Post-Earthquake Relief and Reconstruction Efforts- The Emergence of Civil Society in China?.pdf

Post-Earthquake Relief and Reconstruction Efforts- The Emergence of Civil Society in China?.pdf

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Post-Earthquake Relief and Reconstruction Efforts: The Emergence of Civil Society in China?* Jessica C. Teets ABSTRACT Many analysts contend that participation in the Sichuan earthquake relief efforts strengthened Chinese civil society. I examine these claims based on interviews with civil society organizations, academics and local officials in Sichuan, and argue that participation in relief efforts has strengthened civil society through increased capacity, publicity and interaction with local government. Conversely, relief efforts also reveal weaknesses in civil society and their governing institutions which inhibit further development, such as the trust and capacity deficit of these organiz- ations. Participation in relief efforts served as a learning process whereby government, society and civil society groups learned how to work together effectively. However, in order to consolidate these gains and further strengthen civil society, there must be greater institutionalization of these groups roles, increased capacity building, and greater trust between society, groups and the local state. On 12 May 2008, a massive earthquake struck Sichuan province ( Wenchuan dadizhen ). According to the State Council Information Office, the death toll from the earthquake was approximately 70,000, and with a total of 7,000 collapsed classrooms, approximately 10,000 of the confirmed deaths were of schoolchildren. 1 Accompanying this tragedy was a significant outpouring of donations and volunteers, leading many analysts to speculate that, similar to the SARS crisis in 2003, relief and reconstruction efforts will strengthen civil society in China. 2 According to these arguments, participation in relief efforts increases civil society groups capacity through an expanded volunteer and donor base, improves experience in project management, and demonstrates to the government the potentially positive role played by civil society. * This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0720405. 1 Edward Wong, Grieving Chinese parents protest school collapse, New York Times , 17 July 2008. 2 I use the common sociological definition of civil society in this report, whereby civil society is an aggre- gation of many different types of social organizations, all of whom have voluntary memberships. 330 © The China Quarterly, 2009 doi:10.1017/S0305741009000332 Core terms of use, available at . Downloaded from . University of Hong Kong Libraries, on 06 Mar 2018 at 08:23:26, subject to the Cambridge
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Additionally, group relief efforts create habits of trust and participation on behalf of the government, potential volunteers and donors. In this article, I analyse these arguments through interviews with civil society groups, academics, journalists and local government actors in Sichuan province conducted in June and July 2008, supplemented by a review of published articles. The interviewees were selected according to their role in relief efforts,
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