This past summer, China introduced a new law aimed at curbing the activities of NGOs operating in the country. The law itself was heavily criticized in the international press, in part because the law closely resembled measures enacted in Russia under Putin. Similar measures have appeared in other jurisdictions, such as Cambodia.
The new restriction of NGOs in China raises questions about the direction of social change under the Xi Jinping government, which harken back to earlier debates about the origins and fate of civil society in China. These issues all turn on historical interpretation, whether the emergence of the NGO sector in China represents something fundamentally nw.
In some ways it does. China of course has its own tradition of charities, many of which operated hand in hand with government relief and social welfare, but the current sector is more visible and more politically vocal than anything China has seen before. It is also far larger. Compared to the size of the economy, the NGO sector today completely dwarfs the missionary charities of the early twentieth century, and are an order of magnitude larger and better organized than imperial-era charities.
For more on this topic, see my recently published article: “Before the NGO: Chinese charities in historical perspective.”