Corporatism, civil society and democratisation in the People's Republic of China

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China Report, ISSN: 0009-4455, Vol: 38, Issue: 2, Page: 233-257

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Yiu-chung Wong; Che-po Chan
SAGE Publications; Sage Publications India Pvt. Ltd.
Social Sciences
article description
As characterisations of the nature of the post-Mao party-state-society relationship, and also as democratisation strategies, two schools of thought have been in vogue in the nineties in the field of Chinese politics. The first one is the school of 'corporatism'. The gist of this school is the linkage of society to the state through hierarchically ordered and functionally differentiated institutions representing various social sectoral interests. The corporatists argue that the CCP has loosened its grip over society/enterprise, and the self-governing organisations share power with the party-state over industrial production and revenue. In short, the enterprises are not subservient to the party-state any more and they have gained sufficient bargaining power vis-à-vis the state. The second one is the school of 'civil society'. The notion was first used in the analysis of the East European communist countries in the mid-eighties. The notion gained currency in the analysis of Chinese politics after the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, particularly in Western academic circles. Put simply, 'civil society' means the institutional autonomy enjoyed by social groups or organisations vis-à-vis the party-state. The 'civil society' school argues that forming independent autonomous social groups is the first step towards democratisation in China. The outbreak of the Tiananmen pro-democracy movement in 1989 saw the birth of a 'civil society' which will gradually become a countervailing force to the CCP. This paper will discuss the two views critically, arguing that both views are too simplistic and problematic when applied to the Chinese political reality. It will question whether they can serve as a democratic strategy in China.