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POLI 422 - Yang: Environmental NGOs and Institutional Dynamics in China

Political Science
Course Code
POLI 422
Juan Wang

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Yang – Environmental NGOs and Institutional Dynamics in China
Despite the challenges faced by environmental NGOs, they have carved out a field
of existence in China's social terrain.
Argument: emergence of ENGOs is a response to political conditions and currents in
mass media, internet, and international NGOs.
Key actors: organizational entrepreneurs that mobilize resources; individuals in
search of self-fulfilment or social experience.
A Field Perspective
The state and the market are often the two identified causal factors of civil society
development in China. Often, it is argued that marketization has led to a separation
of state and society, opening up spaces for civil society (which is facilitated by
decentralization of the state.)
However, these explanations cannot account for how civil society growth actually
occurs, or how other fields shape these processes.
A field perspective builds on prior organization-level studies to capture the NGO rise
in interactions with the multiple other fields.
Field = patterned system of objective forces, a relational configuration endowed
with a specific gravity which it imposes on all the objects and agents which enter it;
situations where organized groups of actors gather and frame their actions vis-a-vis
one another
Ex. politics; economy; art; academia
Thus, a field approach stresses the unequal relations between various fields and
their mutual interaction.
The most important actors in this view are the leaders of organized groups
(organizational entrepreneurs.)
Chinese ENGOs re largely subordinate to the political field, although they do have
allies in mass media, INGOs and via the internet. Within these, organizational
entrepreneurs mobilize resources, while young college students join in search of
social experience and self-fulfilment.
Chinese ENGO development accelerated within the mid-1990s. In 1994 there were
9; by 2001 there were nearly 150 in total.

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Mixed Collective Action Repertoires
Chinese NGOs aim to develop environmental consciousness, sustainable
development and public participation. Their methods are a mix of traditional and
new collective action repertoires.
They typically avoid confrontational methods in favour of learning, co-operation and
participation approaches (public lectures, workshops, conferences, salon
discussions, field trips, newsletters, multimedia documents, internet petitions,
online discussions.) Most have shied away from radical issues/tactics.
However, due to their location on the boundary between official and non-official
politics, ENGOs frequently occupy political grey zones to advance contestable
claims and extract concessions, as well as to employ the rhetoric and commitments
of the powerful to curb political/economic power. This use of the regime's own
words as a weapon of protest is a common and effective strategy.
Thus, under the umbrella of sustainable development, ENGOs also promote certain
democratic values such as citizen participation.
One final action available is legal. One organization assist victims of pollution in
pressing their cases in court, with a modest win record. It is the only one that does
this activity, but it does reflect a growing rights consciousness in Chinese society.
These tactics aim more at publicity and participation than protest and disruption.
This makes the actions different than previous in the history of the PRC such as
mass demos, rallies, and the big-character posters, while looking more like
moderate current of contemporary environmental movements.
Political Opportunities and Constraints
China's political situation presents both opportunities and constraints for ENGOs.
The state's recent attention to developing environmental laws and policies has
given ENGOs a state-sanctioned mandate for much of its activities. In fact, the
government has even encouraged the development of NGOs specifically in
addressing environmental concerns.
However these regulations framework also represent hurdles. One such block is the
requirement for applicants to have sponsoring institutions (NGOs are considered
liabilities to its sponsoring institution.) In addition, there is a “cap” to the number of
NGOs in a particular field, and GONGOs have filled much of these quotas.
Thus, the proliferation of “non-profit enterprises” reflects organizational adaptation
to these regulative restrictions.
It is difficult to explain the existence of illegal yet highly active NGOs; this seems to
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