Civil Society in China

Civil Society in China

Civil Society in China

Civil Society in China

Synopsis

The concept of "civil society" was borrowed from eighteenth-century Europe to provide a framework for understanding the transition to post-authoritarian regimes in Latin America and postcommunist regimes elsewhere. In China, the Democracy Movement forced the concept onto the intellectual agenda during the struggle to come to terms with the growth of dissent and the failure of student activism to find a secure foothold. The question that drives this book is whether this concept is useful for analyzing China, and if so, in what ways and within what limits.

Excerpt

Timothy Brook

The concept of civil society pivots on the post-eighteenth-century habit of distinguishing the realm of the political--"the state"--from the realm of the social--"society." This distinction between state and society has grown out of the historical experience of state formation under European capitalism. It is explained as a process of social forces from below progressively limiting state power above: through elite challenges to the power of sovereigns (in the process of constitutionalism), through the ascendancy of market principles (in the form of capitalism), and through the pressure of public opinion on state decisions (in the realm of what has been called the public sphere).

The state-society relationship is regarded as a source of stability in Western societies; it is just as regularly viewed as a source of instability in authoritarian regimes in the Third World. Where democracy has failed, its failure has been attributed to blockages or imbalances in this relationship, and proposals to remedy these problems alternately identify the state (on a spectrum ranging from authoritarian to democratic) or society (ranging from vertical to horizontal) as the principal locus of dynamism--or as the barrier in need of removal--for broadening the political process and enhancing regime stability in the Third World. Among Western observers, pragmatists favor accepting the power of the state over society in their proposals for Third World political development; interventionists argue in favour of strengthening society against the state.

Analyzing the structure of power in China as a relationship between state and society can provide insights into how power is distributed . . .

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