOs, 113–114, 115 between levels of government, 51–52 between NGOs and state, 89 conflict among domestic NGOs, 56–57, 146 between NGOs and state, 38, 87–88 cooperation, 78, 79–80 among domestic NGOs, 111, 165–166 between international and domestic NGOs, 78 between NGOs and government officials, 150–151, 153–154 between NGOs and state, 66, 127 corporatism, 8, 33, 147, 161 criticisms, 8 literatures, 8 society-sensitive, disaggregated corporatism, 12 crackdowns. See negative state response decentralization, 32–33, 39, 71. See also center-local relations and unfunded mandates, 32, 41–42 democratization, xi, 1, 156, 157–158, 166, 173 DFID, 125. See also UK-AIDS; funding Eastern Europe, 7. See also Russia economic development, 26, 160 and cosmopolitanism, 27–28

213

214 economic development (cont.) and environmental degradation, 26–27, 29, 47–48 and public health crises, 27 embeddedness, 12, 143, 145 environmental protection, 3 and dams, 44–46, 47, 48, 55, 81, 90, 170. See also Three Gorges Dam; Nu River and democracy, 174. See also democratization environmental groups, 3, 5, 17–18, 71, 76–77, 78, 80, 81, 111, 155–156 as advocates, 170 in Beijing, 76, 78, 81 and changing political opportunities, 45, 60, 80, 81, 132 criticism of government, 47 and demand, 26–27 and funding, 44, 95, 98, 99–100, 103, 114, 115, 118, 119, 121, 123, 134, 135–136 and international NGOs, 112, 113, 146 and negative state response, 45, 46, 52, 54, 55–56, 79, 146 and networking, 78, 79, 91, 101, 112, 114 and non-antagonism, 76, 77 perceptions of government, 40, 42, 43 and personal opportunities, 153, 155, 156 and positive government perceptions, 17, 31 and registration, 62–63, 64, 65, 66, 70, 91, 92 in Sichuan, 47–48, 66, 74, 80, 88, 90, 109, 156 success, 15 as the archetypal NGO, 6, 17, 164 in Yunnan, 39, 45, 46, 53, 54, 55–56, 76, 78, 79, 81, 82, 83, 99, 105, 121, 134, 148, 170 Environmental Protection Bureaus (EPBs), 32, 74 and general funding, 105, 121–122 and government action, 28–29, 32 and pesticides, 47 and water pollution, 27, 32, 41, 48, 81, 172 European Union, 77 Falun Gong, 13, 55. See also oppositional groups Ford Foundation, 121. See also funding; civil society; environmental protection

Index funding, 72, 91, 98–99, 100, 117, 150 and business model, 135–136 and corruption, 125–126 and diversification, 118–119 and domestic sources, 97 and donors. See money mavens and filter model, 125, 126 and foundations, 70, 99–100, 132 and incentives for local governments, 72, 130–131 and membership model, 133, 134, 135 and sustainability, 134 and taxation, 63, 98 Gates Foundation, 100, 125, 131, 171. See also funding; HIV/AIDS prevention; LGBT rights gays and lesbians. See homosexuality; LGBT rights gender, 84. See also homosexuality; LGBT rights generalizability, 159 Germany, 25, 99 Global Fund, 100, 106, 107, 110, 121, 125, 126, 127–128, 129, 171, 172. See also funding; HIV/AIDS prevention; LGBT rights government management of NGOs. See registration government officials’ evaluation. See cadre responsibility system grassroots organizations. See non-governmental organization (NGO) Great Britain. See United Kingdom green groups, 6. See also environmental protection; non-governmental Organization (NGO) Greenpeace, 76, 146, 170. See also non-governmental organization (NGO) Guangxi, 129 guanxi, 144. See also embeddedness harmonious society, 83, 117 Heilongjiang, 109 Henan, 41, 51–52, 57, 77–78, 79, 87–88, 131, 151, 152–155, 179 and plasma selling, 87 HIV/AIDS prevention, 3, 83–85 and condom distribution, 56, 106, 108 and general funding, 121–122, 125–126 and government action, 29, 83–84 and HIV/AIDS groups, 3, 18, 71, 75–76, 78–79, 87–88, 149–150, 164–165

