Chinese FlagCivic Freedom Monitor: China

Introduction | At a Glance | Key Indicators | International Rankings
Legal Snapshot | Legal Analysis | Reports | News and Additional Resources
Last updated 25 September 2016

Update: Following the passage of two major laws in the civil society sector – the Charity Law and the Overseas NGO Law – in the first half of this year, the second half has seen the appearance of draft revisions of the registration and management regulations for all three types of “social organizations,” the Chinese equivalent of not-for-profit organizations (NPOs). 

These three regulations were originally issued at different times over a span of 16 years—the regulations for Social Associations first came out in 1988 and was revised in 1998; the regulations for Social Service Organizations (a big improvement from the previous organizational form, Civil Non-Enterprise Institutions or 民办非企业) were issued in 1998; and the regulations for Foundations were issued in 2004.  

This year, drafts of the revised regulations for all three types have come out all at once, in addition to the passage of the Charity Law and the Overseas NGO Law. While there has been a great deal of flux in the Chinese environment for civil society over the last few years, it is certain that the legal landscape for NPOs in China will be substantially reshaped by 2017.

Introduction

Civil society and its accompanying legal framework have become considerably more complex in China in recent years. The range of nonprofit, philanthropic and other social organizations (hereafter, civil society organizations or CSOs) has expanded rapidly, as have their fields of activity, including their partnerships with the government and business sectors. CSOs of various kinds are moving gradually but steadily from the margins of society into the mainstream.

Management of the emerging civil society sector by Communist Party and state agencies remains restrictive but also has been unable to keep up with the growth of CSOs. As Yu Keping, a well-known scholar who has written extensively on civil society, points out, the actual space for CSOs in China is much larger than the institutional space allowed by formal laws and regulations [1].

Many CSOs in this space are managed in a considerably less intrusive way than others. These include a large number of organizations that provide social services or conduct other work that the state supports and that are not perceived as threats to the state. But groups engaged in advocacy, legal aid, labor rights and religion are often more closely monitored by Party and state authorities. Over the years, a number of organizations have been harrassed and even closed down, and many civil society activists (including lawyers, journalists, academics, bloggers) have been detained, tried and imprisoned for their peaceful activities.

The legal framework to manage this highly differentiated process of state control – in which some organizations are supported and facilitated and others are repressed – has its origins in China’s 1982 Constitution and in an array of regulatory documents promulgated and enacted since the late 1980s. These regulate the full range of legally-registered non-profits which the Chinese refer to generically as "social organizations" (shehui zuzhi, 社会组织) "Social organizations" are separated into three major categories: social organizations (shehui tuanti, 社会团体) which are the equivalent of membership associations and include many trade and professional associations; civil non-enterprise institutions (minban fei qiye danwei, 民办非企业) which are the equivalent of nonprofit service providers; and foundations (jijinhui, 基金会). China is a civil law jurisdiction with very strong political and executive authority; judicial activity plays very little role in the treatment of civil society groups.

In an effort to improve its regulatory capacity and coordination with CSOs, the government has since the late 2000s begun to revise the legal framework governing CSOs, fundraising and charitable donations, and worked with local governments to carry out experiments in these areas that will inform national legislation. It has also made "social management innovation" [shehui guanli chuangxin] a focal point of its 12th Five Year Plan (2011 - 2015). "Social management innovation" here refers to improving the party-state's ability to manage and coordinate with a range of CSOs and other non-state actors to address common goals. In recent years, there has been a flurry of activity among local governments across China to “innovate” by lowering barriers to CSO registration, contracting social services to CSOs, building programs and platforms to coordinate, support and incubate CSOs, and creating more detailed regulations and standards to guide the development of the CSO sector.

The administration of Xi Jinping, who became president of China in March of 2013, reaffirmed these reforms in the important November 2013 Third Plenum Decision of the 18th Central Committee. Instead of “social management innovation”, the Decision used the term “social governance,” which was seen as a favorable sign because it emphasized the state’s partnership with CSOs in governing, rather than its management of CSOs.  Months before the Decision came out, however, the new administration had already embarked on a sustained clampdown on certain elements of China’s civil society. This move sent a signal that any reforms were intended to apply to certain categories of CSOs, such as social service provision and economic and trade associations, but not necessarily to civil society actors engaged in advocacy, ethnic minority affairs, religion and other more sensitive areas.

Taken together with other policy statements and actions, these seemingly contradictory initiatives can be seen as part and parcel of a broader effort to rectify and rejuvenate the party and society in order to strengthen the party-state and its relationship with the masses. Thus, the Xi administration is also launching an unprecedented anti-corruption campaign that has ensnared high-level leaders such as Bo Xilai and Zhou Yongkang, a campaign to encourage ideological orthodoxy in state agencies, universities, the media and the blogosphere, and a rule-of-law campaign emphasizing greater adherence to rules both inside and outside of the Party. These campaigns are overlaid with a veneer of nationalism that stresses the importance of national sovereignty and security and reflects both China’s growing power in the world and its growing insecurity as it faces more “mass incidents” inside its borders and renewed territorial challenges on its periphery in places like Xinjiang, Tibet, the South China Seas and Hong Kong. 

CSOs, in short, have been caught up in the larger struggle by the Xi administration to craft a stronger party and a stronger China. These developments constitute a top-down effort by the party-state to mold a “civil society” in its own image - the party would actually prefer to use a term like “social sector” or “people’s society” - that does not have a strong value preference for what the government perceives as Western-style individual freedoms and rights. These party-building priorities are reflected in the Charity Law and Overseas NGO Law that were rolled out one after another in early 2016 and constitute the biggest legislative developments in the nonprofit sector in the history of the PRC.

[1] “Civil Society in China: Concepts, Classification and Institutional Environment” in Deng Zhenglai, ed., State and Civil Society: The Chinese Perspective (Singapore: World Scientific, 2011)

