Value Clashes, Power Competition and Community Trust: Why an NGO’s Earthquake Recovery Program Faltered in Rural China

Visiting Scholar Talks

Oct 21, 2020 | 9:00 AM - 10:30 AM

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Yanhua Deng | Professor, School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Nanjing University; HYI Visiting Scholar, 2020-21


Anthony Saich | Daewoo Professor of International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Talk will be held via Zoom

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Co-sponsored with the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies

NGOs in rural China cannot operate successfully and achieve their goals if they lose the trust of the people they aim to serve and the grassroots leaders they must work with. Following the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, an environmental NGO in P village became entangled in competition with village cadres and value clashes with villagers who had their own understanding of development, sustainability and environmentalism. Initially, “borrowed power” from higher-level governments enabled the ENGO to enter the community fairly smoothly and to gain a degree of trust, but disputes with villagers (over home construction, organic agriculture and eco-tourism) and a power struggle with local cadres (over their role in the village) triggered resistance that ultimately drove the ENGO out. The story of P village is a cautionary tale about power relationships and community micropolitics. “Borrowed power” from above is no match for opposition from below on two fronts. Sadly, however, “success” in expelling the ENGO has not meant success more broadly. P village’s economic performance remains weak and old divisions between the powerful and powerless have re-emerged, as lack of trust in outsiders has been replaced with a lack of trust in insiders.