AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 717

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Session 717: Social Activism and the State of China

Tiantian Zheng, SUNY, Cortland, USA

This paper is based on the past year’ ethnographic fieldwork of homosexual men’s cruising places, bathhouses, and online discussion forum to explore the issue of inequality and discrimination within medical and health-related organizations that has driven health activism in the circle of homosexual men in postsocialist China. The literature of studies on homosexual men in China have focused on collected stories of how gay men have developed their sexual preference, what kind of body types they are attracted to, what kind of roles (both social and sexual) they play in the relationships, and how some of them seek a medical cure for their sexual preference. There has been a paucity of ethnographic research on the prejudice and discrimination against gay men within medical organizations and the impact of such inequality on gay men’s everyday life experiences. This paper fills in this lacuna and utilizes ethnographic materials to investigate in detail how medical and health-related organizations pathologize, marginalize, and discriminate gay men to further perpetuate heteronormative sociality, and how gay men respond to this cultural milieu of social injustice with their unique activism. This paper aims to illuminate the intricate and dynamic interactions between the impinging structure and activist agency.

Why does farmland transaction trigger intensive conflicts in rural China?——An analysis on farmland ownership system, grassroots political institutions, and civic engagement
Yida Zhai, University of Tokyo, Japan

Growing protests and conflicts due to farmland business in rural China are important concerns for social stability, authoritarian sustainability and democratization. Until recently, this problem was studied in the field of public administration. Scholars were focusing on the effective measures to diminish this kind of protests from the perspective of social harmony. In this paper, author proposes that China’s economic system—socialism market economy, is the fundamental reason for protests in farmland business. In addition, political ecology of elected institutions is a factor determining the performance of democracy. Field work was carried out for seven weeks in Village Q in Yunnan—a southwest province of China. The findings reveal that government intervention in farmland transaction and collective ownership of farmland are the origin of conflicts. Besides it, embedding in authoritarian networks constrains the potential and capabilities of elected Village Committee to protect peasants’ interest in the farmland business.

The Rise of Social Entrepreneurship in China (and the end of history for Chinese activism?)
Timothy R. Hildebrandt, London School of Economics and Political Science, United Kingdom

The paper begins from the observation that Chinese nongovernmental organizations have increasingly embraced more strategic or economic positions rather than purely principled ones, signaling the rise of social entrepreneurship in the country. While the rationales might seem economic in nature, there are also very political explanations: the closed political environment plays a key role in compelling NGOs to operate more as business if they wish to continue their work unabated. If this evolution from activist to entrepreneur is necessary for NGOs to exist in China, does it signal an end of history for Chinese activism? Although the trend towards social entrepreneurship is strong, amidst this evolution some activists have resisted. Thus, this paper also examines the circumstances under which activists remain more “principled” than “strategic.”

HIV/AIDS and Human Rights in China
Sara L. M. Davis, Independent Scholar, USA

In July 2010, the Chinese government launched the Red Ribbon Forum, a new forum that brings together government, experts and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to discuss human rights and legal issues in the context of the AIDS epidemic. This meeting, the first human rights forum of any kind in China’s history, is a complex symbol of how much has changed about Chinese politics over the past decade: while some grassroots NGO advocates raised challenging questions at the forum, two of China’s most prominent AIDS advocates could not, because they had recently left the country. International support and China’s domestic rights movement have together created greater space for rights-based advocacy around such issues as HIV/AIDS and the environment, but the issues raised by Chinese advocates are profound issues that strike at the heart of social inequalities that fuel the spread of HIV/AIDS. This paper will examine some of the key human rights issues in China’s response to HIV/AIDS, including the transmission of HIV through the blood supply, restrictions on civil society, criminalization of sex workers and drug users, and issues raised by NGOs in re international AIDS funding from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. By examining these issues, this paper also explores the shifting terrain of human rights discourse in China, and the expanding sphere for advocacy and social mobilization. The author is founder and director of Asia Catalyst, a nonprofit organization that provides technical assistance to grassroots AIDS NGOs as well as training in rights research and advocacy.

Transparent authoritarianism? Suing for government disclosure in China
Gregory Distelhorst, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA

China's adoption of a national Open Government Information (OGI) ordinance in 2008 created a new channel for civic political participation: the information request. Rapid adoption by citizens has already made this a widespread form of state-society interaction, including rights-protection (维权) activism in a variety of cases. This flood of participation raises a question; has an authoritarian state created a legally-defensible right to information? By analyzing over 130 lawsuits against government agencies, we show that legal relief has not effectively protected citizens' right to information. Instead, judges often utilize legal technicalities to either exclude the denial of information access from judicial review, or grant broad discretion to the government agencies handling requests. Their excessive caution owes to both the vagueness of the OGI ordinance and the limited legal competence of judges. To explain high activist enthusiasm despite lackluster legal protection, we present evidence from interviews with individual requesters that OGI requests offer a low-cost gateway to other channels of rights protection, particularly media-based activism. Thus, a legal reform that fails to guarantee a right to information may nonetheless strengthen the hands of contentious activists.

From “Socializing” to “Regulating”: A Study of Welfare NGOs in Guangzhou, China
Na Li, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Under the campaign of ‘socializing social welfare (shehui fuli shehuihua)’ since the late 1990s, Chinese welfare NGOs are encouraged to produce welfare services. These agencies register as non-state nonprofit enterprises (minban feiqiye danwei) and run under a dual-management system supervised by the state authorities, combing a social mission with a company model of management. As pioneers, non-state urban old age homes have grown in leaps and bounds to meet the increasing demands from the ageing population. Nowadays, they have become the major service providers, offering over 80% of total residential beds for urban elders. Therefore, a study into how these welfare NGOs operate and are managed is a matter of public interest. It also has implications for the research of government-agency relationship in a transitional welfare economy. Shanghai has the oldest population profile in the country. The municipality has actively engaged in institution building to promote welfare NGOs so that they can take on the brunt of delivering care. This paper discusses the institutional change in the area of elder care of Shanghai since the beginning of “socializing social welfare”. Using examples of old age homes as case studies, this paper also evaluates the influence of the institutional change on welfare NGOs. It argues that the local state indeed has strengthened its role in welfare planning, financing and regulating through formal and informal institutional arrangement. However, because of the weak capacity of civil affairs bureau itself and the implementation gap, the intensive state regulation could not benefit the development of these welfare NGOs.