Back to Top

At a Glance

Organizational Forms Social Associations (SAs, shehui tuanti), which are the equivalent of membership associations; Social Service Organizations (SSOs, shehui fuwu jigou, formerly known as Civil Non-Enterprise Institutions or minban fei qiye danwei); and Foundations (jijinhui). In addition, there are many different types of informal CSOs: those registered as businesses; those attached to a legal organization; small community-based organizations; rural cooperatives; religious organizations; and networks.
Registration Body Ministry of Civil Affairs and local Civil Affairs Bureaus
Barriers to Entry
  1. System of “dual registration” for all social organizations (Dual registration will no longer be required for most foundations or for four categories of SAs and SSOs: (a) Industry or trade associations and chambers of commerce, which only applies to SAs; (b) Science and technology organizations that engage in academic research and exchange activities in the fields of natural sciences and engineering; (c) Public benefit and charitable organizations providing services such as poverty alleviation, emergency assistance, elder care, assistance to persons with disabilities, disaster relief, health care, and education; and (d) Urban and rural community service organizations that carry out activities to meet the needs of urban and rural community residents.)
  2. Extensive documentation requirements;
  3. Broad informal prohibitions in certain activities and areas such as advocacy, legal assistance, labor, religion, and ethnic minority affairs;
  4. Extensive discretion to deny registration.
Barriers to Activities
  1. Government discretion to intervene in internal affairs of the organization;
  2. Burdensome reporting requirements;
  3. Invasive government monitoring and inspections.
Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy The Government has discretion to limit speech and advocacy for specific organizations and types of organizations and for specific cases that might be seen to negatively impact national security.
Barriers to International Contact The Overseas NGO Law, which goes into effect on January 1, 2017, will raise the barriers for international NGOs seeking to work in China. Chinese organizations are sometimes required to report international contacts to authorities and sometimes to seek approval for visits, international cooperation, foreign donations, etc. Chinese organizations, particularly NGOs, that collaborate or receive funding from foreign organizations are monitored closely and sometimes harassed.   
Barriers to Resources With the passage of the Charity Law and Overseas NGO Law, a clear distinction can be made between domestic and foreign resources. The Overseas NGO Law will raise the barriers for Chinese organizations (particularly grassroots ones) seeking foreign funding and collaboration. On the other hand, the Charity Law and the revised registration and management regulations for Foundations and other social organizations will make it easier for Chinese nonprofits to access social resources because they lower the barriers to fundraising and provide greater tax incentives for donations to public benefit and charitable organizations and activities.

A 2009 regulation requires CSOs to go through more paperwork to transfer donations from overseas organizations into their bank accounts.
Barriers to Assembly Assembly Law and Implementing Measures contain vague and restrictive provisions; 5 days advance notification requirement; spontaneous assemblies not permitted; onerous obligations and liabilities on organizers; excessive time, place, and manner restrictions.

Back to Top

Key Indicators

Population 1,367,485,388 (July 2015 est.)
Capital Beijing
Type of Government One-Party State
Life Expectancy at Birth Male: 73.38 years (2015 est.)
Female: 77.73 years (2015 est.)
Literacy Rate Male: 98.2% (2015 est.)
Female: 94.4% (2015 est.)
Religious Groups Buddhist 18.2%, Christian 5.1%, Muslim 1.8%, folk religion 21.9%, Hindu < .1%, Jewish < .1%, other 0.7% (includes Daoist (Taoist)), unaffiliated 52.2% note: officially atheist (2010 est.)
Ethnic Groups Han Chinese 91.6%, Zhuang 1.3%, other (includes Hui, Manchu, Uighur, Miao, Yi, Tujia, Tibetan, Mongol, Dong, Buyei, Yao, Bai, Korean, Hani, Li, Kazakh, Dai and other nationalities) 7.1% note: the Chinese government officially recognizes 56 ethnic groups (2010 est.)
GDP per capita $12,900 (2014 est.)

Source: The World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2009.

Back to Top

International Rankings

Ranking Body Rank Ranking Scale 
(best – worst possible)
UN Human Development Index 90 (2015) 1 – 182
World Bank Rule of Law Index 42.8 (2014) 100 – 0
World Bank Voice & Accountability Index 5.4 (2014) 100 – 0
Transparency International 83 (2015) 1 – 168
Freedom House: Freedom in the World Status: Not Free
Political Rights: 7
Civil Liberties: 6 (2016)
Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index
83 (2015) 178 – 1

Back to Top

Legal Snapshot

International and Regional Human Rights Agreements

Key International Agreements Ratification* Year
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) No --
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1) No --
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) Yes 2001
Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR) No --
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) Yes 1981
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Yes 1980
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women No --
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) Yes 1992
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW) No --
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) Yes 2008

* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty

Constitutional Framework

The Constitution of the People’s Republic of China (1982, as amended) includes the following relevant provisions which relate to the nonprofit, charitable and philanthropic sector:

Article 1 
The People's Republic of China is a socialist state under the people's democratic dictatorship led by the working class and based on the alliance of workers and peasants.
The socialist system is the basic system of the People's Republic of China. Disruption of the socialist system by any organization or individual is prohibited.

Article 2
All power in the People's Republic of China belongs to the people.
The National People's Congress and the local people's congresses at various levels are the organs through which the people exercise state power.
The people administer state affairs and manage economic, cultural and social affairs through various channels and in various ways in accordance with the law.

Article 5 
The People's Republic of China governs the country according to law and makes it a socialist country ruled by law.
The state upholds the uniformity and dignity of the socialist legal system.
No laws or administrative or local rules and regulations may contravene the Constitution.
All state organs, the armed forces, all political parties and public organizations and all enterprises and institutions must abide by the Constitution and the law. All acts in violation of the Constitution or the law must be investigated.
No organization or individual is privileged to be beyond the Constitution or the law.

Article 28 
The state maintains public order and suppresses treasonable and other criminal activities that endanger state security; it penalizes criminal activities that endanger public security and disrupt the socialist economy, as well as other criminal activities; and it punishes and reforms criminals.

Article 33 
All persons holding the nationality of the People's Republic of China are citizens of the People's Republic of China.
All citizens of the People's Republic of China are equal before the law.
The state respects and guarantees human rights.
Every citizen is entitled to the rights and at the same time must perform the duties prescribed by the Constitution and the law.

Article 35 
Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.

Article 36 
Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief.
No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion.
The state protects normal religious activities. No one may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the state.
Religious bodies and religious affairs are not subject to any foreign domination.

Article 50 
The People's Republic of China protects the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese nationals residing abroad and protects the lawful rights and interests of returned overseas Chinese and of the family members of Chinese nationals residing abroad.

Article 51
Citizens of the People's Republic of China, in exercising their freedoms and rights, may not infringe upon the interests of the state, of society or of the collective, or upon the lawful freedoms and rights of other citizens.

Article 52
It is the duty of citizens of the People's Republic of China to safeguard the unification of the country and the unity of all its ethnic groups.

Article 53 
Citizens of the People's Republic of China must abide by the Constitution and the law, keep state secrets, protect public property, observe labor discipline and public order and respect social ethics.

Article 54 
It is the duty of citizens of the People's Republic of China to safeguard the security, honor and interests of the motherland; they must not commit acts detrimental to the security, honor and interests of the motherland.

National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector

Many of the key national laws and regulations affecting the sector are as follows, although this list is not exhaustive. For additional information, see Ministry of Civil Affairs and U.S. International Grantmaking.

