Made in China issue on civil society

Dear Colleagues,

I am glad to announce the publication of the latest issue of the Made in China Journal. You can download it for free at this link:

Below you can find the editorial:

Then and Now: Looking Back and Imagining the Future of Chinese Civil Society

‘Prairie fires can’t consume them completely,
a spring breeze blows and again they rise’
— Grass, Bai Juyi, c. 787, cited by Ministry of Civil Affairs Comrade in Charge, 2021

In the spring of 2021, China’s central authorities issued a policy that seeks to change norms of civil society that have been established over the past 30 years. At a moment that portends a closing of the space for unregistered nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) and a possible shift in the ways NGOs can emerge, evolve, and cooperate with other social and state entities, we thought it important to revisit the development of China’s civil society over the past decades. This exercise not only is important in enabling us to understand the shifts now taking place, but also reminds us of the possibilities that once were, and the possible futures that may be. With this issue, we wanted to bring together practitioners whose experience of running or participating in organisations and initiatives is invaluable both in and of itself and in helping us to reflect. We sought to bring their insights together with those of scholars who also have a deep interest, and often practical experience, in China’s organised civil society, studying its different aspects and dynamics. We hoped, too, to capture something of the vibrant diversity of organised civil society during its early (re-)emergence in the 1990s and to remember, as best we could, some of the early pioneers and possibilities.

The special section of this issue includes 11 essays. Holly Snape opens the section with an analysis of the latest policies put forward by the Chinese Government with the declared aim of ‘cleansing the social organisation ecological space’. She then engages Wang Weinan in a conversation about the importance of adopting an oral history approach to track the development of NGOs in China. Kang Yi reflects on the changes that have occurred within China’s civil society since the Sichuan earthquake of 2008—a tragedy that triggered a massive societal mobilisation that was hailed at the time as a new dawn for Chinese NGOs. Zhou Jian and Tian Hui share their thoughts on the development of the ‘public benefit’ (公益) sector over the years as it has become increasingly focused on efficiency and competitiveness (市场化), and on scaling up (规模化), as well as their own experiences in poverty alleviation and rural development. Shixin Huang traces the formation and evolution of the sector of Chinese civil society working on issues related to disability from the late 1980s to today, proposing a three-stage process shaped by both domestic and transnational forces of sociopolitical change. Stephanie Yingyi Wang offers a feminist political and economic analysis of the development of Chinese urban-based LGBT activism since the 1990s, meditating on the gendered politics within LGBT activism and exploring the tension between LGBT groups’ NGO-isation process in the context of transnational movements and the Party-State’s attempts to eliminate organisations linked to the ‘imperial West’. Lu Jun looks back to his time at the helm of the Beijing Yirenping Centre, one of the most remarkable grassroots NGOs to emerge in China during the Hu and Wen era, which was active in the field of anti-discrimination and used an innovative mix of strategies. Jude Howell charts the twists and turns of China’s labour NGOs since the mid-1990s, identifying three key stages in their growth. Eva Pils reconstructs the history of China’s human rights lawyers, highlighting how their divisions today reflect our era’s global backlash against human rights. Wang Ying investigates the internationalisation of Chinese NGOs today, exploring the roots of this phenomenon, its potential, and the constraints these organisations face when they decide to operate abroad. Finally, Laurence Deane concludes the section on a note of relative optimism, arguing that the new policies of the Chinese Government are unlikely to put an end to organised efforts to work for change.

With this issue, we inaugurate a new section called ‘Global China Pulse’, which includes essays examining various facets of China’s international engagements and is published in collaboration with the People’s Map of Global China, a new project of ours aimed at tracking China’s global footprint ( Here, you will find an essay by Kelly Wanjing Chen in which she draws from her fieldwork in the construction sites of the trans-Laos railway to investigate China’s ‘labour puzzle’, or the question of why China’s infrastructural expansion in some countries continues to demonstrate an overwhelming reliance on labour sourced from home. Mark Grimsditch delves into Chinese investment in Cambodia’s energy sector, arguing that in the long term the energy investment priorities of Chinese companies and banks, along with the development decisions of the Cambodian Government, could set back industrial upgrading, diversification, and job creation, ultimately harming Cambodia’s economy. Finally, Edmund Downie takes China’s opium-replacement planting program in northern Myanmar as a case study to reflect on the challenges that Chinese small and medium-sized enterprises face when they decide to operate abroad.

The issue opens with an op-ed by Hong Zhang that tackles the recent debates about whether China’s Belt and Road Initiative is slowing. In the China Columns section, Kailing Xie and Zhou Yunyun look into the recent proliferation of state-sponsored TV series that promote the Chinese Communist Party’s image as a national saviour and citizens’ patriotic sentiments in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Jin Xianan and Ni Leiyun reflect on their experiences as immigrant anti-racism activists in the United Kingdom during the pandemic. Camille Boullenois considers how, over the past four decades, relations between bosses and workers in private enterprises in rural China have become increasingly distant and impersonal, with stricter monitoring and control of the labour process, leading to a crystallisation of the identities of ‘bosses’ and ‘workers’ and a supplanting of the feelings of commonality and homogeneity among villagers. Finally, Ling Li and Teng Biao discuss former US President Donald Trump’s appeal among Chinese liberals.

We conclude the issue with three conversations about recently published books. Darren Byler interviews David Tobin about his Securing China’s Northwest Frontier, Andrea Enrico Pia and Harriet Evans discuss her Beijing from Below, and Zeng Jinyan has a discussion with Sebastian Veg about his Minjian: The Rise of China’s Grassroots Intellectuals. These are followed by a heartfelt tribute by Annie Luman Ren to the late scholar Daniel Kane, who passed away in April 2021.

The Editors

Ivan Franceschini (, Nicholas Loubere, and Holly Snape

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