New Regulations Governing Social Organizations in China: A Civil Society on the Rise?

On November 22, 2011 Chinese media reported that the Guangdong provincial government published the ‘Plan Concerning Further Fostering and Regulating Social Organizations of Guangdong Province’, which contains new provisions governing the establishment of social organizations in the province. According to the new regulations, to come into effect on July 1, 2012, social organizations may directly apply to civil affairs departments for registration without the requirement set by the ‘dual registration system’ of first securing sponsorship by a state agency or organization.

Eliminating dual registration is an important departure from the status quo. Under this system social organizations are required to register and receive periodic inspections by the local civil affairs departments, and seek the professional sponsorship of a state agency or organization in a related policy area. The sponsoring unit is allowed significant involvement in the social organization’s internal operation and decision-making. This system has prevented many organizations from registering, as either due to their “sensitive” area of work or the weak social capital of founding members with local authorities, they do not succeed in securing such a sponsorship. Consequently, this policy has either driven most of the social organizations underground or has led them to use a loophole in the system and register as business units, a practice that exposes them to taxation. It comes to no surprise that the dual registration system is often presented as the most clear indication that social organizations in China lack autonomy. Therefore, initial reactions to the announcement of the changes in Guangdong province have been very positive. Scholars in the mainland argue that if this provincial level legislation finds its way to national level policy, it will signal a “breakthrough” for the development of “civil society” in China, as the requirement of securing institutional patronage will be removed from the equation between state and social organizations.

For academics outside China who work on state-society relations, the new regulations in Guang-dong and their possible adoption as a national policy will inform the ongoing discussion on the form and direction of state-society relations in the PRC. In the last 30 years since the initiation of the reforms, sociologists, political scientists and area studies scholars and students, have been preoc-cupied with a series of interrelated questions:

Published in Political Reflection Magazine Vol. 3 No. 1

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