  • Constitution of the People’s Republic of China (1982, as amended, see selected provisions above)
  • Law of the Red Cross Society of the People's Republic of China (adopted by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, October 31, 1993)
  • Regulations on the Registration and Management of Social Organizations (adopted by the State Council October 25, 1998, currently in revision)
  • Interim Regulations on the Registration and Administration of Civil Non-Enterprise Institutions (adopted by the State Council October 25, 1998)
  • Interim Regulations on the Registration and Administration of Public Institutions (adopted by the State Council October 25, 1998)
  • Public Welfare Donations Law (adopted by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress June 28, 1999)
  • Law of the People's Republic of China on Individual Income Tax and Detailed Rules for the Implementation of the Individual Income Tax Law of the People's Republic of China (as enacted in 1999 and later amended)
  • Provisional Measures Regarding the Management of Social Welfare Organizations (issued by the Ministry of Civil Affairs, April 10, 2000)
  • Trust Law of People’s Republic of China (adopted by the Standing Committee of the Ninth National People's Congress April 28, 2001)
  • Non-State Education Promotion Law of the People’s Republic of China (adopted by the Standing Committee of the Ninth National People's Congress December 28, 2002)
  • Circular of the Ministry of Finance on the Relevant Issues Concerning the Preferential Taxation Policies for the Poverty-Relief and Charity Donation Materials Imported for the Purpose of School Education. (issued by the Ministry of Finance, March 10, 2003)
  • Regulations on the Management of Foundations (adopted by the State Council March 8, 2004, currently in revision)
  • Regulations on the Administration of Names of Foundations (issued by the Ministry of Civil Affairs June 23, 2004)
  • Accounting System for Nonprofit Organizations (issued by the Ministry of Finance September 2004)
  • Reply of the State Administration of Taxation on Tax Exemption of 33 Permanent Representative Offices of Foreign Enterprises, such as the Beijing Representative Office of the Ford Foundation (issued by the State Administration of Taxation June 11, 2004)
  • Measures for the Information Disclosure of Foundations and Measures for Annual Inspection of Foundations (issued by the Ministry of Civil Affairs January 12, 2006)
  • Enterprise Income Tax Law of the People’s Republic of China; Provisional Regulations of the People's Republic of China on Enterprise Income Tax and Detailed Rules for the Implementation of the Provisional Regulations of the People’s Republic of China on Enterprise Income Tax (as enacted in 2007 and as amended)
  • Notice of the Ministry of Finance and the State Administration of Taxation on the Policies and Relevant Management Issues Concerning the Pre-Tax Deduction of Public Welfare Relief Donations (promulgated January 18, 2007)
  • Measures for the Administration of Donations for Disaster Relief (issued April 28, 2008)
  • Notice of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange on Issues concerning the Administration of Foreign Exchange Donated to or by Domestic Institutions (issued by the State Administration of Foreign Exchange December 25, 2009)
  • National Security Law (adopted in July 2015)
  • Counterterrorism Law (反恐怖主义法, sometimes translated as the Anti-Terrorism or Counterespionage Law) (approved December 2015 and went into effect on January 1, 2016)
  • Charity Law (慈善法) (promulgated March 16, 2016 , goes into effect on September 1, 2016)
  • Law on the Management of Overseas NGOs’ Activities in Mainland China (境外非政府组织境内活动管理法) (promulgated April 28, 2016, goes into effect on January 1, 2017)

The Anti-Domestic Violence Law (反家庭暴力法, also translated as the Domestic Violence Law) was approved by the NPC Standing Committee in July 2015—the same session in which the National Security Law was approved—and went into effect on March 1, 2016. The law is one of the few pieces of legislation in which we can see the contribution of civil society groups, which have pushed for this law for the last decade. It has been in development for years and its passage makes an issue that was long viewed as a private matter a responsibility of the state. 

An Environmental Law was approved by the 12th NPC on April 24, 2014 and took effect in 2015. It lowered the barrier for NGOs to file public interest lawsuits. A previous draft had only allowed a few NGOs to file public interest lawsuits, but the final draft contained more liberal language that allowed any NGO registered with Civil Affairs at the city level or above to file a public interest lawsuit. That interpretation was later affirmed by the Supreme People’s Court. Soon after the Environmental Law went into effect, two well-known grassroots environmental NGOs filed a public interest lawsuit in Nanping city, suing four individuals for harmful mining activities in the area. That lawsuit was accepted by the Nanping Intermediate Court on January 1, 2015.

(Note: English-language translations of these laws can be found either on ChinaLawTranslate or China Development Brief’s website).

Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives

In June 2016, the Ministry of Civil Affairs issued draft registration and management regulations for public comment for two of the three types of social organizations (社会组织): Foundations (基金会) and Social Service Organizations(社会服务机构). On August 1, the Ministry issued draft registration and management regulations for public comments for the third type: Social Associations (社会团体), which are the equivalent of membership associations such as trade associations, chambers of commerce, science and technical associations, professional associations, academic associations, arts and cultural associations and so forth.

Together, these three sets of regulations form the heart of the regulatory system governing the registration and management of social organizations, China's equivalent of not-for-profit organizations. They specify which government bodies are responsible for their registration and management, the registration requirements and procedures, the internal governance of the organization, their legal responsibilities, and so on.

Back to Top

Legal Analysis

Organizational Forms

There are three main legal forms of CSOs in China:

  • Social Associations (SAs) (shehui tuanti, 社会团体)
  • Social Service Organizations (SSOs) (shehui fuwu jigou, 社会服务机构) (formerly known as Civil Non-enterprise Institutions (CNIs) (minban fei qiye danwei, 民办非企业)
  • Foundations (jijinhui, 基金会)

The recently-passed Charity Law went into effect on September 1, 2016 and effectively created another nonprofit form: the charitable organization (慈善组织, cishan zuzhi). According to the Charity Law, social organizations previously registered as a SA, SSO, or Foundation can also apply for charitable organization status. It is not clear if the charitable organization is a legal person that can assume legal liability in the way that SAs, SSOs, and Foundations can. According to a number of Chinese experts, the charitable organization is not a legal person; it is only a status that can be obtained only after registration as a SA, SSO, or Foundation. In this reading, charitable organizations must adhere to registration and management regulations governing SAs, SSOs, or Foundations depending on how they are registered. Those regulations are now in the process of being revised and expected to come out later this year.

The Charity Law (Chapter 5) also revived the charitable trust (慈善信托, cishan xintuo) as another legal arrangement for carrying out charitable activities.The charitable or public benefit trust was first recognized in the 2001 Trust Law, but that Law did not make clear who the supervisory authorities were and there were no clear tax provisions governing charitable trusts. As a result, very few public benefit trusts were established after the Trust Law was passed. The intent of including public benefit trusts in the Charity Law appears to be to clarify the management of those trusts and their tax provisions in order to encourage their establishment and use. Article 45 of the Charity Law states that charitable trusts must “file a record” (bei’an) with the Civil Affairs authorities in order to be eligible for tax benefits.

