Last week, The Wall Street Journal wrote “In China, Grass-Roots Groups Stretch Limits on Activism,” describing the plight of Ma Chen and her autistic daughter. With much effort, Ma Chen has tried to start and expand her school for autistic children. However, there are limits to nongovernmental organizations in China:
“Independent centers of power, such as charities and advocacy groups, have begun popping up here in response to social problems. Beijing is gradually permitting nongovernmental organizations, but it restricts their scope. The country’s leadership worries that too much civil society could stir up conflict, challenge its grip and put at risk the stability that has underpinned 25 years of fast economic growth…Ms. Ma, however, began to tap into China’s new prosperity. The country’s economic rise has created tremendous wealth, but few outlets for charity. A handful of official charities exist, but are widely seen as arms of the government and excite little passion. Without a legal framework to allow private charities, philanthropy in China has been stunted…Ms. Ma’s group would like to tap more efficiently into China’s growing wealth. It hopes to set up a foundation where donations could be tax-free — an important incentive because China is starting to tax the wealthy. For now, a lack of legislation makes this impossible, although China’s parliament may take up a charities law at its annual session in March. It shelved a draft bill at the 2006 session.”
The Chinese Communist Party’s need for control to maintain its own power and its quest to maintain social stability is at odds with, I believe, the natural evolution of a growing modern economy and civil society.
The article does also a good job of describing the eventual recognition by the Chinese government that “disabilities like autism were long ignored or considered taboo.” And how “According to traditional views, birth defects were a sign that parents hadn’t lived a virtuous life. Some mentally disabled people found work in the fields, but often were shut in to spare the clan a loss of face.” But China now recognizes autism as a medical issue.