Rethinking power and rights-promoting NGOs in China

Lay Lee Tang

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    3 Citations (Scopus)


    This note argues that a more complete understanding of the development of rights-promoting non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in China requires an understanding of power and how it is understood and used by the Party-state and NGOs in post-Mao China. Critiques of the general lack of independence of NGOs from the Party-state do not fully explain or appreciate the successes and failures of rights-promoting NGOs. This note suggests that a combination of traditional Chinese political concepts and contemporary theories of power relations can assist in filling the gaps. Han Feizi's theory of government comprising power, method and law is visible in the Party-state's handling of issues and NGOs. To complement the analysis of power relations between the Party-state, its subsidiaries and NGOs, Gaventa's power cube identifies forms, levels and spaces of power, which explains how NGOs can also create or enter spaces of power normally controlled by the Party-state. Drawing on these two theories, this note briefly discusses the rise of women's rights, migrant's rights, disability rights, legal aid rights and environmental rights over the past 20 years and more as a product of the power interrelationships at the particular times. Ultimately, rights-promoting NGOs must develop transformative power, which is alternative to state power to survive, endure and succeed, no matter the types of relationships they have with the Party-state and its subsidiaries.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)343-351
    Number of pages9
    JournalJournal of Asian Public Policy
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Nov 2012


    • China
    • human rights
    • non-governmental organizations
    • power


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