“In our time, Guangzhou should show spirit, courage and continue to be the front-line of opening and reform, all because we are Guangzhou” Sun Yat-Set University’s Cao Xudong said to applause. Cao was speaking at a forum called “In-between Rules and Activism” to various legal scholars, lawyers, social organizations, media outlets, city government and NGO management leaders.
On October 16th, the Guangzhou city government posted the “Working Rules on Banning Illegal Social Organizations (draft)” online and sought public opinion on the issue. On October 21st this article appeared on Wechat and Weibo, garnering a lot of attention and leading to extensive discussion. It follows that as Guangzhou has been the vanguard of economic reform, then it should also be so in social reform. Tsinghua University’s Jia Xijin said, “Guangzhou is the front-line of social reform and innovation. But these kinds of rules can be contrary to the rule of law.” There was also criticism from the Guangzhou Youth Development Foundation’s Fu Huan who suggested that the new rules will allow the law to be enforced selectively, will restrict NGOs’ freedom and could violate the constitution. Southern Metropolis Daily’s Su Shaoxin raises the point that under current policies, many labour and LGBT organizations are unable to register. Su also wants a clear definition of “illegal” and “social organizations” to give those working in this field a sense of security.
For vice-director of the Propaganda and legislation department of the Guangzhou’s municipal Civil Affairs Bureau, Li Rui, government and social organizations’ priorities are the same. Guangzhou continues to push for a simplification of the registration and inspection process. The aim of the new policy is not to counter social organizations, rather to emphasise the standard for law enforcement. Li also iterates that the aim is not to expand law enforcement, rather to make law enforcement more particular. It was put to Li that from 2012 until now, there have been too many cases of organizations being prohibited from operating. Li replied that he was for now incapable of providing concrete data on this issue but could reply after consultation. Despite this, the social organizations present expressed their admiration for Guangzhou’s government leaders, calling them “courageous” after being “bombarded” with so many questions and having total faith in their promises.
From 2012 Guangzhou made comprehensive changes to the registration procedure for social organizations, opened up for public investing and allowed grassroots charitable organizations to start collecting donations. It now costs just 1 yuan to register a social organization and people can use their own homes for offices. Each of these steps is inseparably linked to the public’s vigorous participation as well as the government’s initiative and attentiveness. From this we can see that Guangzhou is courageously and intelligently implementing social governance innovation.