A New Model of Control? Party Penetration of Civil Society Organizations in Contemporary China


Zhou Kai, Shanghai Jiao Tong University

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Abstract: The Chinese authoritarian regime has developed an array of sophisticated mechanisms to mitigate the societal challenges arising from civil society organizations (CSOs). In recent years, a party-building campaign in CSOs initiated by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is noteworthy. Why does the CCP accelerate the establishment of party organizations within CSOs? Is it a new control model towards Chinese civil society? What factors could account for this “bringing the party back in” movement? Drawing upon archival studies and intensive fieldwork in Mainland China, this article provides an exploratory examination of main features of this campaign and argues that establishing party units within CSOs is not only an instrumental means that facilitates the Party’s direct control towards social sector, but also attributes to profound changes within the Party itself, namely the rise of Maostyle leadership, the revival of campaign-style governance and lessons from handling contentious challenges. These factors contribute to an “authoritarian retraction” scenario that deeply shapes the trajectory of party-building movement and further influences the dynamics of state-society relations under the Chinese authoritarian regime.

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