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China' s reformers carefully explore way to create "small government, big society"

08-26-2010 11:07 BJT

To make his dream come true of setting up a welfare society for children of migrant workers, Li Guangming had to network with government officials to find his society-to-be a government supervisor.

As such networking led him nowhere, his dream had remained a vain hope for years, until the Shenzhen authority took the lead in scrapping the rule that every civil society must be a government affiliate to become legally registered.

"Before the reform, anyone wishing to create a civil society in China had to find a government supervisor for his institution. Because no governmental department wanted to be responsible for us, we could not register, let alone raise money to finance our services. We had been stuck for years," Li said.

Now Shenzhen has emerged as China' s most dynamic city in the development of civil societies. By June 2010, a total of 3,862 civil societies have been registered here, covering a broad sphere from industrial development, education, culture, sports, health, scientific research, public welfare to environmental protection.

The figure was almost three times as many as in 2002. Statistically, every 10,000 people in Shenzhen share 4.2 societies, nearly twice as many as the national average of 2.7.

Ma Hong, director of the Civil Society Management Department of Shenzhen, attributes the large number of local civil societies to the Special Economic Zone Legislation Right that allows local legislatures to use innovative legislations to speed the power shift from the government to the public.

Except for principled regulations under three State Council ordinances on the supervision of societies, civilian non-profit organizations and foundations, China does not have any law defining the boundary between government and civil societies in public management and social services.

Ma told Xinhua that local legislatures already kicked off primary research for a draft regulation on the establishment of non-profit organizations. Soon, an action plan will be released by the city government to clarify the role of governments in supporting the growth of civil societies.

"The essence of our reform is to turn civil societies from their previously being government affiliates into government partners and turn governments from being all-powerful to limited ones," she said.

"Such a shift can be risky, as any radical move might jeopardize social stability, but our experiment represents the direction of China' s future reform that is to build a citizen society with social justice and fairness at the core," Ma said.

Liu Runhua, director of the Shenzhen Municipal Civil Affairs Department, said he believed that civil societies, voluntarily established by citizens and social organizations, if strong enough, could be a valuable force to keep government power in check, improve the efficiency of social services and to pull Chinese society away from verging on mercantilism and individualism.

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