In addition to these legal forms, there are many informal NPOs registered as for-profit businesses, as well as unregistered NPOs. Some unregistered NPOs gain legal status by attaching themselves to another legal entity, such as a social organization or a “public institution” (see below), including universities and research institutes. NPOs registered as businesses and unregistered NPOs are technically not NPOs in a legal sense, but they are voluntary, nongovernmental, not-for-profit, self-governing organizations in an operational sense. They are mission-driven, not-for-profit organizations founded by and governed by private individuals. Many are funded by foreign governments and embassies, international organizations and foundations, and are required to justify the not-for-profit nature of their activities in their reports to funders. There are no accurate numbers for this category of NPOs, with estimates ranging from a few hundred thousand to a few million. The reason for this wide range is because of differences in how one defines an NPO. Some scholars, for example, come up with such large numbers because they cast a wide net and count Party-controlled mass organizations such as the Communist Youth League and Women’s Federation and their local branches, as well as rural cooperatives.

Together, the legal NPOs and the informal NPOs are the closest equivalent to nongovernmental, not-for-profit organizations. A substantial portion of the legal NPOs – in particular, SAs and Foundations – were either created by the government or have close ties with a particular government agency, and are often referred to as government-organized NGOs (GONGOs). In contrast, the informal NPOs, as a rule, tend to be more grassroots and independent from the state.

A fifth type of organization, the public institution or public service unit (事业单位,shiye danwei), is a quasi-governmental agency, generally formed by the government and staffed with government employees. They are a residue of the centrally-planned system set up during the 1950s. Public universities, research institutes, and hospitals fall in this category. They are discussed in this Note because they frequently receive grants from foreign donors and are subject to some of the same tax rules as NPOs. There is a plan to carry out a reform of public institutions by privatizing a portion of them and turning them into social organizations.

The key registration body for legal NPOs in China is the Ministry of Civil Affairs. In certain cases CSOs may also register and operate as for-profit businesses, and those do so through the State Administration for Industry and Commerce. The only exception to this rule is overseas NPOs, for which the Ministry of Public Security will be the registration body.

A number of scholars thus estimate that informal NPOs outnumber legal NPOs. As of 2012, there were approximately 450,000 legally-registered NPOs, but estimates of the number of informal NPOs run from 1-3 million depending on which types of organizations are counted as NPOs. For discussions of these estimates, see Andrew Watson, “Civil Society in a Transitional State: The Rise of Associations in China,” in Jonathan Unger, ed., Associations and the Chinese State (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2008) and Guosheng Deng, “The Hidden Rules Governing China’s Unregistered NGOs: Management and Consequences,” The China Review, 10:1 (Spring, 2010).

Public Benefit Status

Chinese law distinguishes between NPOs that have a charitable or public benefit purpose and those that serve other purposes. The 2016 Charity Law provides a special designation for charitable organizations and defines the scope of charity or public benefit in China.

Charitable organizations can be existing NPOs such as SAs, SSOs, or Foundations that obtain charitable status. (Implementing regulations currently being drafted may automatically consider Foundations to be charitable organizations, but SAs and SSOs will need to apply separately for charitable status.) Registration as a charitable organization requires applying to the national or local Civil Affairs department.  Article 9 of the Charity Law sets out the following requirements that must be met by the applicant:

(1) Aim to carry out charitable activities;
(2) Not have the goal of making a profit;
(3) Have a name and address;
(4) Have an organizational charter;
(5) Have necessary financial assets;
(6) Have an organizational structure and person in charge in accordance with the requirements;
(7) Meet other conditions stipulated by laws and administrative regulations.

Articles 3-5 of the Charity Law define the scope of charity/public benefit. Specifically:

Article 3.‘Charitable activities’ in this law refers to the following public interest activities voluntarily carried out by natural persons, legal persons and other organizations through the donation of property, the provision of services or other means: (1) Helping the poor and the needy; (2) Assisting the elderly, orphans, the ill, the disabled, and providing special care; (3) Alleviating losses incurred by natural disasters, accidents, public health incidents and other emergencies;(4) Promoting the development of education, science, culture, health, sports and other causes; (5) Preventing and alleviating pollution and other public hazards, protecting and improving the eco-environment;(6) Other public interest activities in accordance with this law.

Barriers to Entry

There are extensive barriers to entry based in policy, practice, and regulation. The Charity Law, and the revised registration and management regulations for social organizations that should be coming out either in late 2016 or 2017, will lower some of those barriers, for example for registration and fundraising, but may raise other barriers. The discussion below is based largely on the old regulations and will be subject to revision as the implementing regulations for the Charity Law and the revised registration and management regulations for social organizations are issued during the 2016-17 period.

As of August 2016, registration procedures are complex and cumbersome, with extensive documentation and approval requirements. Many NPOs are required to operate under a system of “dual management” in which they must generally first obtain the sponsorship of a “professional supervising unit” such as a government ministry or provincial government agency, then seek registration and approval from the Ministry of Civil Affairs in Beijing or a local civil affairs bureau, and remain under the dual control of both agencies throughout their organizational life. In practice, it is not easy to obtain such sponsorship, particularly if a social organization lacks good connections in the government or is operating in sensitive sectors such as advocacy, legal aid, labor, religion and ethnic minority affairs.

Broad prohibition clauses bar the registration of groups that are perceived to oppose the state and/or Party. For example, the following articles of the Charity Law state:

Article 4. Charitable activities shall abide by the principles of being lawful, voluntary, honest, and non-profit, and must not violate social morality, or endanger national security or harm societal public interests or the lawful rights and interests of other persons.

Article 5.The government encourages and supports natural persons, legal persons and other organizations in legally carrying out charitable activities that represent the core values of socialism and promote the traditional morals of the Chinese nation.

Other broad provisions give the state wide discretion over which organizations are allowed to register.

But the barriers to entry do not end there. For example, the Regulations on the Registration and Management of Social Associations (1999), the governing document for the largest subsector of Chinese nonprofits, also stipulate that applicant organizations must comply with a wide range of other requirements and undergo a lengthy application and approval process. Such applicants must have at least fifty individual members or thirty institutional members; a fixed location; staff with qualifications appropriate to the professional activities of the organisation; minimum assets of 100,000 RMB (currently US$9,500) for national organizations and 30,000 RMB ($2,800) for local organizations; and must supply the registration and management agency with a wide array of organizational documents. Government agencies may rely on a wide array of reasons to deny registration. Furthermore, the Regulations on the Registration and Management of Social Associations (1999) and the Interim Regulations on the Registration and Administration of Civil Non-Enterprise Institutions (CNIs) (1998) both stipulate that SOs and CNIs cannot establish branch organizations or offices in other regions.  The revisions of these regulations that are currently being drafted will relax some of these requirements, but not do away with them completely.

After registration, organizations may seek approval in a separate process for an official seal and to open a bank account. Separate permissions must be sought from the relevant government management agencies to establish a branch or subsidiary of the group; to modify their registration or to amend their charter; to change their legal representative, and for other purposes. The government also has broad discretionary authority to close social organizations according to the Interim Measures for Banning Illegal Non-Governmental Organizations (2000).

