In this Winter 2011 editorial, the editors of China Development Brief make reference to a number of the articles published in this special Winter issue.
A Retrospective of the Public Interest Sector in 2011
The year 2011 is drawing to an end. In this year the international community has been overwhelmed by events which have taken place in the name of revolution, movements or riots. They are the kinds of unrest which signals the end of an era. These upheavals have been spawned by the financial crisis which began in 2008, the economic crisis, and the political crisis precipitated by the European debt crisis. They have been numerous and complex.
China is never lacking for news and major incidents, and it was again politics which was in the headlines in the early part of the year. However, it was two young girls that may take the front page.
On the 23rd of July in the southeastern city of Wenzhou there was a bullet-train crash which a two-year-old girl named Yiyi fortunately survived. China is a developing country with an increasingly powerful voice in the international arena. At the same time its high-speed railway is seen as a key strategic link that must be improved.
Then in September in Guangdong province a girl by the name of Yueyue was crushed by two cars, one after the other. Eighteen passersby saw the incident but acted as if they had not. Although this kind of indifference and pretense has already become commonplace in China, Yueyue’s death touched a nerve among the Chinese who had seemed to be desensitized.
Against this bleak backdrop, civil society has shown signs of positive growth. Even though scandals have erupted time and again, they can be seen merely part and parcel of the mainstreaming of public interest work that has been taking place in recent years. With the growth of the internet, social media and microblogging, individual citizens have carried out a number of successful public interest activities, offering an alternative approach to organized public interest activities. [Editor’s Note: By “organized public interest activities,” the editors mean activities carried out by organizations such as NGOs.]
In the discourse on innovation in social management, there have been positive changes in the space in which civil society organizations exist and in their legitimacy. The public interest sector has collectively called for “a pay raise; rather than a public interest sector built on blood and sweat”. This kind of personal expression itself heralds future institutional changes. [Editor’s Note: Here, the editor’s language makes reference to the titles of some of the CDB articles in this issue.]
The development of Chinese civil society is inextricably linked to China’s social reality. In the area of AIDS prevention, because of problems such as the financial crisis and the lack of participation of grassroots organizations, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has been suspended. The majority of civil society and public interest organizations lack channels for speaking via mainstream media channels, or are not permitted to speak. Apart from “happy public interest work”, everybody can participate in micro public interest activities. There is still a lot of hardship and sacrifice in the sector. Apart from the contribution of good will from the middle classes and intellectual elite which doesn’t affect their own quality of life, this society still needs NGO partners that follow ideals and can be progressive.
In the past year, the public was given an inaccurate picture of what was really happening in the public interest sector through an image created by the media. As a communication platform within the sector and an NGO media outlet, looking back at the end of the year, the China Development Brief does its best to provide a forum for some of the voices that have hitherto been repressed or drowned out.