In Search of Civil Society: Market Reform and Social Change in Contemporary China

In Search of Civil Society: Market Reform and Social Change in Contemporary China

In Search of Civil Society: Market Reform and Social Change in Contemporary China

In Search of Civil Society: Market Reform and Social Change in Contemporary China

Synopsis

Since 1978, China has pursued sweeping economic changes in an officially sponsored transition from a Stalinist centrally planned economy to a socialist market economy. China's reformers have highlighted the need to curb the awesome power of the Leninist state and change the balance of power between state and economy, state and society. In practice, the economic reforms have set in train a process of potentially fundamental social and institutional change in China which is creating new socio-economic forces, shifting power in their direction, and raising the possibility of political transformation. This book explores the extent to which this experience can be described and understood in terms of the idea of `civil society', defined in sociological terms as the emergence of an autonomous sphere of voluntary associations capable of organizing the interests of emergent socio-economic groups and counterbalancing the hitherto unchallenged dominance of the Marxist-Leninist state. The authors lay out a clear operational definition of the concept of civil society to make it useful as a tool for empirical inquiry and avoid the cultural relativism of its origins in Western historical experience. Guided by this theoretical framework, the book brings together a vast amount of empirical data on emergent social organization and institutions in contemporary China, drawing on the authors' extensive fieldwork experience in East Asia. It is based on interviews, survey questionnaires, and copious documentary sources, buttressed by in-depth case studies of specific localities over a two-year period from 1991 to 1993. The research focused on the changes in the socio-economic realities of three major social groups - urban manual workers, women, and managers/entrepreneurs. The primary emphasis is on transformations in urban China, though detailed rural case studies of Xiaoshan and Nanhai are included to provide comparative context. The authors describe the new forms of state-society relations, as reflected in the complex links between the state and new associations. They show how the expansion of these associations is jeopardized by the lack of general democratization of China's political institutions.

Excerpt

This chapter aims to provide an overall context for the detailed case-studies of intermediate social organizations which take up the main body of this book. the first section provides some historical background to the study by briefly assessing the findings of historians about the prevalence and nature of 'civil society' in China before the Chinese Communist Party came to power in 1949. the second section analyses the system of socio-political controls which shaped the organization of Chinese society during the post-revolutionary period from 1949 to 1978. the third and fourth sections move into the reform era from 1978 onwards and draw with broad brush the key changes in both Chinese society and in the Chinese Party/state during this period which have provided the context for, and a 'dual impetus' towards, changes in state-- society relations and the emergence of new forms of intermediate social organization. the fifth section presents an overall map of what we call the 'civil society constellation', the various types or layers of intermediate social organizations, both old and new, which have emerged during the reform era, which operate in different ways and exist in a variety of different kinds of relationship with the Party/state.

Was There a 'Civil Society' in Pre-Revolutionary China?

As we saw earlier, there has been considerable debate among historians about whether a 'civil society' of any description existed in pre-revolutionary China, concentrating mainly on the phase of rapid social, economic, and political change during the last phase of the Qing dynasty and the Republican period from from the overthrow of Qing rule in 1911 to the revolutionary success of the ccp in 1949. This has been prompted partly by a desire to look for historical precursors of the social organizations which have emerged during the post-Mao reform era, but also for historical precedents for the kind of political mobilization mounted by urban social forces during the Democracy Movement of 1989. Our intentions here are similar and in this section we shall draw on the Chinese and foreign historical literature on this same period, first, to investigate the extent to which intermediate organizations of the type we have identified with civil society can be identified in the late Qing and . . .

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