Skip to main content

Public Trust as a Driver of State-Grassroots NGO Collaboration in China

Abstract

While the moniker non-governmental organization (NGO) connotes distance from the state, it is widely recognized that civil society in a range of political contexts is in fact characterized by close ties across the public-private divide. Scholars of Chinese social organizations have noted that proximity between the state and NGOs is even more pronounced in the context of China. What is less clear is why this is so. Why do grassroots NGOs overwhelmingly pursue engagement with the state? This paper presents findings that enumerate a number of motivating forces that drive state-NGO collaboration, particularly with respect to small, grassroots NGOs that do not have preexisting ties to elites or to the state. Most notable among these is that NGOs seek engagement with state agencies primarily in order to secure public trust. Public trust is found to be key to the ability of such groups to run programs, mobilize citizens or raise funds. These findings therefore have implications for how we understand the critical role of public support and legitimation—in addition to state control—in the enabling of civil society under authoritarianism.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Notes

  1. 1.

    Two separate tables containing different descriptive variables are presented because the two rounds of fieldwork were undertaken with different aims and therefore dealt with distinct samples. Table 1 captures the narrowly defined core sample of grassroots NGOS in the first study, while the second round provides a broader snapshot of shifts in the sector from government, academic and a range of NGO perspectives.

  2. 2.

    Interview Y134, NGO, director of external relations. Yunnan, May 2010.

  3. 3.

    Interview N142, NGO, founder and director. Ningxia, June 2010.

  4. 4.

    Interview Y158, NGO, director. Yunnan, July 2010.

  5. 5.

    Interview N238, NGO, founder and director. Ningxia, June 2010.

  6. 6.

    Interview Y132, NGO, founder and director. Yunnan, May 2010.

  7. 7.

    Interview Y158.

  8. 8.

    Interview H168, NGO, founder and director. Hebei, November 2010.

  9. 9.

    Interview N236, NGO, founder and director. Ningxia, June 2010.

  10. 10.

    Interview N142.

  11. 11.

    The official term for NGOs that register as nonprofit organizations. Interview N273, NGO, founder and director. Ningxia, December 2010.

  12. 12.

    Interview N142, NGO.

  13. 13.

    Interview N143, NGO, director of external affairs. Ningxia, June 2010.

  14. 14.

    Interview H263, NGO, deputy director. Hebei, August 2010.

  15. 15.

    Interview Y131, NGO, founder and director. Yunnan, May 2010.

  16. 16.

    Interview Y158.

  17. 17.

    Interview Y155, NGO, Staff. Yunnan, July 2010.

  18. 18.

    Interview N142.

  19. 19.

    Interview Y158.

  20. 20.

    Interview H165, NGO, founder and director. Hebei, August 2010.

  21. 21.

    Two different terms are used to refer to something not being in accordance with the law, not legal (buhefa) and against the law (weifa). These two terms have slight different meanings, the latter usually referring to a more serious breach.

  22. 22.

    For instance, we find that correlation between trust in NGO and trust in local government in 2015 is 0.293 at 0.1% significant level, whether or not controlling for age, gender, education or income etc.

  23. 23.

    Interview BJ07, Government, staff. Beijing, September 2009.

  24. 24.

    Interview H164, NGO, founder and director. Hebei, August 2010.

  25. 25.

    Interview Y158.

  26. 26.

    Interview Y131.

  27. 27.

    Interview Y131.

  28. 28.

    Interview N237, NGO, founder and director. Ningxia, June 2010.

  29. 29.

    Interview Y229, NGO, founder and director. Yunnan, May 2010.

  30. 30.

    Interview Y131.

  31. 31.

    Interview N238.

  32. 32.

    Interview Y134.

  33. 33.

    Interview Y250, NGO, director of external relations. Yunnan, July 2010.

  34. 34.

    Interview Y132, NGO, founder and director. Yunnan, May 2010.

  35. 35.

    Interview H260, NGO, founder and director. Hebei, August 2010.

  36. 36.

    Interview Y132.

  37. 37.

    See https://www.theatlantic.com/china/archive/2013/03/why-no-one-trusts-government-charities-in-china-anymore/273989/ and https://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/04/world/asia/04china.html accessed June 15, 2020.

  38. 38.

