In April, 2016 China’s government launched a new effort to restrict and control its society. “Clampdown in China Restricts 7,000 Foreign Organizations,” (New York Times, April 28, 2016) begins:
China took a major step on Thursday in President Xi Jinping’s drive to impose greater control and limit Western influences on Chinese society, as it passed a new law restricting the work of foreign organizations and their local partners, mainly through police supervision.
The 7,000 foreign NGOs have until the end of the year to take steps required by the new law, but these steps were unclear until this week.
“China Unveils List of Activities Permitted for Foreign Nonprofits, ” (Wall Street Journal, December 21, 2016) reports the latest developments:
BEIJING—After months of uncertainty for foreign nonprofits, China released a list of activities the groups will be allowed to pursue under a controversial new law, with a surprising number of activities falling in potentially sensitive areas such as legal services.
Civil society institution are central to US/China engagement, and include international debate societies, educational associations, and thousands of international environmental, business, religious, and cultural associations.
These non-government organizations (NGOs), along with tens of thousands of international businesses operating in China, build personal and cultural connections between people and societies that are fully or partially independent of governments.
Rotary Clubs meet weekly in communities around the world, including China. Rotary China explains:
Rotary is a global movement of business and community leaders from different walks of life – who come together to have fun, network and do good in our communities. …
Rotary encourages like-minded business and community leaders to share ideas, about how to build our clubs and expand our service project impact.
Rotary has just 15 chartered clubs in China. Yet there are over 100 Rotary Clubs in Washington State and 15 clubs in or within 100 miles of Bucharest, Romania.
Another business and community service organization, the Lions Club, has a long history in China, and by 2015 “there were 26,000 members in 758 clubs.”
Lions Clubs of China were shut down by the communist government in 1949, but returned in 2002, leading with a signature international program to restore eyesight, SightFirst.
SightFirst is working with its partners in China to increase low-vision services, including pilot centers in Liaoning and Guangdong provinces, to assess if blinding trachoma is a public health problem in China. SightFirst in China is also working to develop a regional training program model in Liaoning Province that better links eye care services in urban areas to those in rural areas.
With these spectacular results, the formation of new Lions clubs in China was not long in coming. In 2002, with the full support and endorsement of the Chinese government, Lions Clubs International issued charters to new clubs in Guangdong and Shenzhen with about 60 members each. Lions have grown rapidly in China. By 2015, there were 26,000 members in 758 clubs, ranking China among Lions’ fastest growing regions worldwide.
Kiwanis International, the third major business service organization, similarly leads an international health initiative:
Ganzu, China: For the past 10 years, salt manufacturers and health workers such as Dr. Ray Yip have worked together to solve the problem of iodine deficiency in China. Thanks to support from UNICEF and Kiwanis International, 95 percent of the population has access to iodized salt.
Kiwanis International also runs a Key Clubs program for high school students:
Key Club is the oldest and largest service program for high school students. What makes Key Club so successful is the fact that it is a student-led organization
We’re excited to announce a new Key Club nation: China! This takes our “international status” to a whopping 33 countries!The first chartered Key Club in China, which is located in Nanjing, already has more than 90 members!
So far, the club has organized several activities, such as charity fundraisers and performances, and tutors English to children from low-income families.
Apart from service clubs are educational organizations, like China high school debate supporter Sunrise International Education, whose goals are:
Sunrise is a social enterprise dedicated to reforming global education, in middle schools, high schools and universities, through experiential learning. Founded by two American education entrepreneurs in 2011, Sunrise pioneered an innovative model of student engagement, cultivating grassroots student communities and creating a bridge between them and institutions worldwide.
The National High School Debate League of China (NHSDLC) is a Sunrise program offering experiential learning:
The NHSDLC is a project of Sunrise International Education, a social enterprise dedicated to promoting American style extra-curricular education and cross cultural exchange in China and East Asia. Sunrise International Education also organizes the Association for Global Debate, the China Youth Business League, Yale Model UN China and InterPLAY China. [More links at website.]
The National High School Debate League of China (NHSDLC), for example lists its civil society activities:
We organise over 75 tournaments a year in cities all over China with 10,000 students competing. Our regionals vary in size from around one hundred students in smaller cities to more than 300 in the largest cities. The best students from each city qualify to compete at our yearly National Championship in Beijing; this year’s Championship had over 400 students participating, making it the largest ever in China
So… here is hoping that high school debate societies continue to flourish in China, along hundreds of other international education, and business service clubs, and associations.