In the face of the “dual management” system, the difficulties in negotiating registration and approval, onerous reporting requirements and the opportunity for frequent government intrusion into organizational matters, many Chinese social organizations of various kinds either register as a for-profit business, or operate without formal registration. According to the Interim Measures for Banning Illegal Non-Governmental Organizations, these informal nonprofits are formally illegal, making them even more subject to state discretion and control.
Over the last few years, local governments have been experimenting with ways to lower barriers to entry by reforming the dual management system for certain categories of social organizations. In most cases, this reform involves doing away with the requirement for social organizations to obtain the sponsorship of a professional supervising unit. This change can be seen in the Charity Law, and in the revised registration and management regulations for SAs, SSOs, and Foundations that are currently being drafted. In these draft regulations, the “dual management system” will be removed for four categories of NPOs: trade associations and chambers of commerce, science and technology associations, public benefit and charitable organizations, and urban and rural community organizations. These four categories of NPOs will be able to register directly with the Ministry of Civil Affairs without getting sponsorship of a “professional supervising unit.”

Barriers to Operational Activity

Barriers to operational activities can be raised or lowered by the authorities at their discretion, depending in large part on how their activities are viewed by the party-state. Generally, nonprofits engaged in social services and charity tend to be viewed more favorably than nonprofits engaged in advocacy and legal aid, although admittedly there is no clear distinction between the two types of organizations in practice. For some forms of nonprofits, such as SAs and SSOs, the government has authority under relevant regulations to bar the establishment of more than one such organization in its field in any particular locality as a way to prevent what is viewed as duplication, overlap, and competition and to maintain ties between such groups and their governmental sponsors. [2]

The government may also intervene in a number of other ways. It may raise questions about the appointment of directors, trustees or senior staff; narrow the boundaries of the work that organizations may engage in by reference to the government-approved original organizational application or charter; micromanage the banking arrangements of various kinds of charitable groups; undertake investigations of operational activities and terminate organizational activities through application of tax laws; and harass the organization by exerting pressure through the organization’s landlord or utility company. Even for registered organizations that have no issues with the state, reporting requirements can be quite burdensome, particularly for small organizations. The regulatory framework allows for significant government intervention and interference. Strong security forces, such as the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of State Security, intensively monitor organizations of particular sensitivity to the Party and state.

Over the years, a number of methods have been used to restrict and control the operational activities of certain nonprofit groups with some being harassed and others being closed down temporarily. For example, 2007, the civil society publication, Minjian was closed down, and another, China Development Brief, stopped publishing for a few months. In 2010, the Open Constitution Initiative (Gongmeng), a Beijing-based public interest law research and advocacy group, was placed under tax investigation arising from a donation from an American organization, several of its core personnel detained, and eventually closed as a result of the alleged violations of tax regulations. A number of CSOs have suffered a similar fate during the last few years (2013-16) under the administration of President Xi Jinping.

[2] See, e.g., the Regulations on the Registration and Management of Social Organizations (1999), Art. 13(2).

Barriers to Speech / Advocacy

A gap between constitutional freedoms for speech and assembly and the more restrictive provisions of special regulations and legal frameworks provides the state with significant discretion to limit speech, assembly and advocacy for specific organizations and types of organizations. The government can also prohibit advocacy, and actions such as lawsuits, in cases that it deems harmful to national security.

Such barriers are implemented through administrative decrees (such as the regulations governing social organizations and other kinds of groups), as well as criminal and administrative regulation and barriers to participation in policy debate and formulation that may favor government-affiliated groups or may restrict policy advocacy by defining it as outside the organization’s ambit of approval or its charter. Direct barriers to organizational activity, such as those discussed above, may also restrict speech, assembly and advocacy.

As an example of such barriers, in 2013, a number of activists were arrested for “unlawful assembly” in calling on government officials to publicly disclose their personal assets. Among them were Xu Zhiyong, one of the founders of the NGO, Gongmeng (Open Constitution Initiative) which advocates for constitutionalism and rule-of-law reforms. Later that year, there were broader restrictions placed on social media, with the detention and arrest of some high-profile bloggers, including billionaire entrepreneur, Wang Gongquan, who was a supporter of Xu’s.

The recent sentencing of Xu to four years in prison for "gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place" was a reminder of the high barriers to speech and assembly in China.  Days before Xu's sentence was announced, 78 scholars, journalists and lawyers issued an Open Recommendation to Conduct Constitutional Review on the "Law of the People's Republic of China on Assemblies, Processions and Demonstrations".

During the last few years (2013-16) under the administration of President Xi Jinping, many human rights lawyers and activists engaged in advocacy have been detained, and criminally charged.

Barriers to International Contact

Prior to 2016, there were relatively few barriers to international contact in the regulatory framework for particular kinds of NPOs. Most international NGOs worked in a regulatory gray area. Due to the difficulties of registering a representative office, the large majority either chose to register as a business entity, or remained unregistered and worked under the radar through Chinese partners.

This state of affairs changed with the passage of the 2016 Overseas NGO Law which erects high barriers between overseas NGOs (defined as “nonprofit, non-governmental social organizations…. that have been lawfully established outside of mainland China”) and their Chinese partners. This includes NGOs based in Hong Kong and Macao. The law places the registration and supervision of overseas NGOs and their activities in China under the Ministry of Public Security, instead of the Ministry of Civil Affairs. It also a very comprehensive law that gives all overseas NGOs only two legal channels for operating in China (Note: The Law appears to provide an exception for exchanges between schools, hospitals, engineering and technical institutes, and academic institutes, but the law is not clear on this issue.):

  1. Register a representative office in China; OR
  2. “File a record” (bei’an) to carry out “temporary activities” regardless of the nature or length of those activities. The overseas NGO and its Chinese partner will need to file the required materials about their collaboration and any necessary approvals with the Public Security office. They will also be required to file reports on their activities to Public Security.

In addition to these legal barriers, there have always been a number of extralegal barriers to international contact. Chinese organizations of all kinds have often been required in the past to report international contacts to authorities and, in some cases, to seek approval for certain kinds of visits, international cooperation, foreign donations, and other contact with foreign organizations or donors. Moreover, Chinese organizations, particularly NGOs, that collaborate or receive funding from foreign organizations are monitored closely and sometimes harassed.

The State Security Ministry established an office several years ago to monitor both domestic and international NGO affairs. Multiple written or unwritten rules can affect international contacts, and they may emerge relatively suddenly.

Barriers to Resources

In general terms, recent legislative and regulatory efforts have raised barriers for accessing foreign funding, while lowering barriers to domestic funding.

Over the last few years, there has been closer regulatory oversight over foreign funding, not to mention more frequent references from Chinese authorities and state media suggesting nefarious intentions behind foreign funding to Chinese nonprofits.