    See http://www.chinadevelopmentbrief.cn/news/chinas-online-fundraising-platforms-raised-over-1-8-billion-rmb-in-the-first-half-of-2019/ accessed June 15, 2020.

  39. 39.

    Interview Y155.

  40. 40.

    Interview Y229.

  41. 41.

    Interview N142.

  42. 42.

    Interview H259, NGO, founder and director. Hebei, August, 2010.

  43. 43.

    Interview H165, NGO, founder and director. Hebei, August 2010.

References

  1. 1.

    Teets, J. C. 2015. Civil society under authoritarianism: The China model. Cambridge University Press.

  2. 2.

    Hasmath, R and Jennifer Hsu, eds. 2015. NGO governance and management in China. Routledge.

  3. 3.

    Fu, Diana. 2018. Mobilizing without the masses: Control and contention in China. Cambridge University Press.

  4. 4.

    Deng, G. 2010. The hidden rules governing China's unregistered NGOs: Management and consequences. The China Review 10 (1): 183–206.

    Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Heurlin, C. 2010. Governing civil society: The political logic of NGO–state relations under dictatorship. Voluntas: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations 21 (2): 220–239.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Hsu, J., Carolyn L. Hsu, and Reza Hasmath. 2017. NGO strategies in an authoritarian context, and their implications for citizenship: The case of the People's Republic of China. Voluntas: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations 28 (3): 1157–1179.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Salamon, L.M. 1995. Partners in public service: Government–nonprofit relations in the modern welfare state. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Brooks, A. 2000. Is there a dark side to government support for nonprofits? Public Administration Review 60 (3): 211–218.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Gazley, B. 2014. Intersectoral collaboration and the motivation to collaborate: Toward an integrated theory. In Big ideas in collaborative public management, eds. Bingham, L. B. and O'Leary rosemary, 46–64, Routledge.

  10. 10.

    Guo, C., and M. Acar. 2005. Understanding collaboration among nonprofit organizations: Combining resource dependency, institutional, and network perspectives. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 34 (3): 340–361.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Meyer, J.W., and B. Rowan. 1977. Institutionalized organizations: Formal structure as myth and ceremony. American Journal of Sociology 83 (2): 340–363.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Williamson, O.E. 1996. The mechanisms of governance. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Gazley, B., and J.L. Brudney. 2007. The purpose (and perils) of government-nonprofit partnership. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 36 (3): 389–415.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Oliver, C. 1990. Determinants of inter-organizational relationships: Integration and future directions. Academy of Management Review 15 (2): 241–265.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Foster, M.K., and A.G. Meinhard. 2002. A regression model explaining predisposition to collaborate. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 31 (4): 549–564.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    See, for example, Richburg, K. B. 2010. China's crackdown on nonprofit groups prompts new fears among activists, Washington Post May 11. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2010/05/10/AR2010051004801.html.

  17. 17.

    Hasmath, R., and J.Y. Hsu. 2014. Isomorphic pressures, epistemic communities and state-NGO collaboration in China. The China Quarterly 220: 936–954.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Hsu, C. 2010. Beyond civil society: An organizational perspective on state-NGO relations in the People's Republic of China. Journal of Civil Society 6 (3): 259–277.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Gallagher, M. E. 2004. China: The limits of civil society in a late Leninist state. In Civil society and political change in Asia: Expanding and contracting democratic space, ed. Alagappa, M, 419, Stanford University press.

  20. 20.

    Hsu, J. 2015. Strategic collaboration, avoidance and ignorance in state-NGO relations. SSRN Electronic Journal, https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2660633.

  21. 21.

    Hsu, C.L., and Jiang Yuzhou. 2015. An institutional approach to Chinese NGOs: State alliance versus state avoidance resource strategies. The China Quarterly 221: 100–122.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Keck, M. E., and K. Sikkink. 1998. Activists beyond borders: Advocacy networks in international politics. Cambridge University Press.

  23. 23.

    Hansmann, H.B. 1980. The role of nonprofit enterprise. Yale Law Journal 89: 835.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Lee, T., E. Johnson, and A. Prakash. 2012. Media independence and trust in NGOs: The case of post-communist countries. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 41 (1): 8–35.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    NGO Research Center. 2006. A nascent civil society within a transforming environment: Civicus civil society index report China (mainland), Tsinghua University.

