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In Search of Civil Society: Market Reform and Social Change in Contemporary China


  • White, Gordon

    (University of Sussex)

  • Howell, Jude A.

    (University of East Anglia)

  • Shang Xiaoyuan,

    (University of Sussex)


Since 1978, China has pursued sweeping economic changes in an officially sponsored transition from a Stalinist centrally planned economy to a socialist market economy. China's reformers have highlighted the need to curb the awesome power of the Leninist state and change the balance of power between state and economy, state and society. In practice, the economic reforms have set in train a process of potentially fundamental social and institutional change in China which is creating new socio-economic forces, shifting power in their direction, and raising the possibility of political transformation. This book explores the extent to which this experience can be described and understood in terms of the idea of `civil society', defined in sociological terms as the emergence of an autonomous sphere of voluntary associations capable of organizing the interests of emergent socio-economic groups and counterbalancing the hitherto unchallenged dominance of the Marxist-Leninist state. the authors lay out a clear operational definition of the concept of civil society to make it useful as a tool for empirical inquiry and avoid the cultural relativism of its origins in Western historical experience. Guided by this theoretical framework, the book brings together a vast amount of empirical data on emergent social organization and institutions in contemporary China, drawing on the authors' extensive fieldwork experience in East Asia. It is based on interviews, survey questionnaires, and copious documentary sources, buttressed by in-depth case studies of specific localities over a two-year period from 1991 to 1993. the research focused on the changes in the socio-economic realities of three major social groups - urban manual workers, women, and managers/entrepreneurs. The primary emphasis is on transformations in urban China, though detailed rural case studies of Xiaoshan and Nanhai are included to provide comparative context. The authors describe the new forms of state-society relations, as reflected in the complex links between the state and new associations. They show how the expansion of these associations is jeopardized by the lack of general democratization of China's political institutions.

Suggested Citation

  • White, Gordon & Howell, Jude A. & Shang Xiaoyuan,, 1996. "In Search of Civil Society: Market Reform and Social Change in Contemporary China," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198289562.
  • Handle: RePEc:oxp:obooks:9780198289562

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    Cited by:

    1. Chun-Yi Lee, 2014. "Learning a Lesson from Taiwan? A Comparison of Changes and Continuity of Labour Policies in Taiwan and China," Journal of Current Chinese Affairs - China aktuell, Institute of Asian Studies, GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Hamburg, vol. 43(3), pages 45-70.
    2. Tassilo Herrschel & Timothy Forsyth, 2001. "Constructing a New Understanding of the Environment under Postsocialism," Environment and Planning A, , vol. 33(4), pages 573-587, April.
    3. LIU, Mingxing & XU, Zhigang & SU, Fubing & TAO, Ran, 2012. "Rural tax reform and the extractive capacity of local state in China," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 23(1), pages 190-203.
    4. Wang Qun, 2022. "14th Five-Year Plan for Social Organization Development: China’s Nonprofit Sector in Transition," Nonprofit Policy Forum, De Gruyter, vol. 13(4), pages 345-359, October.
    5. Jean-François Huchet & Xavier Richet, 2002. "Between Bureaucracy and Market: Chinese Industrial Groups in Search of New Forms of Corporate Governance," Post-Print hal-01331919, HAL.
    6. Wang, Haiyan & Zivkovic, Sanja, 2018. "Household Food Demand Analysis in Rural China: Implications for Food Imports," 2018 Annual Meeting, February 2-6, 2018, Jacksonville, Florida 267163, Southern Agricultural Economics Association.
    7. Bondes, Maria, 2011. "Negotiating Political Spaces: Social and Environmental Activism in the Chinese Countryside," GIGA Working Papers 173, GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies.
    8. Gerald E Fryxell & Carlos W H Lo & Tao-Chiu Lam, 2003. "Allocation of Responsibility: Managerial Perspectives on Pollution in Three Chinese Municipalities," Environment and Planning C, , vol. 21(3), pages 445-465, June.
    9. Chen Li & Mark Yaolin Wang & Jennifer Day, 2021. "Reconfiguration of state–society relations: The making of uncompromising nail households in urban housing demolition and relocation in Dalian, China," Urban Studies, Urban Studies Journal Limited, vol. 58(8), pages 1581-1597, June.
    10. Gordon White, 1996. "Chinese Trade Unions in the Transition from Socialism: Towards Corporatism or Civil Society?," British Journal of Industrial Relations, London School of Economics, vol. 34(3), pages 433-457, September.
    11. Michael Griffiths, 2010. "Lamb Buddha’s Migrant Workers: Self-Assertion on China’s Urban Fringe," Journal of Current Chinese Affairs - China aktuell, Institute of Asian Studies, GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Hamburg, vol. 39(2), pages 3-37.
    12. Jennifer Y.J. Hsu, 2012. "Spaces of civil society: the role of migrant non-governmental organizations in Beijing and Shanghai," Progress in Development Studies, , vol. 12(1), pages 63-76, January.
    13. Howell, Jude, 2015. "Shall we dance? Welfarist incorporation and the politics of state-labour NGO relations in China," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 60219, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    14. Andrea Bernardi & Mattia Miani, 2014. "The long march of Chinese co-operatives: towards market economy, participation and sustainable development," Asia Pacific Business Review, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 20(3), pages 330-355, July.
    15. Jude Howell & Tim Pringle, 2019. "Shades of Authoritarianism and State–Labour Relations in China," British Journal of Industrial Relations, London School of Economics, vol. 57(2), pages 223-246, June.
    16. Pesqué-Cela, Vanesa & Tao, Ran & Liu, Yongdong & Sun, Laixiang, 2009. "Challenging, complementing or assuming 'the Mandate of Heaven'? Political distrust and the rise of self-governing social organizations in rural China," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 37(1), pages 151-168, March.
    17. Xu Ying, 2013. "Volunteer Participation and the Development of Civil Society in China: A Case Study of Jinan," Nonprofit Policy Forum, De Gruyter, vol. 5(1), pages 139-168, September.

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