Index as advocates, 108, 162, 171–172 in Beijing, 75, 79, 110, 113, 149, 155 and changing political opportunities, 29, 50, 57, 75, 79, 83, 84, 95, 126 and demand, 27 and funding, 50, 66, 99, 100–101, 104, 105, 106, 107, 116, 118, 121, 123, 125, 127, 134 in Henan, 50, 51–52, 54, 55, 57, 73, 77, 79, 83–84, 87–88, 128, 131, 151, 155 and international NGOs, 113, 130 and negative state response, 50, 51–52, 54, 55, 77, 79 and networking, 54, 78, 101, 108, 110, 111, 114 opinion of government, 40, 41, 85, 127 and personal opportunities, 146, 148, 149, 150, 151, 152, 155 and positive government perceptions, 31, 43, 49, 74, 80, 83 and registration, 62, 63, 66, 71, 92, 129, 130 in Sichuan, 79, 106, 127 in Yunnan, 52, 71, 75, 88, 104, 106, 107, 130, 134, 148, 152 and methadone treatment, 162 and needle exchange, 88 virus progression in China, 27–28, 87–89 homophobia. See homosexuality homosexuality and discrimination, 30, 50–51, 57, 106 and legality, 29–30, 31, 49 Hong Kong, 29–31, 104 hooliganism. See homosexuality Hu Jia, 54, 147 Hu Jintao, 28 hukou system, 27–28. See also National Development and Reform human rights, 18, 77, 108, 171 hypotheses, 3, 20, 39, 60 independence. See autonomy Internet, 28, 86, 136 Japan, 25, 82, 99, 167 Jiangsu, 26 labor groups, 91. See also non-governmental organization (NGO) Latin America, 7 LGBT rights, 3 competition between gays and lesbians, 114–116

215 and gay groups, 3, 14, 77, 84–85, 104–105, 109, 149 as advocates, 108 in Beijing, 39, 126 and business model, 126, 136, 137 and changing political opportunities, 30, 49, 50, 75, 83, 84 and demand, 30 difference from HIV/AIDS groups, 18, 105 and framing, 14, 77–78, 84, 100 and funding, 98, 104, 115, 118, 119, 120, 122, 123, 126, 132, 134 in Heilongjiang, 126 in Hong Kong, 103–105 and international NGOs, 113, 114 and negative state response, 39, 54, 56 and networking, 79, 101, 137 opinion of government, 40 and personal opportunities, 151 and positive government perceptions, 30, 32, 51, 74, 84 and registration, 62, 63, 65, 70, 72 in Sichuan, 50, 106 in Yunnan, 50–51, 74, 75, 84, 106, 121, 126, 137, 151 and general HIV/AIDS funding, 104–105, 106, 109, 120–122, 129 and government action, 29–30, 50–51 relationship to HIV/AIDS, 30, 49–50 and lesbian groups, 43 as advocates, 108 on being ignored, 49, 56–57, 85, 133, 165, 171 and changing political opportunities, 75, 83, 85 on conflicts with gay groups, 56 and framing, 77–78, 100 and funding, 98, 115, 117, 118, 119, 122, 123, 133, 134, 164 and international NGOs, 113, 114 and membership model, 133 and networking, 91, 101 opinion of government, 43 and positive government perceptions, 49 and registration, 65, 66, 70 in Yunnan, 66, 75 and same-sex marriage, 171 local government, 40, 41 criticism, 40, 43 Mexico, 109 Ministry of Civil Affairs, 63, 74

216 Ministry of Environmental Protection. See State Environmental Protection Agency Ministry of Health, 29, 31, 74 money mavens, 110, 111. See also funding; Global Fund National Development and Reform. See also hukou system National Endowment for Democracy, 131 National People’s Congress, 52 The Nature Conservancy, 170. See also non-governmental organization (NGO) negative state response, 3, 54, 57, 75, 88, 147 frequency, 52–53 NGO explanations, 41, 54–57, 58–87, 142, 146–147, 148–149 types, 53–55 Netherlands, 99 nomenklatura system, 33–34 non-governmental organization (NGO), 1 as a release valve, 168 and adaptations, 2, 5, 59–60, 80–86, 105 and age of organization, 68, 69 and agency, 14 and attitude toward central government, 42–43 and attitude toward local government, 50–51 and autonomy, 1, 13 and budget, 97, 100 and capacity building, 116–117 and contacts with media, 87 co-opted, 13, 14–15 criticism of central government, 43, 76 criticism of local government, 47, 76, 85 and framing, 77, 82–83, 99–100 and fundraising, 70 GONGOs (government-organized non-governmental organizations), 86, 128 and institutionalization, 5, 147, 165 international NGOs, 51–52, 115–117 leaders’ background, 102–103 leaders’ education, 101–102 and networking, 78–80, 91, 149. See also cooperation and non-antagonism, 74–78, 171–172 and numbers, 19 opinion of SEPA, 42–43 opinions of the state, 40–41, 59–60, 73–74 personalistic, 146, 148 and policy change, 162–163

