Chinese Charitable Foundations between the Party state and Society
The non-profit sector (or third sector) has seen remarkable development in China over the last years. This expansion includes a growing number of charitable foundations that are assuming tasks previously undertaken by government authorities. In a joint project, Knut Benjamin Pißler, head of the Centre of Expertise on China and Korea at the Max Planck Institute for Private Law, and Katja Levy (TU Berlin) examine for the first time the situation of charitable foundations in China, exploring in particular their role in China’s authoritarian system. The findings of this study have been published in a work titled “Charity with Chinese Characteristics”.
China’s rapid economic growth after initiation of the Reform and Opening policy at the end of 1978 and the resulting emergence of a middle-class formed the groundwork upon which the “third sector” was able to develop in China in the 1980s. At the end of 2018, China counted 787,949 formally recognised non-profit organisations, 6,822 of which were foundations.
With the publication of “Charity with Chinese Characteristics”, readers are for the first time presented with a study of the functions and the current situation of charitable foundations in China. The study is based on comprehensive empirical data as well as detailed textual analysis. Further, the authors Knut Benjamin Pißler and Katja Levy construct an analytic model – the Functional Governance Model – with which they map the functions of charitable foundations in China. The interdisciplinary approach they take allows for a comprehensive overview of the contemporary legal and political framework in which Chinese charitable foundations operate, as well as an assessment of their historical and traditional contexts.
As shown by the study, despite their being embedded in an authoritarian political system, Chinese foundations have the potential to perform the same functions as foundations in other countries. Nonetheless, recent legal and political developments have not only placed obstacles in the path towards achieving these aims but have also steered foundations into certain functional areas that are of particular interest for the Chinese government.