Civil society in China is still budding. The country has long lived under a communist regime whereby such a notion is something odd. The reforms that China has undergone are new, only three decades old, and affected mainly the economic sector. This left a huge gap in social development to be filled. The State has obviously not been doing much in this area. This is where the nascent Chinese society has taken on work.
Civil organization in China is not like its Western counterpart in many respects. For one thing, some NGOs are controlled by the state which has pushed observers to differentiate them from genuine NGOs, dubbing them GONGOs or Government Organized NGOs. It is precisely this state grip that is the major mark of civil work in China. There is not much room for civil society to operate from. Under Maoist China, there have only been a few communist NGOs, such as China
Democratic Alliance. Descent with the central State was prohibited and all forms of associations were regulated by the Ministry of internal affairs. Relative relaxation on the constraints for civil work has occurred during the 1970s and 1980s but NGOs remained under tight control. The 1990s has still witnessed a sluggish improvement in civil society organizations. Most associations in this period fall under the aforementioned GONGOS. They were organizations closely connected with Government and included youth, women, and charity organizations. Currently, in the 2000s, the grip of the state has not loosened but the role of NGOs in China is growing and more and more of them are trying to be independent.
The current civic landscape includes various types of organizations that do not escape government control. Some of the interesting NGOs are those concerned with the environment. Environmental NGOs suffer lack of financing albeit those who receive international funding. However, there have been a few advancing the notions of biodiversity and sustainability. They also try to bring the government to adopt laws that are environment-friendly, despite the fact that NGOs are not allowed to grapple with politics. This is mainly conducted through indirect and informal channels.
One of the problems that pertain to the political system which environmental NGOs suffer from is the inability to open local chapters. Such complications are the result of the bureaucracy of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the main state body to regulate associations. State harassment intensifies even further when the organizations start monitoring some industrial firms, by complicating procedures for them to register. One can also refer to international NGOs that have been present in China as of the early 1980s. They have been instrumental in nurturing the budding Chinese civil society.
They have been introduced to the country thanks to the policy of open doors. Some of them which are faith-based INGOs have been doing good work at laying the foundations of societal development. The United Board of Christian Higher Education in Asia, for instance, has been working at promoting education among women and minorities. The list is by no means exhaustive. What should be retained is that there is some improvement in the social and civic development in China, despite government pervasive control.
The government from its centralist standpoint is not really sympathetic to social society. This is one of the paradoxes of the Chinese development model whereby economic reforms have not been commensurate with social and political development. However, despite its reluctance, as Lam says, the government cannot do without civil society. The state is clearly overwhelmed with the social challenges that it has to face. Huge numbers of Chinese citizens do not partake in the economic boom that the country witnesses. The welfare system is not functioning well. It is obvious, hence, that economic and social strife can only hold back China from becoming the developed country it strives to become. Moreover, civil society addresses issues that the state is oblivious of, such as pollution, which may in the future turn out to be a real problem.