The term “civil society” gained international prominence in the 1980s with the emergence of well-organized nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) seeking to exert influence on governments in areas such as environmental protection, human rights, international labor standards and development aid. NGOs are arguably the most visible component of civil society and organizations such as Greenpeace and Amnesty International still receive a lot of media coverage and attention due to their well-organized and coordinated advocacy strategies and influence on policymaking in many countries. NGOs and their interaction with, or opposition to, government policies have become an integral part of the political culture in the West, including Europe. What about civil society in China? “Is there a civil society in China?” and “Are there any Chinese NGOs at all?” are two of the typical questions that come up when “China” and “civil society” get mentioned in the same sentence. The answer is “yes” to both questions and the reason why there is limited information and literature available on civil society in the China of the 21st century does not necessarily mean that civil society and Chinese NGOs have no influence on Beijing’s policymaking. Admittedly, the emergence of civil society in China over the last 15 years is less spectacular than international coverage of Greenpeace occupying a drilling platform in the North Sea and is typically referred to as a “quiet revolution” in the Chinese literature. Chinese commentators and scholars, however, point out, that there is an increasingly active Chinese civil society, and that a communist system does not necessarily rule out the existence of civil society. However, the vast majority of Chinese NGOs still depends on the central government for funding, and are supervised and monitored by China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs. Moreover, many Chinese NGOs are run by former government officials and leading scholars, which indicates that many NGOs in China are still quasi-government agencies.
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