A round-up of recent civil society developments in China


Karla Simon

Karla Simon

Karla Simon

Guiding Principles for religious organizations’ charitable work

The first regulatory development of some note was the issuance in late February of regulations governing the charitable activities of religious organizations. These regulations discuss the ‘Guiding Principles’ for charitable activities of religious organizations and for the first time give clarity to the relationship between religious organizations – which must register with the State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA) – and their charitable organizations (hospitals, foundations, etc.), which must be registered with the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA).

While discouraging charities associated with religions from proselytizing during their charity work, these regulations also suggest that the government wishes to promote such work. According to the news report in Caixin: ‘The focus is to support religious organizations to engage in the following non-profit activities: disaster relief, disability assistance, elderly care, child care, poverty relief, school sponsorship, medical care service, environmental protection, infrastructure construction, and other legitimate and charitable activities.’

Developments regarding charity and civil society at the ‘Two Sessions’ of the ruling bodies 

Most importantly, Premier Wen Jiabao mentioned charity and civil society in his work report, a ‘State of the Union-style’ address for 2012, read out to the National People’s Congress (NPC). Premier Wen’s remarks include mention of the need ‘to accelerate the development of social welfare and charitable/philanthropic pursuits/efforts’. In addition, he vowed that the government would ‘push for innovations in administering rule of law and social management, and put in order (or rationalize) the relationship between government and civic and social organizations’.

In addition, an interview with businesswoman and philanthropist Yang Lan was featured prominently on Main Page (a feature of CCTV’s English-language service) during the sessions. Ms Yang, a former television hostess, current philanthropist, and Chinese People’s Consultative Congress (CPCC) member was interviewed during the ‘Two Sessions’ of the NPC, and focused her remarks on philanthropic legal reform.

Welfare lottery is big winner

The MCA channeled more than 1.4 billion yuan (about US$226.4 million) raised by the lottery into public welfare programs in 2011, according to a statement issued by the ministry on 7 March.

China’s welfare lottery sales hit a record 127.8 billion yuan in 2011, up 32 per cent year-on-year, according to a news release previously issued by the Welfare Lottery Distribution and Management Center. The lottery raised a total of 39 billion yuan for public welfare funds in 2011, the Center’s statistics showed. The quota for the MCA to use at its own discretion was 1.43 billion yuan, which was mainly directed toward improving the welfare of the elderly, the disabled and children, said the statement. Of the 1.4 billion yuan, 858 million yuan went to providing care and rehabilitation to the elderly and the disabled. About 400 million yuan went to welfare programs for children, including providing care, treatment, rehabilitation and special education to orphans, abandoned children and disabled children among others. The rest of the funds went to other public welfare projects aimed at improving people’s well-being, said the statement.

CSO outsourcing

There was also an announcement that the national government has allocated 200 million yuan to a special fund for outsourcing social services to CSOs. At present the government is beginning the process of training CSOs and government workers to handle their separate ends of the outsourcing contracts.

BRIC giving

Finally, Minister Li Liguo gave an extensive interview on the ‘hot topic’ of philanthropy in connection with the ‘Two Sessions’. He said ‘benevolence is the fine tradition of the Chinese nation, but the characteristics of modern philanthropy activities of social organizations have only been evident during the past 30 years; on the whole philanthropy in China is still in its initial stage’. He also discussed comparisons between giving rates in China and some of the other BRIC countries, noting that both Brazil (0.5%) and India (0.3%) have higher giving-to-GDP ratios than does China at 0.26%. And Minister Li stressed the need for more openness and transparency following the scandal-ridden year 2011.

Karla Simon (奚文雅)  is professor of law and director of faculty development at the Catholic University of America and has worked in China for over 16 years

Tagged in: China Civil society Individual giving Outsourcing Regulations

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