Revealed: last year’s most important developments in China’s NGO sector

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It’s time to take a look back and reflect on what happened in China’s development sector last year. Despite the shadow of the pandemic, progress has been made in various aspects, including new laws and regulations, an increase in donations and the number of social organizations (a local term that includes NGOs), emphasis on certain topics like rural revitalization, and more.

To better understand what 2023 may hold, China Development Brief has summarized the important news, events and trends of last year.

Status of the sector:

On Nov 12, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences released the “Report on Social Organizations in China 2021”, summarizing key information about the development of Chinese social organizations in the past year.

The report points out that the number of NGOs continues to grow — as of the end of 2021, the total number of NGOs in the country was 901,870, an increase of 0.86 percent compared to the previous year. However, the growth rate fell by 2.35 percent.

The decrease in the growth rate can be attributed to two main reasons, including the government’s focus shift from quantitative growth to qualitative improvement, and the uncertainties caused by the pandemic and related policies.

According to the “Volunteer Service Blue Book”, as of Oct 30, 2021, the total number of volunteers in China had reached 217 million, with an average of 1,544 registered volunteers per 10,000 people, accounting for about 15.4 percent of the total population.

Another report, published by Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China Society for Social Governance and the Social Sciences Academic Press on the development of Chinese social enterprises, shows that 47 percent of China’s social enterprises manage to break even, 35 percent make a profit, and 18 percent record losses.

As for INGOs in China, according to the annual report released by the Administration Office of Overseas NGOs of the Ministry of Public Security (AONGOMPS), by Dec 31 last year, 631 representative offices of overseas NGOs had registered in China, and 4,018 temporary activities had been recorded.

Tong Lihua from the Beijing Zhicheng Law Firm also argued that both the number and the influence of Chinese INGOs are very limited — and even those with consultative status have not played much of a practical role in global governance.

Policy highlights:

In February, the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA) emphasized the important role of NGOs, social workers, volunteers and other charities in the development of the Chinese social care system, while introducing the Planning Book for the Construction of Urban and Rural Community Service System during the country’s 14th Five-Year Plan Period.

In early March, the government work report released during China’s most important annual political event — the Two Sessions (The National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference), encouraged the development of social organizations, humanitarian aid, volunteer services, and charities. The delegates and members also made their own proposals and suggestions, such as eliminating absolute poverty to alleviating relative poverty and calling for increased sentences for those involved in the trafficking of women and children.

New policies and regulations have also been introduced across the country. For example, Chongqing released new charity regulations outlining detailed provisions on how charitable organizations should carry out activities and how other organizations and businesses can participate. Shanghai issued the “Interim Measures for the Recognition and Cancellation of Charitable Organizations in Shanghai”. Zhejiang Province set up funds to support the development of charitable organizations while Beijing approved the Opinions on Promoting the Development of Social Enterprises. Guangdong Province issued new measures to encourage social organizations, especially those at the community level, to participate in the innovation of grassroots social governance. However, Shenzhen — a major city in Guangdong Province where reform projects and measures of the MCA were first tested during the past decades — announced in September that the city would suspend the registration of foundations.

One key term that all the new regulations center around is the “high-quality development” of the country’s NGOs. To achieve that goal, one view holds that organizations should be promoted that have standardized management and regularly disclose information to the public, and for that purpose, the MCA has published articles including this one to encourage the innovative development of Chinese NGOs and has drafted new measures to “standardize the management of the names of social organizations”. It’s also noticeable that the MCA began to hold training sessions for NGO leaders in Beijing with the goal of improving their political awareness.

The MCA in August released its 2022 Legislative Work Plan of the Ministry of Civil Affairs, which involved the revision or enactment of four laws, three administrative regulations and three departmental rules, in response to the development needs of civil affairs. Just this week, the newly revised draft of the Charity Law was submitted to the 38th session of the Standing Committee of the 13th National People’s Congress for initial review to “respond to new problems in the development of the charity sector, optimize new measures to promote charity, improve the new supervision mechanism of charity and improve the new system of charitable trusts”.

Other relevant legislative updates include the release of China’s first wetland protection law, the newly revised Law on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests, and more.

Emphasis areas:

Women and children

Women and children continued to be a priority for the sector this year. In addition to the Law on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests (the new revision), China’s Supreme People’s Court also released a set of new provisions, further clarifying what counts as domestic violence and expanding the scope of application of a personal safety protection order (habeas corpus).

A report from earlier this year published by the Girls’ Protection details the extent of child sexual abuse in China. The China Philanthropist magazine also published articles looking at how the pandemic made escaping domestic violence harder.

The new “Opinions on Strengthening the Implementation of Personal Safety Protection Order System” jointly issued this year by the Supreme People’s Court, MCA and other ministries require social work agencies and other related institutions to report incidents of domestic violence to the police. In addition, the police launched the national Special Actions on Combating Sexual Assault Crimes, with the help of the country’s public security organs.

Rural revitalization

Transitioning from poverty alleviation to rural revitalization, this March, MCA and the National Rural Revitalization Bureau jointly issued the Notice on Mobilizing and Guiding Social Organizations to Participate in Rural Revitalization Work. In addition, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs selected “hundreds of counties, thousands of townships and ten thousand villages” for its rural revitalization demonstration effort.

“Charitable organizations are an important platform for companies and people to participate in rural revitalization and are vital for integrating funds, resources, and expertise,” said Li Xiaolin, a delegate to the National People’s Congress and vice-president of China Charity Federation, in an interview.

In August, the Chinese Academy of Financial Inclusion at Renmin University of China released a report suggesting that socially responsible investment may become an important force to fill the gap in funding for China’s rural revitalization.

Carbon reduction

In line with China’s dual carbon goals, 17 departments including the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) and National Development and Reform Commission jointly issued the “National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy 2035” to prepare the country to adapt to climate change from the present to 2035.

In response, over 30 social organizations also jointly launched an initiative called “Serving the Dual-Carbon Strategy, Promoting Green Development, Building an Ecological Civilization and Building a Beautiful China”.

China has constructively participated in and led global climate governance in the past decade and achieved some important results, said Xie Zhenhua, China’s special envoy for climate change.

Going forward:

The number of college graduates in 2022 reached a record high of nearly 11 million, and the MCA this year called for social organizations to maximize their own potential to create more jobs, expand the job market, and at the same time help form a long-term mechanism for talent development to deliver opportunities for future employment promotion.

Social organizations are also expected to help the development of “community organizations”, referring to non-profit organizations that operate in local communities with local residents making up their members and receiving their services.

This year, experts have also offered their insights on how to improve the development of this sector. For example, Zhu Zhaonan from Beijing Qiyue Philanthropy Service Center urged a well-developed evaluation system to measure the performance of NGOs, as public trust in NGOs has been declining in recent years and there are growing voices in society calling for greater oversight and accountability.

In Brief

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