Civic Groups in China Fear Government Clampdown

Nonprofit organizations in China — especially those receiving donations from abroad — have been subject to increased government scrutiny in recent months, with employees being arrested or forced to go into hiding, the New York Times reports.

Civic groups, especially those focused on politically sensitive causes such as workers' rights, legal advocacy, and discrimination against people with AIDS, have long struggled to stay within the Chinese government's ill-defined, changing parameters for civil society organizations. Under president Xi Jinping, however, the Communist Party has steadily narrowed the definition of what is acceptable, the Times reports, raising fears among activists and NGOs working in the country that the relative tolerance of dissent may soon disappear.

Regulations that took effect in January in the southern city of Guangzhou, for example, have resulted in intensified scrutiny of nonprofits that receive foreign donations, while the central government itself has proposed legislation to tighten controls on foreign nongovernmental activities in the country, the state-run Xinhua news agency reports. With Chinese philanthropists increasingly worried about getting on the wrong side of the government, funding for many NGOs has dried up. One of them, the Transition Institute of Social and Economic Research in Beijing, was subject to pressure after its founder, Guo Yushan, helped the blind legal advocate Chen Guangcheng escape from house arrest. Subsequently, several employees, Guo, and Guo's lawyer were detained by police, while Yang Zili, a researcher at the institute who previously spent eight years in prison, has gone into hiding.

"We always hoped to eke out survival in tough circumstances," Yang told the Times. "But the more independent NGOs, especially the ones that criticize government policies or don't help the government’s image, have encountered a policy of containment, even destruction."

Andrew Jacobs, Chris Buckley. "In China, Civic Groups’ Freedom, and Followers, Are Vanishing." New York Times 02/26/2015.