Accepted paper:

From "Civil Society" to "Philanthropy": Understanding the Discursive Change of Chinese NGOs


Hailing Zhao (University of East Anglia)

Paper short abstract:

This paper aims to understand the discursive change in China NGO sector, from 'civil society development' (between the early 1990s to early 2000s) to 'charity and philanthropy' (in the past decade.

Paper long abstract:

The past two decades have witnessed great changes of China's NGO sector. What attracts most researchers is the dynamics of the relationship between the state and NGOs in China, especially the policy changes and the survival strategies of grassroots organizations in China's authoritarianism. But quite limited study has done on the internal structure change of China's NGO sector, particularly, the discursive change among different organizations. This paper aims to fill this gap by looking at the languages that Chinese NGO workers have used in the past two decades: how the NGO workers describe their work using different languages (like 'civil society constructor' or 'philanthropy worker'), and how different identities have been created. The paper argues that to understand the emerging 'philanthropy discourse' in China's NGO sector, we needs to reconsider: 1) the rise and fall of 'civil society' discourse in China in its history, 2) the newly rich Chinese (or 'philantropists') as the major donors and their cooperations with the Chinese state.

panel C1
Philanthropy and international development: bridging epochs, geographies, imaginaries, and institutions