The emergence of a large middle class in China has produced a demand for more citizen participation. The government has responded with a set of practices that it labels “consultative democracy” but that Teets more accurately describes as “consultative authoritarianism.” Volunteer organizations are allowed to work in areas such as public health, environmental protection, education reform, and disaster relief, but they must focus on service delivery rather than policy advocacy. This boundary is enforced through tax audits, police interrogations, and deregistrations of groups suspected of crossing the line; arrests are seldom necessary. These baby steps toward civil society benefit the government by producing information about emerging social problems and by giving officials the opportunity to learn from policy experiments. Teets’ findings point up a dilemma for international donors who hope to make China more democratic by funding civil society organizations. Such groups might help China move toward what the regime calls “big society, small government,” but that might be only a more sustainable form of one-party rule.
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