Civil Society in China through the Ages: What Impact Does the Past Have on Developments Today?


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When: Apr 24 2013 - 2:00pm until Apr 24 2013 - 3:30pm
Where: East-West Center in Washington: 1819 L St. NW, Suite 600. Washington, DC. 22202

Civil Society in China through the Ages:What Impact Does the Past Have on Developments Today?

An Asia-Pacific Democracy and Human Rights Seminar and book launch featuring:

Professor Karla W. Simon

Professor of Law, Columbus School of Law, Catholic University of America

Dr. Susan R. Weld (Discussant)

Executive Director, Law Asia Leadership, Georgetown University Law

Prof Karla Simon speaks about the development of civil society in China at the East-West Center in Washington.In accord with the slogan “small government-big society,” China’s government today seeks to downsize the role of the state sector in civil society. Professor Karla W. Simon explained that up until 5 years ago, it was difficult in China to set up a non-governmental organization due to the requirement of "Dual Management"- in essence requiring permission from a relevant government agency. Today, recently announced revisions will make it easier to establish certain types of NGOs, to which the provision of many social services are expected to be outsourced, presenting a new opportunity for the transformation of China's civil society.

She emphasized, however, that this community would not be starting at square-one, but building off of a rich history civic engagement in China. In what ways have social and economic developments over time affected these legal reforms, and in turn, how has the law shaped the same social and economic forces in China?

This is a snapshot of the material covered in, Prof. Simon’s new book: “Civil Society in China,” (Oxford University Press, 2013), which traces the historical development of civil society over China’s 5000 year history, with particular emphasis on what is happening today. Subtitled “The Legal Framework from Ancient Times to the ‘New Reform Era,’” the fascinating changes chronicled by the book tie historical analogies into today’s legal and social environment. 

In the book's premier launch program at the East-West Center in Washington, Prof. Simon described how she was inspired to write the book was while teaching civil society law in Beijing. The enthusiasm and desire to adopt the civil society norms of other countries among her students contradicted the prevailing view that the Chinese people were not given to participate in civil society, give to charity or volunteer. She began to think that there might be some civic undercurrents in the development of Chinese society through the ages, but soon discovered there was no book on the subject. Thus her project was born.

She found that civic associations went back far into China's history; to the extent that rulers of the first dynasties distrusted them to enough to prohibit them, through they grew and expanded in later times. Many of the first clubs and organizations were tied to temples, merchant groups, and scholarly organizations, and served as society anchors in the periods of government breakdown and political upheaval that benchmark Chinese history. Discussant Dr. Susan R Weld  expressed her appreciation for this book, and explained how there is a continuum of civil society in China's past, revealed in obscure texts and newly found archeological sites. It is a big continent, she said, you can't look to a small area and apply it to the whole of China.

Karla W. Simon (J.D. Duke, LL/M.NYU) is Research Professor of Law at Catholic University and an Affiliated Scholar of NYU’s US-Asia Law Institute. Her comparative research on the laws affecting non-profit organizations developed through NPOs she and her husband, Leon Irish, co-founded, the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL), and the International Center for Civil Society Law (ICCSL). Professor Simon earned her J.D. from Duke University, and LL/M from New York University.

Dr. Susan R. Weld is Executive Director of Georgetown Law Asia. She was General Counsel of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China from 2002 to 2005. Dr. Weld has practiced law in New York and Boston and taught at Harvard, Northeastern University, Boston College, and Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC. She earned her J.D. from Harvard Law School and a PhD from Harvard's Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations

Primary Contact Info:
Name: Grace Ruch
Phone: 202-327-9762