A Start for Mild Liberalization? Building Civil Society through Co-operative Dynamics in China
This paper aims to understand the society-state relationship in China, by exploring this dynamics with other types of organizations, i.e. civil society organizations with economic objectives. The dynamics of co-operatives can influence and interact with civil society dynamics. In this sense, this paper presents the evolution of civil society in China by identifying the causal mechanisms of co-operatives’ development and the conditions needed for them to develop. This causal mechanisms are set within the context of one historical process evolving with path dependency. Using this theoretical framework, it further presents the empirical observation. The findings of the paper are that economic development shaped the new co-operative movement in China; this process was different from the former revolutionary communalist co-operative movement; like their counterparts from the liberal democratic tradition, new co-operatives participated in the market economy, developed in an evolutionary and peaceful way, had great respect for private property and especially, were self-motivated and voluntary in nature. The co-operative movement in China can thus be considered as a mild liberalization within civil society’s sphere. Furthermore, its spillover effect would be seen as the effect of enhancing the role of civil society as a critical dialogue partner with the state. The originality lies in its systematic analysis examining the conditions that underpin this dynamics, thus filling the academic gaps in the study of society-state relationship in another way different from the popularly-used perspective which examines the voluntary and non-profit nature of civil society organizations and excludes the economic spheres within civil society.
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