Participation without Contestation: NGOs’ Autonomy and Advocacy in China


Zheng Su, Shiqi Ma and Changdong Zhang

The China Quarterly, Volume 251, September 2022

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Abstract: How do non-governmental organizations (NGOs) advocate public policies? What impacts their advocacy strategies? Although scholars have addressed these questions in a democratic context, less is known about NGO advocacy under powerful authoritarian regimes. Using China as a case study, we develop an institutional explanation of NGOs’ policy advocacy patterns and explore the impacts of NGO autonomy. Using a unique dataset of registered NGOs in three Chinese provinces, we find that NGOs with more autonomy tend to conduct direct negotiations with the government more actively (more political advocacy). However, these more autonomous NGOs are likely to be more hesitant to mobilize society from the bottom up (less social advocacy). These findings enrich our knowledge of social actors’ roles in the policymaking process in China.

About the authors: Shiqi Ma was a HYI RSEA Fellow from 2016-18. Changdong Zhang is a HYI Visiting Scholar from 2022-23.