2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 25

[ China and Inner Asia Sessions, Table of Contents | Panels by World Area Main Menu ]

Chinese ‘Reform and Opening’ Part 2: Social Reform, 'Domestification' and Innovation, a View from the Bottom'

Organizer and Chair: Lawrence J. Deane, University of Manitoba, Canada

Discussant: Tao Li, , China

The impetus for this panel comes from the contention that China is now on the brink of great social reform propelled from both above and below. The panelists attempt to capture and analyze something of the rich substance of this reform as it evolves. Chinese economic reform has achieved laudable gains but has also accrued massive costs. The fault lines of society are shifting and social problems abound. At the grassroots, people are organizing, combining strength to ameliorate their own communities’ problems; the central government has called for ‘social management innovation’. Many look to social work to address social problems. The way China comes to define ‘social work’ will mould state-society relationships as the state puts out tentative feelers purchasing services from social organizations and society gains channels to influence the state. Meanwhile, a discernable trend for international official aid and foundations to pull resources from China has begun to take its toll on domestic grassroots NGOs who are largely supported through these channels. This presents a pressing challenge: how to draw on the energies and capacity of those at the grassroots to develop a domestically nuanced, domestically resourced means to provide for and make heard society’s needs. This panel offers a sturdy empirical basis to theorizing about China’s state-society relationship and social reform. It will engage the audience by asking how China can effectively meet the needs of excluded populations. It will present a short video of a street theater play prepared for this conference by Chinese migrant workers.

Indigenous Social Work in China: community-based, theatrical, and empowering?
Lawrence J. Deane, University of Manitoba, Canada

In 2006 the Plenary of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party stated its intent to build a strong Social Work profession in China. Between 2001 and 2006 universities and colleges teaching social work increased five-fold from 36 to 186. This rapid development has meant extensive importation of social work curriculum from Hong Kong and the West. Little attention has been paid, however, to developing a truly localized or indigenous form of social work practice. This paper will examine a local NGO in Beijing making pioneering attempts to develop indigenous Social Work practice with urban migrant workers. The NGO incorporates not only community development practice but engages in street theatre to shape public perceptions of migrants. It addresses the needs of workers at the levels of family, workplace, neighborhood, and social system. Many staff are migrant workers themselves. The NGO advocates for employment rights at work places. They have mobilized a thousand medically-trained volunteers to provide health services for 12,000 migrant worker children. The NGO has helped migrants to take places on neighbourhood governing structures. This work has not escaped the attention of city governments. The NGO has been asked to train government cadres and other NGOs in social work values and nonprofit management. For this NGO, indigenous Social Work is a social movement that works toward an inclusive, respectful, participatory, and egalitarian society. This paper will engage the panel and audience in several questions. To what extent is this vision representative of those who are building a Chinese Social Work profession? Is this vision consistent with the government’s aim to build a harmonious society?

Integration of Social Work service and Sustainable Livelihoods: Post-earthquake community-based development
Weihe Guo, China University of Political Science and Law, China

For many years Social Work has discussed approaches to local social development. Little of this discussion includes building the economic fibre of communities. At the same time, international development has been evolving the Sustainable Livelihoods (SL) approach as a comprehensive framework for social and economic development. SL, however, does not generally incorporate social support services that have been refined within the Social Work profession. This paper looks at the experience of combining the SL approach with well-known social work methods in a community in the earthquake zone of Sichuan province. The Wenchuan Earthquake became an occasion for Social Work scholars to experiment with a new approach they refer to as “Social Work for Development”. Over two years, Social Work faculty members and students nurtured two cohorts of survivors in family livelihood strategies. Economic planning was supplemented by post-disaster counseling and support services. Both were seen as necessary. Several families have recovered livelihood activities or developed new ones. The project is expected grow into a community-based cooperative. The experience suggests questions for social development in China. To what extent is “Social Work for Development” a potential model for communities across the country? Is this an indigenous approach to Social Work that takes into account China’s current stage of social development? What resources are required to make it replicable in other places? What are implications for newly emerging Social Work curriculum in Chinese universities?

"Domestification" of Resources for Grassroots Development: the emerging relationship between NGO's, domestic donor groups, and government in China.
Holly Snape, Tsinghua University, China

This paper is based on the premise that for China’s social reform to have real substance (greater opportunity for citizens to participate in decision making; to have their voices heard and their needs met) it must include substantial input from NGOs.. The development of a vibrant NGO sector will demand careful consideration of the mobilization of resources. Grassroots NGOs in China usually lack legal status to solicit public donations. Until now, they have looked almost solely to international donors for funding. Already, however, we can see clear a trend amongst international donors to withdraw from China. This trend is further compounded by the natural desire of the government to gain greater control over international donor activities and by regulations implemented in 2010 that make it much more difficult for NGOs to receive funds from international donors. There is a vicious cycle of distrust leading to avoidance that stunts the ability of NGOs to function as civil society organizations and to engage the government in dialogue. Grassroots activists have expressed the fear that should international donors pull out too quickly it will lead to ‘the death of grassroots NGOs’ in China. This paper explores China’s rapidly expanding domestic sources of funding and resources, including over 2,200 foundations (a new phenomenon in China as of 2004) and channels for government procurement of services from NGOs. The paper will ask what challenges are faced during the ‘domestification’ of China’s NGO activity, and what the implications may be on the development of this sector.

Innovation and the Interaction Between NGOs and Government - a Localized Case Study
Suxia Tian, University of Manitoba, Canada

The Chinese government has acknowledged the urgency of addressing the need for strengthening and innovating in ‘social management’ in recent years. This term refers to addressing social problems and assisting needy groups to access society’s resources. Zhou Yongkang, a leading member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, has been highlighting this issue through speeches and official visits. There is extensive discussion among scholars and commentators about both the need for this approach and the form it should take. However, there are not many active examples of grassroots NGOs that have interactions with central or local governments. Instead, many NGOs avoid dealing with government. (Of the estimated 3 million NGO’s in China, only 440,000 are registered, which suggests that most prefer to avoid the process of registration and scrutiny by government). This paper draws on a case study of a Beijing-based grassroots NGO and the evolution of its relationship with local authorities. As a supportive organization registered at the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Civil Affairs, it interacts with local government in a number of ways including conducting training for officials, acting as a test-site for government procurement of social work services, and cooperating with government to achieve its social development goals. At the same time the NGO is vocal in advocating for change and development of social services. The Beijing government has asked the NGO to perform a supportive role to other NGOs. The government intends to purchases public services from this developing network. All of these roles are new and pioneering arrangements in the Chinese context, and are altering the attitudes of local government towards grassroots level NGOs. This paper will examine some strategies used by this organization for keeping its independence while working with government departments. The paper will discuss the extent to which the experiences of this NGO could become a prototype for social innovation in throughout contemporary China.