In early 2010, for example, the PRC State Administration of Foreign Exchange issued a formal notice, Notice 63 on Issues Concerning the Administration of Foreign Exchange Donated to or by Domestic Institutions that requires many domestic nonprofit organizations to comply with new and more complex rules for receiving and using foreign donations. These include, for certain kinds of organizations, an application attesting to the authority of the domestic organization and the foreign donor; the domestic group’s business license; a notarized donation agreement between the domestic group and the foreign donor organization with the purpose of the donation prescribed; and a registration certificate for the foreign nonprofit group. The Notice spurred significant concern in both domestic NGO and foreign nonprofit circles and its implications are still being worked out.  Many nonprofits have been able to continue accessing foreign funds, but some organizations have experienced difficulties especially in cases where funding is coming from foreign organizations, such as the National Endowment for Democracy, the Open Society Institute, and the International Republican Institute, that are perceived as sensitive because of their “democracy promotion” work. [3]

The Overseas NGO Law that will go into effect on January 1, 2017 raises more barriers to foreign resources because it requires all foreign NGOs operating in China to file reports on all of their Chinese partners, funding sources and activities to Public Security, e.g. the police. This requirement will be less of a problem for Chinese partners with an official background (e.g. government agency or university) or that are properly registered, but it will pose difficulties for grassroots nonprofits which may be unregistered or not properly registered.

In contrast, recent legislation such as the Charity Law and the revised registration and management regulations for social organizations will generally have the effect of lowering barriers to domestic funding by significantly expanding the pool of nonprofits that can engage in public fundraising, and encouraging more people to donate to public benefit and charitable causes by providing more tax incentives. In the past, public fundraising, which is understood to mean fundraising through the media, in public spaces, and online, was restricted to a small number of organizations generally with close ties to the government. These included government agencies, such as the Ministry of Civil Affairs, officially designated organizations such as the Chinese Red Cross and China Charity Federation, and public fundraising foundations. Non-public fundraising foundations and other nonprofits, such as SAs or SSOs, were not allowed to engage in public fundraising. Under the new legislation, there will be no distinction between public and non-public fundraising foundations, and all nonprofits including SAs and SSOs will be allowed to apply for public fundraising status after two years of operation. In addition, the Charity Law calls for more generous tax incentives to encourage charitable giving, which should mean more social resources going to nonprofits.

[3] English text of Notice 63, Chinese text of Notice 63.

Barriers to Assembly

Vague Provisions
Both the Assembly Law and the Implementing Measures contain vague and restrictive provisions, and give enforcement authorities a great deal of authority and discretion. For example, Article 12 of the Law prohibits assemblies that might “oppose cardinal principles in the Constitution,” although those principles are never specified. The Law also makes it difficult to hold assemblies related to territorial and ethnic minority issues. There is also a broad clause prohibiting assemblies that will harm “public security and public order,” without any qualifying provisions.

Maximum Numbers of Participants
There is no maximum number of participants in the Assembly Law, but various local regulations may define a specific limit. In Beijing, NGOs cited 50 and 200 as ceilings that they have heard of by word of mouth, but they could not cite specific regulations containing those limits. A 2002 Human Rights Watch report titled “Dangerous Meditation: China’s Campaign Against Falun Gong” states that “On November 24, 1999, the Ministry of Public Security issued new public assembly regulations prohibiting gatherings of 200 or more for mass cultural and sporting activities, such as concerts, sports meets, and public exercise sessions such as qigong practice without explicit police approval, citing an article, "China to regulate mass gatherings," from BBC Worldwide Monitoring (November 24, 1999). It is important to note, however, that Article 2 of the Assembly Law states that the Law “does not apply to recreational or sports activities, normal religious activities or traditional folk events.” This suggests that there may be additional regulations issued at the local level by Public Security offices concerning other types of assembly.

Notification
Article 8 of the Assembly Law states that “the responsible person(s) must submit an application in writing to the competent authorities five days prior to the date of the activity.” The regulatory authority is required to give a response two days prior to the activity. According to Article 9:
… after receiving an application for an assembly, a procession or a demonstration, the competent authorities shall inform the responsible person(s) in writing of their decision to grant or not to grant permission two days prior to the date of the activity applied for. If no permission is granted, the reasons thereof shall be given. Failure to serve notice within the time limit shall be construed as the granting of permission.

The Assembly Law does, however, provide for last-minute applications in the event of an unexpected occurrence. Article 9 states:
If an assembly, a procession or a demonstration is truly necessitated by unexpected occurrences, a report must be made immediately to the competent authorities: upon receiving the report, the competent authorities shall immediately examine it and decide to grant or not to grant permission.

The law does not address counter-demonstrations. However, spontaneous assemblies are not permitted. Article 29 of the Assembly Law states:
In a case where no application has been made for an assembly, a procession or a demonstration in accordance with the provisions of this Law or no permission has been granted for the application or where it is conducted not in accordance with the starting and finishing time, places and routes permitted by the competent authorities, when the disbanding order is disobeyed and public order seriously undermined, the person(s) responsible for, the assembly, procession or demonstration and the person(s) who is directly responsible shall be investigated for criminal responsibility in accordance with the provisions of Article 158 of the Criminal Law.

Obligations of Organizers
The Assembly Law places a number of onerous obligations and liabilities on the organizers of assemblies.  For example, Article 25 of the Assembly Law states:
The person(s) responsible for an assembly, a procession or a demonstration must assume responsibility for maintaining the order thereof and strictly guard against participation by others. The person(s) responsible for an assembly, a procession or a demonstration shall, when necessary, appoint special personnel to assist the people's police in maintaining order. The personnel responsible for the maintenance of order shall wear identification marks.

In addition, Article 28 of the Assembly Law states that “the police may punish by warning or by criminal detention of not more than 15 days the organizers if the assembly involves one of the following circumstances:
(1)  failure to make an application in accordance with the provisions of this Law or to obtain permission for the application; or
(2)  failure to act in accordance with the purposes, manners, posters, slogans, starting and finishing time, places, and routes permitted by the competent authorities, and disregard of instructions to stop acting without permission.”

Enforcement

The government has used excessive force in breaking up assemblies. The most notorious example is the protests that occurred in the spring of 1989 in various cities in China, culminating in the June 4 crackdown on protestors in Tiananmen Square Beijing. To this date, it is unknown how many civilians were killed in that crackdown.

There was also a brutal reprisal against Falun Gong demonstrators in the fall of 1999 after they staged a silent vigil outside of Zhongnanhai, where the top Chinese leaders live and work. Human rights groups and other journalistic and academic studies report that Falun Gong practitioners in China are subject to a wide range of human rights abuses. Tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands are believed to have been imprisoned extrajudicially, and those detained are subject to forced labor, psychiatric abuse, torture, and other coercive methods of thought reform at the hands of Chinese authorities.

More recently, the state has used force to break up demonstrations over land seizures and corruption in rural areas.

Restrictions on Participants

A number of articles in the Assembly Law address various criminal and other sanctions that participants can face. As but one example, Article 30 states:
Those who disturb, break into or undermine by other means an assembly, a procession or a demonstration held in compliance with law may be punished by the public security organ by warning or by criminal detention of not more than 15 days; if the circumstances are serious and a crime is constituted, they shall be investigated for criminal responsibility in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Criminal Law.
In addition, Article 15 of the Assembly Law states that “No citizens shall, in a city other than his place of residence, start, organize or participate in an assembly, a procession or a demonstration of local citizens.” This means that a person residing in one city cannot start, organize or participate in an assembly in another city.

