Three "C"s: Civil Society, Corporate Social Responsibility, and China
Young, Nick, MacRae, Pia, The China Business Review
The world, we are told, is divided into three spheres of action: government (also known as "the state"); business ("the market"), and some altogether vaguer amalgam of citizen action and participation known collectively as "civil society" or, less engagingly, the "third sector." This division overlooks the crosscutting nature of important social institutions, such as the law, the media, and the family, which don't fit easily into one box or another.
The idea of civil society nonetheless has remarkably broad appeal. For some, it represents a renewal of participatory-democratic possibilities-and a means by which to keep capital in check. For others, it represents a further means to ensure the retreat and containment of the state. For those somewhere in the middle, civil society is a useful compromise: a way to balance market imperfections so that the environment and other good causes get a fair hearing. The three-sector framework also helps focus attention on the fact that all three sectors are changing in size, shape, and role at the same time, and perhaps nowhere so fast as in China.
The government retreats...
The Chinese government has been gradually downsizing and withdrawing from direct economic management. Though this process is by no means complete, it remains to be seen how much further, and how smoothly, it will go. The 11 socialist market" is still strongly interventionist. State-owned enterprises continue to dominate the poor, western provinces, despite government efforts to lure private investment there. The banking system remains politically directed, making it hard for private entrepreneurs to access credit, despite the uncontested dynamism of the private sector. Entrepreneurs are also constrained by the lack of an adequate legal framework and, even more, by the absence of an effective judiciary. And the Chinese Communist Party elite continues to enjoy broad, discretionary powers, inviting rampant corruption despite denunciations from the top leadership and the execution of high profile culprits.
The retreat of government is perhaps most pronounced in the provision of social services. One aspect of this is the de-linking of cradle-tograve welfare provision from state work units. At the same time, health and education services have largely shifted to a "user pays" principle, resulting in a marked growth in inequality of access. Investment is heavily concentrated in urban areas, where populations can afford to purchase services, whereas heavily indebted local governments in rural areas often cannot even afford to pay their schoolteachers. In poor rural areas, people can seldom afford to use local health facilities that are caught in a vicious cycle of rising prices and falling quality. The government is attempting to address some of the most pressing problems through a range of social insurance schemes, but these are generally undercapitalized and have limited reach (see The CBR, May-June 2001, p.18). Funding troubles are only exacerbated by the fact that China's taxation system does not meet the requirements of its new economy: It takes in far less revenue than it should and has difficulty transferring funds to the areas that need them most.
Nonetheless, the government appears to be recasting itself as a facilitator, rather than as a direct provider, of social services. There are few signs that it intends to scale up provision to meet the massive demand for new kinds of services generated by demographic, economic, and social change. Rising aspirations will only increase demand for these services. A growing, more affluent, and more empowered managerial and professional class will seek quality education, care, counseling, and rehabilitation for disabled, chronically, or mentally ill relatives or those with drug or alcohol problems. They will also be more inclined to seek legal redress for infringements of their rights. Even if private and nonprofit service providers only …
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Publication information: Article title: Three "C"s: Civil Society, Corporate Social Responsibility, and China. Contributors: Young, Nick - Author, MacRae, Pia - Author. Magazine title: The China Business Review. Volume: 29. Issue: 1 Publication date: January/February 2002. Page number: 34+. © U.S.-China Business Council Mar/Apr 2009. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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