China: Creating civil-society structures top-down?
Since the 1990s an ongoing discourse on civil society and on the application of this concept has arisen among Chinese intellectuals. This debate is strongly interlinked with the discussion on the causes of the decay of the former Soviet Union, China’s further political development, and the issue of establishing a new framework for state-society relations. Whereas in the early 1990s many academics wanted to ‘learn’ from this ‘Western concept’, meanwhile the focus has shifted to whether the concept is applicable to China’s conditions and, if so, how to implement it. One group argues that political change requires a bottomup process in which society gets stronger vis-à-vis the state; the other group holds that under China’s authoritarian conditions the party-state itself will have to activate civil-society structures.1