Index romanticizing, xii, 1, 4 and service provision, 12, 81–82, 83, 167 size of organization, 97, 100–101 and success, 4, 57–58, 96–97, 159 and sustainability, 82, 117 and terminology, 76–77 and transparency, 72–74 Nu River, 45, 47, 48, 55, 90. See also economic development; environmental protection; Western Development Strategy; Yunnan Olympic Games, 49, 52–53, 90, 97, 98 one-party regimes. See authoritarianism Open Society Institute, 131. See also democratization opportunity structure, 11, 15–16 disaggregation, 11 political opportunities, 26 definition, 25–26 rather than resources, 15 oppositional groups, 13, 16 patron-client relations, 142 petitioners, 171 philanthropy, 98 Piet, Peter, 51, 128 political change. See democratization political reform, 1 ‘small state, big society’, 10, 31 poverty alleviation, 84. See also environmental protection prospect theory, 169 protectionism, 32–33 Public Security Bureaus (PSBs), 54, 56, 72, 73, 74 punishment. See negative state response regime legitimacy, 167. See also authoritarian resilience registration, 19, 61–63, 64, 66–67, 72, 91, 163 and benefits to organizations, 61–62, 66–67 and difficulties, 64–65, 129–130 and effect of age, 69 and effect of distance from Beijing, 67–68 local government position, 71–72 and numbers, 36–37, 62, 63, 92 Regulations for the Administration and Registration of Social Organizations, 36 regulations outside China, 36 and relationship to group budget, 69–70

Index religious organizations, 169, 171 repression. See negative state response Rockefeller Brothers Fund, 134. See also funding Russia, 27, 36, 167 Salvation Army, 170. See also nongovernmental organization (NGO) Salween River. See Nu River SARS, 29. See also Hiv/aids Prevention scientific development, 47, 83 security studies, 172 self-censorship. See self-limiting organizations self-limiting organizations, 1, 13, 16, 85–86, 168. See also assimilationist sex workers, 27. See also HIV/AIDS prevention; LGBT rights Shandong, 32 Shanghai, 31 Sichuan, 47–48, 57, 66, 74, 79, 80, 89, 109, 110, 127, 135, 156, 179 social capital, 15, 142 social entrepreneurs, 101–102, 106, 135–136. See also funding social movements, 9 literatures, 9 criticisms, 11, 12, 25–26 political process, 9, 10 rationalist approaches, 10 resource mobilization, 10, 95, 96, 97, 119 New Social Movements (NSM), 9, 17 success, 13 social organizations. See non-governmental organization (NGO) Songhua River. See also economic development; environmental protection Southeast Asia, 27 South-North Water Transfer, 43. See also environmental protection State Council, 35 State Environmental Protection Agency, 17, 31, 42–43, 46 Pan Yue, 17, 35, 46, 73 survey data distribution of responses, 176, 183 on funding, 99, 117–119, 130–131 on general perceptions of government, 40, 41, 43 on interaction with domestic NGOs, 101, 114

217 on interaction with international NGOs, 113–114 on leaders’ education, 102 on leaders’ employment background, 102 on negative state response, 52, 73–74, 148–149 on organizations’ activities and interests, 108 on perceptions of government approval of work, 42, 48–49 on registration status, 62–63, 64–65, 67, 68, 69, 92, 119 on relations with media, 87, 152 on size of organization, 100, 114, 123, 146 on success, 97, 117, 151 survey dissemination, 183 on terminology, 76–77 Taiwan, 55 Three Gorges Dam, 43, 54. See also environmental protection; economic development Tianjin, 56 totalitarianism. See authoritarianism transnational advocacy, 128. See also non-governmental organization (NGO) UK-AIDS, 121. See also United Kingdom UNAIDS, 51 UNICEF, 87 United Kingdom, 30, 125, 127. See also UK-AIDS United States, 14, 25, 100, 165, 172. See also USAID; U.S CDC U.S. CDC, 172. See also United States USAID, 52, 172. See also United States Vietnam, 7 volunteerism, 97, 98–99 Western Development Strategy, 29, 45 Western Europe, 9. See also Germany; Netherlands; United Kingdom Yunnan, 39, 44–46, 47, 50–51, 71, 74, 75, 76, 79, 81, 82, 87–89, 90, 99–100, 104, 105, 106, 109, 112, 129, 155–156, 178 ‘Colorful Yunnan’, 46, 47, 83 Kunming, 19, 132, 178