Article 34 of the Assembly Law also states that foreigners need approval by “the competent authorities” to participate in an assembly held by Chinese citizens.

Time, Place, and Manner Restrictions

Articles 23 and 24 of the Assembly Law place restrictions on holding assemblies at certain places or times.

Article 23 states as follows:
No assembly, procession or demonstration shall be held within a peripheral distance of 10 to 300 meters from the following places, with the exception of those approved by the State Council or the people's governments of provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the Central Government:
(1)  premises of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, the State Council, the Central Military Commission, the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Procuratorate;
(2)  places where state guests are staying;
(3)  important military installations; and
(4)  air harbors, railway stations and ports.

The specific peripheral distances from the places listed in the preceding paragraph shall be defined by the people's governments of provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the Central Government.

In addition, Article 24 states that “The time for holding an assembly, a procession or a demonstration shall be limited to 6 a.m to 10 p.m., with the exception of those held by decision or approval of the local people's governments.”

Although there are no content-based restrictions, Article 12 prohibits assemblies that will harm “the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the state” and instigate “division among the nationalities.” This discourages assemblies related to ethnic minority issues, particularly those connected to regions such as Tibet and Xinjiang where there has been vocal dissatisfaction with Communist Party governance.

Other issues
Many CSO representatives perceive the Assembly Law as largely irrelevant. They noted that they would not apply to hold an assembly in the first place because they know they would be turned down. In addition, the police would then have a record of who they were, which could cause trouble for them later.

At the same time, assemblies and demonstrations do occur in China, but generally not because the organizers have applied and been approved to hold the assembly. In October 2012, large anti-Japanese demonstrations were held in Beijing and a few other cities. While it was never clear who organized the demonstrations or whether the organizers had applied, it was suggested by a number of people that the demonstrations had been in part organized and had the support of the government.  Also in October 2012, a Beijing gay rights NGO conducted an AIDS walk along a section of the Great Wall that involved hundreds of participants. The organizer did not apply to hold the walk. Instead, the organizer held the walk with the cooperation of a government-run AIDS foundation. These examples suggest that assemblies organized by government or quasi-government organizations have more leeway and are not bound by the Assembly Law.

Back to Top

Reports

UN Universal Periodic Review Reports Universal Periodic Review: China
Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs China
USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country Notes USIG: China
U.S. State Department 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: China
Advancing Freedom and Democracy Reports, 2009: China
Fragile States Index Report


Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index

IMF Country Reports China and the IMF
International Commission of Jurists Not available
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library China

Back to Top

News and Additional Resources

News of importance to the nonprofit sector will be updated on a continual basis in China Development Brief’s column, A View from the Top. See also, China Development Brief Directory of 250 Chinese NGOs and accompanying report.

While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change.  If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at ngomonitor@icnl.org.

General News

China’s new NGO rules call for organisations to adhere to party leadership (August 2016)
The Chinese government has released a new set of rules stating that representatives of the party must be established within social groups, as part of its tightening grip on non-governmental bodies.

How Should Global Stakeholders Respond to China’s New NGO Management Law? (May 2016)
A ChinaFile Conversation with leading China experts on how stakeholders around the world should respond to the new law.

How Foreign Nonprofit Organizations Should Respond to China’s New Overseas NGO Law (May 2016)
This policy paper “outlines the challenges of compliance and non-compliance [with the new Overseas NGO Management Law] and proposes ‘smart indigenization’ as a third way to deal with the new law. By forging partnerships with credible domestic partners, foreign non-profit organizations can be principled, pragmatic and people-centered at the same time.”

Clampdown in China Restricts 7,000 Foreign Organizations (April 2016)
“China took a major step on Thursday in President Xi Jinping’s drive to impose greater control and limit Western influences on Chinese society, as it passed a new law restricting the work of foreign organizations and their local partners, mainly through police supervision. More than 7,000 foreign nongovernment groups will be affected, according to state news reports.”

China Passes Law on Security Controls on Foreign NGOs (April 2016)
Campaigners attacked the new Overseas NGO Law “as the latest phase of President Xi Jinping’s bid to rein in opposition to the Communist party. They said it represented a severe blow to non-profit groups involved in issues such as the environment, public health and education, as well as human rights.”

It Just Got Harder to Make a Difference in China (April 2016)
The enactment of the Overseas NGO Management Law “sets the stage for months of anxiety and jockeying as thousands of foreign, Hong Kong, and Taiwanese NGOs, foundations, universities, trade associations, and other nonprofits try to divine how new restrictive rules on registration and operations will affect their work in mainland China.”

The Good—and Bad—About China’s Charity Law (March 2016)
While the new Charity law promises to expand space for charities in China, the law “could encounter resistance from local government officials, and maybe even from some of the nonprofit groups it’s intended to help.”

The Pros and Cons of China’s NGO Laws (March 2016)
China’s Charity Law and Overseas NGO Management Law “will create a less free civil society and severely reduce the influence of foreign actors on the domestic affairs of China. On the other hand, if the laws are implemented as designed, they will provide a more accountable and predictable home-grown civil society.”

China Adopts Charity Law (March 2016)
China's national lawmakers have approved the charity law with 2,636 affirmative votes, which is 92.49% of the total votes that were cast.

Is China’s New Overseas NGO Management Law Sounding the Death Knell for Civil Society? Maybe Not (February 2016)
According to two researchers, there is a possibility that the Overseas NGO Management Law “may actually protect the domestic NGO sector, whether by design or as an unintentional side effect,” by constraining international NGOs. 

Charges Against Chinese Rights Lawyers Draw Foreign Criticism (January 2016)
The recent arrests of Chinese lawyers and their associates on subversion charges drew sharp condemnation from presidents of foreign bar associations, prominent lawyers and former judges in a letter issued on Monday. They said the charges were part of an “unprecedented crackdown” on Chinese advocates who take up contentious human rights cases.

China Passes Controversial Counter-Terrorism Law (December 2015)
China passed a controversial new anti-terrorism law that requires technology firms to help decrypt information and allows the military to venture overseas on counter-terror operations.

China’s Latest Crackdown on Workers Is Unprecedented (December 2015)
In an unprecedented crackdown on some of China’s most effective independent labor organizations, known as worker centers, seven worker-activists have been detained and held virtually incommunicado in detention facilities in Foshan and Guangzhou.

Grassroots NGOs Win Landmark Environmental Public Interest Lawsuit (November 2015)
Two grassroots environmental NGOs won a landmark public interest environmental lawsuit when a court in Fujian province ruled in their favor on October 29, 2015. It was the first time grassroots NGOs were allowed to file a public interest environmental lawsuit under the newly revised Environmental Protection Law.

