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Chinese social organizations feature fusion of tradition, innovation

LIU GUOHAN | 2018-05-09 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)


A staff member of the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation (CFPA) poses with a Sudanese teacher and a group of children against the poster of the “Smiling Children Program,” a school feeding program managed by the CFPA and operated by the Sudanese CSO Al-Birr Al Tawasul (BTO) to help realize the Sustainable Development Goals of eradicating extreme hunger and poverty as well as promoting education.(CFPA)


Social organizations are an important component of the state governance system. They are not only the subjects of social administration but also its objects, playing an increasingly significant role in providing various social services, building a harmonious society and enhancing social vitality.

The importance of social organizations had already been stressed in August 2016, when the General Office of the CPC together with the General Office of the State Council promulgated a policy document calling for the development of social organizations with Chinese characteristics.


Chinese characteristics
The governance of social organizations should not only follow general laws but also comply with special rules of local society. General laws emphasize rule of law, the development of civil society, the market economy and common values, while special rules are about Chinese characteristics, Asian values as well as the disparities between Eastern and Western societies.

Through 40 years of reform and opening up, Chinese social organizations have accumulated rich governance experience.

By the end of 2016, there were a total of 702,000 social organizations in China, with more than 7.6 million employees. The number of social organizations increased 3.5 times compared with the end of 2000.

In developed coastal areas, the number of social organizations per 10,000 people has grown substantially. Take Shanghai, as an example. In 2017, there were nearly 10 officially registered social organizations for every 10,000 people.

Activities carried out by social organizations have had a profound social influence. For example, the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation took part in poverty reduction and disaster relief overseas. The role of social organizations has also been fully recognized by social mainstream values, as many founders of social organizations were awarded honorary titles.

The development of social organizations has had a long history in China. Righteousness advocated by Mohism and integrity upheld by Confucianism are intellectual impetuses driving the expansion of social organizations.

Since reform and opening up, social organizations established by non-government entities have developed swiftly; the dual administration system of social organizations and private non-enterprise institutions was established; and related laws, regulations and measures of administration, evaluation, information disclosure and tax preferences were released. The social organization governance system has improved over time.

Judging from developed countries and typical developing nations, there is no uniform model for the governance of social organizations. Each country has a unique governance system. The criterion for classifying social organizations varies from country to country, and the organ for registration and administration might be the court, parliament, tax bureau or special commission and local chief executive’s office. Countries with mature social forces oversee social organizations primarily through laws, industry supervision and interior discipline.

Since the 1990s, Chinese social organizations had started to draw upon administrative experience from international organizations and developed countries while creatively establishing incubators and service or promotion centers and conducting venture philanthropy, evaluation and Party building, crafting social organizations with Chinese characteristics.


Chinese experience
The Chinese experience in governing social organizations is distinctive in that they were administrated in the broad context of the market economy and social construction after reform and opening up and based on the social and cultural traditions, political institutional logic of the country and different development stages of the organizations.

When it comes to the object of governance, the concept of social organization is different from that of non-government, nonprofit and volunteer organization adopted by other countries. Chinese social organizations highlight sociality, referring to organizations that channel various social resources and use socialized operational models to provide certain social services or address social issues.

The governance of social organizations must obey the whole political system of the society they are in. Meanwhile, they are a kind of public instrument that carries on government purchase of public services to complement the public administration of government organs.

The founders of social organizations can be Party and government offices, mass organizations, public institutions, enterprises and individuals. Different founding entities innovate their working models, enlarge the scope of services and flexibly mobilize multiple social resources and forces to better solve social problems.

In terms of operation, social organizations closely associated with the public sector are relatively administrative. Those that profit from services they offer are similar to enterprises, and those founded by individuals or enterprises are like volunteer organizations.

Moreover, many approaches to the supervision and regulation of social organizations have been developed. The government would tailor the means to different types of social organizations, implementing a unified registration and classified regulation policy.

Social organizations are governed in a unique cultural environment. On one hand, their social credit is endorsed by the government or other public sectors. Dishonest behaviors would affect the trustworthiness of public sectors, so the government stringently monitors and regulates social organizations. On the other hand, with the endorsement of public sectors, they are liberal in holding activities.

While enterprises are concerned about profit indexes and shareholder’s opinion, and the government cannot afford to overlook laws and political liabilities, social organizations are overseen by the public while following internal managerial rules. Therefore they are subject to external and internal supervision.


Suggestions for improvement
The governance of social organizations should ensure social stability and administrative efficiency at the same time. Hence it is vital to straighten out the relationship between government departments and social organizations as well as to establish a multi-level regulatory systems to facilitate social organizations to integrate social resources and provide high-quality social services in light of their own development rules. The Chinese government has leaned forward resources to social organizations and developed advantages in guiding, fostering, incubating and regulating them in an institutionalized manner.

Also efforts should be made to entrench the rights of board members and ordinary members to promote internal democratic decision-making and hold accountable to the public. Board members with decision-making power should bear legal liabilities for major matters, and functionaries are charged with daily operation and project implementation.

The connotation of social organizations should be further enriched to strike a balance between their service function and autonomy. Originating from autonomous association by citizens, social organizations are crucial means by which citizens utilize social resources to tackle social problems and provide social services. In regard to autonomy, social organizations are legally registered as independent entities that bear civil liabilities, and administratively they can make decisions on internal big issues according to their own rules. Thus they should give full play to their autonomy and development potential apart from collaborating with government sectors in offering social services.

Last but not least, the multi-pronged relationship between the government and social organizations should be smoothened to simplify the complicated management of social organizations. With the increase of social organizations, costs to register, administer and regulate them are rising. In addition, the activities of social organizations are diverse and not in fixed locations, which adds difficulties to the regulation by related government departments to some extent. It is essential to transform the subordination relationship between overseeing departments and social organizations, with civil affairs departments assessing and granting qualifications of legal entity and relevant overseeing departments responsible for their business qualifications. Through standard procedures, overseeing departments can regularly evaluate whether social organizations are qualified for businesses within the scope of their services.


Liu Guohan is an associate professor from the School of Law and Political Science at Zhejiang Sci-Tech University.

(edited by CHEN MIRONG)