Is Charity Changing China? (Part 1)

The earthquake in Sichuan has transformed China in many ways. Abroad, China has switched from victimizer to victim. At home, Olympic excitement has been replaced by the sadness of death and destruction, and xenophobic anger has been exchanged for a new spirit of volunteerism.

This last change presents the most difficult test for China's leadership, which sees an old and fearsome dragon of civil society raising its head. The earthquake has triggered an outpouring of philanthropy so large that it can't be channeled through government conduits alone. As of last week, Chinese companies and individuals had offered about a billion dollars in aid to victims, according to the official news agency.

The Communist Party distrusts any group that can organize large masses of people or engender trust. Party leaders have studied the revolutions in Poland and Ukraine, where civic organizations and unions helped overthrow communist regimes. Today, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are strictly regulated, and new ones have to be sponsored by two government departments.

In the wake of the Sichuan earthquake, Chinese citizens are increasingly aware that government can't solve all problems, all the time. Civil society can help. Beijing is right to be worried.

For this brief moment, however, the government and civic groups are working as one.

[Excerpt of an editorial by Lesley Hook, The Wall Street Journal]

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