China's Xi Defends Censorship Amid Support For Embattled Rights Community (September 2015)
Activists stepped up calls for Chinese President Xi Jinping to end an ongoing crackdown on rights activists back home as he defended his government's tight controls on the Internet on Thursday. Xi, who traveled from Washington state to Washington, D.C. on Thursday ahead of talks with Obama and a state dinner at the White House on Friday, has been greeted by protesters at every stop of his state visit to the United States this week. According to U.S.-based veteran dissident Yang Jianli, a raft of new laws aimed at bolstering "national security" is putting increasing pressure on activists and non-government groups.

White House sends tough message on NGOs as Chinese President visits (September 2015)
A top White House official Tuesday hosted US non-governmental groups who face tough new Chinese security laws, a high-profile statement of concern as Xi Jinping arrived in the United States. White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice met several representatives from among the universities, businesses and rights groups that would be forced to register and report to the Chinese security services if the draft law enters into force.

Draft anti-terrorism law should be revised (January 2015)
Chinese authorities should withdraw or substantially revise a proposed counter-terrorism law which could be used to further monitor, censor and criminalize the work of human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists, the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) and Chinese Human Rights Defenders said in a joint statement. 'China's draft Anti-Terrorism Act contains a range of vague and overbroad provisions the interpretation and application of which could be used to further restrict and criminalize the work of human rights defenders,' said ISHR Director Phil Lynch. Article 104 of the draft law defines 'terrorism' in broad terms to include 'thought, speech or behavior' that is 'subversive' or even that which seeks to 'influence national policy making'.

Guangzhou OKs foreign cash for NGOs (November 2014)
Authorities in Guangzhou have issued a new regulation for the city's fast growing non-governmental sector, deleting a draft clause stipulating that NGOs that receive overseas funds or are "under de facto management" by overseas organizations should be shut down. Analysts and NGO professionals said that it is a positive signal from the government that will encourage the development of NGOs. According to the regulation, which will take effect in 2015, NGOs will only need to submit a report to management authorities 15 days before obtaining overseas funds. The report should include information on the form, scale, participants, time, location, and budget of their activities.

China Approves Security Law Emphasizing Counterespionage (November 2014)
President Xi Jinping of China has signed a new Counterespionage Law, replacing the 1993 National Security Law with an updated set of rules that will more closely target foreign spies and Chinese individuals and organizations who collaborate with them. The new law, which was signed by Mr. Xi on Saturday, "comprehensively revises the National Security Law to emphasize anti-espionage work," Xinhua, the state-run news agency said. But it added that human rights would be protected under the law. "Counterespionage work must be carried out in accordance with the law and respect and protect human rights, as well as protect the legal rights of civil society organizations," it said.

New Signs that China is Scrutinizing Foreign NGOs (June 2014)
An image being passed around the social media site Weibo shows several men straining to hoist a flag atop rubble, a reference to the iconic World War II image of American troops hoisting the United States flag at Iwo Jima. But on the flag are red letters spelling "NGO," not the stars and stripes of the 1945 photograph. The message is clear: Americans use NGOs to conquer. Many Chinese officials believe Western governments use nongovernmental organizations to encourage democratic "color revolutions." That attitude may have spawned a new investigation, one that apparently began not long after China's new National Security Commission, headed by President Xi Jinping, met for the first time on April 15 to launch a "penetrating" security review of foreign nongovernmental organizations in China, according to a notice that briefly appeared on a local government website in Shanxi Province.

News Archive

People Power in the People's Republic of China (June 2014)

Pray for Gao Zhisheng on Easter (April 2014)

Government Must End Reprisals Against Activists Demanding Participation in UPR (August 2013)

Social Media in China Fuel Citizen Response to Quake (May 2013)

The changing face of service society (May 2013)

'Spring' in the air for NGOs? (April 2013)

Government's NGO funding peaks in 2012 (February 2013)

NGOs praised for role in fighting HIV/AIDS (November 2012)

State to tighten oversight of international NGOs (September 2012)

Activist and artist Ai Weiwei loses appeal on tax evasion charges (September 2012)

China's door "wide open" to foreign NGOs (September 2012)

Chinese turn to microblogs for donations instead of government charities (August 2012)

NGOs get boost from Shenzhen register reforms (August 2012)

Government wants more transparency, which means more control over NGOs (August 2012)

New regulations on the management of charitable foundations issued (July 2012)

Changing climate for religious NGOs? (July 2012)

Clinton comments on human rights blocked in China (July 2012)

Eric Schmidt: The Great Firewall of China will fall (July 2012)

Charity Law submitted to State Council (June 2012)

Environmental NGOs grow across China but struggle for support (June 2012)

Corporate-NGO Partnerships in China: Fostering Employee Volunteer Programs (June 2012)

China keen to scale down EU human rights talks (June 2012)

Law to give new start to embattled charities (June 2012)

China tells Tibetan NGOs to register or else face closure (May 2012)

Will pressure make Chinese aid more transparent? (March 2012)

Revisions of law to ensure human rights related to detention, arrest and surveillance (March 2012)

Charities open to religious groups (March 2012)

Political advisers argue that legislation on the charity law is "vital" for the NGO sector to grow (March 2012)

China develops law on philanthropy (October 2011)

Social groups may get right for litigation (October 2011)

China human rights group blocked from EU-China dialogue (September 2011) 

China jails veteran democracy activist (September 2011) 

Breakthrough judicial interpretation of freedom of information regulations (August 2011)

New breakthrough for grassroots charity groups (August 2011)

Chinese civilian NGOs seek charity legislation (August 2011)

Calls for greater transparency, supervision in philanthropy (July 2011) 

Carefully cultivating NGOs (July 2011)

China to ease NGO registration policy (July 2011)

Amnesty International accuses China of silencing human rights lawyers (June 2011)

China seeks to expand modern philanthropy (May 2011) 

Labor question threatens China’s social compact, divides ruling party (May 2011) 

China creates new agency for patrolling the Internet (May 2011) 

Biden, Clinton lecture China on human rights (May 2011) 

Fears in China as another human rights lawyer disappear (May 2011)

Teng Biao, Chinese human rights lawyer, released after detention (April 2011) 

West needs more ‘muscular’ approach to defending China’s dissidents (April 2011)

End the silence on Ai Weiwei (April 2011) 

China's human rights crackdown - interactive guide (April 2011) 

EU and US urge China to free Ai Weiwei (April 2011) 

Investigate police assaults against foreign journalists (March 2011)

Crack down on Egypt-inspired protests in China (February 2011) 

Experts assess the progress of civil society in China (February 2011)

Additional Resources

Civil Society News from China-Wire
Nonprofits in China, Harvard University’s Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations
NGOs in China
China Philanthropy Blog
China Foundation Center

The foregoing information was prepared by Shawn Shieh, Deputy Director of Development and Operations, China Labour Bulletin (HK). Dr. Shieh may be reached via e-mail at: sshieh@clb.org.hk.

Back to Top