Social Organizations and the Authoritarian State in China

Social Organizations and the Authoritarian State in China

Received wisdom suggests that social organizations (such as non-government organizations, NGOs) have the power to upend the political status quo. However, in many authoritarian contexts, such as China, NGO emergence has not resulted in this expected regime change. In this book, Timothy Hildebrandt shows how NGOs adapt to the changing interests of central and local governments, working in service of the state to address social problems. In doing so, the nature of NGO emergence in China effectively strengthens the state, rather than weakens it. This book offers a groundbreaking comparative analysis of Chinese social organizations across the country in three different issue areas: environmental protection, HIV/AIDS prevention, and gay and lesbian rights. It suggests a new way of thinking about state–society relations in authoritarian countries, one that is distinctly co-dependent in nature: governments require the assistance of NGOs to govern while NGOs need governments to extend political, economic, and personal opportunities to exist.


“In this book, Timothy Hildebrandt describes the emergence of a new facet of modern Chinese civil society: the rise of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). It shows that although the status of such groups is often contested, they have become an important factor within the way China is governed, and how the Chinese state is likely to rule in the future. Moreover, the author comes at this issue not within the narrow confines of an attachment to a single methodology, but rather through utilizing a mixed-methods approach to the subject matter. In this regard, the book is sure to stand out within the growing wave of scholarship on the role of NGOs both in authoritarian regimes in general, and in China more specifically.” – Allen Carlson, Cornell University

“This book dissects three types of social organizations by issue area and shows how they survive by working with, rather than against, central and local governments. Its innovative comparative analysis offers a dispassionate and refreshing perspective on both the limits and creative adaptability of China’s many civic groups and their leaders. This is one of the most incisive books on this topic ever written.” – Guobin Yang, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania

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