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The Emergence of Subversive Charities in China

Stanford Social Innovation Review | January 27, 2016

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The following excerpt has been republished with kind permission from Stanford Social Innovation Review. It was written by Christopher Marquis, Yanhua Zhou, and Zoe Yang.

China has undergone dramatic and largely positive changes in the last three decades, including profound economic expansion, wealth accumulation, and global connectivity. The Chinese government's economic growth model, with its focus on attracting foreign technology, building infrastructure, and encouraging exports, has received much of the credit. But the changes in China have come with attending social problems that the government has either failed to put on the agenda or struggled to solve. Pernicious environmental pollution, food safety scandals, and migrant worker suicides have shaken public trust and are daily reminders of the public sector's shortcomings. Moreover, traditional civil society models that deal with these issues in other countries, such as NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and GONGOS (government-organized NGOs that act similarly to NGOs), have not been able to muster an adequate response; instead, they’ve been criticized for being irresponsive and bureaucratic at best, corrupt and scandal-ridden at worst.

Increasingly dissatisfied with the status quo, China’s rising middle class is demanding a bigger say in how society operates. Yet given the restrictive political environment surrounding any type of collective organizing, people find their options limited. In the past few years, however, a new form of social media-driven charitable giving campaign has emerged as an innovative and effective channel for Chinese citizens seeking to make a difference on social issues and to present political appeals. We call these campaigns "subversive charities," a new model of civil society activism in a society rife with political constraints on collective action and public fundraising.

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Read More: Aid, Ethics, Philanthropy

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