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The State and the State of the Art on Philanthropy in China


There exists a current paradox of philanthropy and the state in China: a stronger social sector accompanied with growth in philanthropy is desired, but such strength and growth must also contend with the state’s own policy agenda and desire to limit aspects of advocacy and civil society typically associated with the third sector. This special volume seeks to explore these state-society dynamics, in terms of the environment for philanthropy and the behaviors of philanthropic actors within this environment. The purpose of our article is multifold. The first is to provide the intellectual and empirical contexts in which our collective research is situated. We do so by providing analyzing the state of the existing research and the broad contours of philanthropic activity in China. The second is to situate our initiative within the development of China’s own complex philanthropic studies and philanthropic community. The third is to introduce the scholarship that composes this special volume and its collective contribution. We then provide original data and analysis about corporate philanthropic activity and foundations in China that complements the work of our collaborators. Finally, we consider the implications of the special volume for our broader understanding of philanthropy and suggest potential avenues of a future research agenda.

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We thank the external funders of the Initiative on Philanthropy in China, The Henry Luce Foundation and Ford Foundation. We recognize our home institutions during our 6 years of collaboration on this project, including: Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and the Research Center for Chinese Politics and Business; the University of Maryland; and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. We also express appreciation for advice and support from a diversity of close colleagues in China, including especially: the China Philanthropy Research Institute of Beijing Normal University; the China Foundation Center; and the Institute for Philanthropy at Tsinghua University. We thank our research assistants: Tian Yuan, He Lijun, Wang Qun, Zhongsheng Wu, Kainan Gao, and Rong Shi. Finally, we thank participants in five conferences and meetings we organized between 2013 and 2015 in Indianapolis and Beijing, as well as panelists on the Initiative at the 2016 ISTR conference.


This study was funded by the Ford Foundation (0135-0108) and Henry Luce Foundation.

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Correspondence to Scott Kennedy.

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Bies, A., Kennedy, S. The State and the State of the Art on Philanthropy in China. Voluntas 30, 619–633 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11266-019-00142-3

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  • China
  • Philanthropy
  • Corporate philanthropy
  • Foundations
  • Civil society