  26. 26.

    Bruce Dickson. 2016. The dictator's dilemma: The Chinese communist party's strategy for survival. Oxford University Press.

  27. 27.

    Newland, S.A. 2018. Innovators and implementers: The multilevel politics of civil society governance in rural China. The China Quarterly 233: 22–42.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Howard, M. 2002. The weakness of post-communist civil society. Journal of Democracy 13 (1): 157–169.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Shi, Y.-h. 2004. The issue of civil society in China and its complexity growth and governance in Asia. Honolulu Asia–Pacific Center for Security Studies, pp. 225–232.

  30. 30.

    Shi, T. (2008). China: Democratic values supporting an authoritarian regime. In how east Asians view democracy, eds. Y.–h. Chu, L. diamond, A. J. Nathan and D. C. shin, 209–237, Columbia University press.

  31. 31.

    Ma, Q. 2005. Non–governmental organizations in contemporary China : Paving the way to a civil society?, Routledge.

  32. 32.

    Heurlin, Christopher. 2015. (dis) trusting NGOs in China. In NGO governance and management in China, eds. Hasmath, R and Jennifer Hsu, 103-120, Routledge.

  33. 33.

    Spires, A.J., Tao Lin, and Kin–man Chan. 2014. Societal support for China’s grassroots NGOs: Evidence from Yunnan, Guangdong and Beijing. The China Journal 71: 65–90.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Social Organizations Registration and Management Bureau, China Ministry of Civil Affairs, China Social Organizations Public Service Platform. http://data.chinanpo.gov.cn (accessed April 15, 2019).

  35. 35.

    Farid, May. 2019. Advocacy in action: China’s grassroots NGOs as catalysts for policy innovation. Studies in Comparative International Development 54 (4): 528–549.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Yiyi Lu. 2009. NGO–State Relations in Contemporary China: The Rise of Dependent Autonomy. available from http://Www.Iss.Nl/DevISSues/Articles/NGO-State-Relations-in-Contemporary-China-the-Rise-of-Dependent-Autonomy.

  37. 37.

    Yang, K.M., and Björn Alpermann. 2014. Children and youth NGOs in China: Social activism between embeddedness and marginalization. China Information 28 (3): 311–337.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Ho, P., and Richard Edmonds. 2007. China's Embedded Activism: Opportunities and constraints of a social movement, Routledge.

  39. 39.

    Chen, E. D. 2009. NGOs in China: The rise of civil awareness. People's Daily Online May 26. http://china-wire.org/?p=3282.

  40. 40.

    Lang, Sabine. 2012. NGOs, civil society, and the public sphere. Cambridge University Press.

  41. 41.

    Hsu, J., and Reza Hasmath. 2014. The local corporatist state and NGO relations in China. Journal of Contemporary China 23 (87): 516–534.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. 42.

    Guo, D. 2020. Xi’s leadership and party-centred governance in China. Chinese Political Science Review available from https://doi.org/10.1007/s41111-020-00149-y.

  43. 43.

    Xu, J. 2020. The public sphere in modern China: Forms, functions and self-understandings—A case study of Shanghai. Fudan Journal of the Humanities and Social Science 13: 413–435.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. 44.

    Sun, X. 2019. Governance value, growth coalition, and models of community governance. Chinese Political Science Review 4: 52–70.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. 45.

    Schmitter, P.C. 2019. Defining, explaining and, then, exploiting the elusive concept of “governance”. Fudan Journal of the Humanities and Social Science 12: 547–567.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. 46.

    Snape, H., and Wang Weinan. 2020. Finding a place for the Party: debunking the “party-state” and rethinking the state-society relationship in China’s one-party system. available from https://doi.org/10.1080/23812346.2020.1796411

Download references

Funding

National Natural Science Foundation of China, Grant/Award Numbers: 71804046.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Chengcheng Song.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of Interest

The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Farid, M., Song, C. Public Trust as a Driver of State-Grassroots NGO Collaboration in China. J OF CHIN POLIT SCI 25, 591–613 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11366-020-09691-7

Download citation

Keywords

  • State-NGO relations
  • Public trust
  • Cross-sector collaboration
  • China
  • Grassroots NGO