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In Search of Civil Society

Gordon White, Jude A. Howell and Shang Xiaoyuan

Published in print August 1996 | ISBN: 9780198289562
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191684739 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198289562.001.0001
In Search of Civil Society

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Since 1978, China has pursued sweeping economic changes in an officially sponsored transition from a Stalinist centrally planned economy to a socialist market economy. China's reformers have highlighted the need to curb the awesome power of the Leninist state and change the balance of power between state and economy, and state and society. In practice, the economic reforms have set in train a process of potentially fundamental social and institutional change in China that is creating new socioeconomic forces, shifting power in their direction, and raising the possibility of political transformation. This book explores the extent to which this experience can be described and understood in terms of the idea of ‘civil society’, defined in sociological terms as the emergence of an autonomous sphere of voluntary associations capable of organizing the interests of emergent socioeconomic groups and counterbalancing the hitherto unchallenged dominance of the Marxist–Leninist state. The authors lay out a clear operational definition of the concept of civil society to make it useful as a tool for empirical inquiry and to avoid the cultural relativism of its origins in Western historical experience. Guided by this theoretical framework, the book brings together a vast amount of empirical data on emergent social organization and institutions in contemporary China, drawing on the authors' fieldwork experience in East Asia. The research focused on the changes in the socioeconomic realities of three major social groups: urban manual workers, women, and managers/entrepreneurs. The authors describe the new forms of state–society relations as reflected in the complex links between the state and new associations. They show how the expansion of these associations is jeopardized by the lack of general democratization of China's political institutions.

Keywords: China; economic changes; socio-economic forces; political transformation; civil society; empirical; state–society relations

Book.  252 pages. 

Subjects: Business and Management

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Table of Contents

The Search for Civil Society in In Search of Civil Society

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Urban Women and the Women's Federation in In Search of Civil Society

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