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Issue #1

Then and Now

Looking Back and Imagining the Future of Chinese Civil Society

January—April 2021

In the spring of 2021, China’s central authorities issued a policy that seeks to change norms of China’s civil society that have been established over the past thirty years. At a moment that portends a closing of space for unregistered NGOs and a possible shift in the ways NGOs can emerge, evolve, and cooperate with other social and state entities, we thought it important to look back to revisit the development of China’s civil society over the past decades. Not only is this exercise important in enabling us to understand the shifts now taking place, but it also reminds us of the possibilities that once were, and the possible futures that may be. With this issue we wanted to bring together practitioners, whose experience of running or participating in organisations and initiatives is invaluable both in and of itself but also in helping us to reflect. We sought to bring their insights together with those of scholars who also have a deep interest, and often practical experience, in China’s organised civil society, studying its different aspects and dynamics. We hoped, too, to capture something of the vibrant diversity of organised civil society during its early (re-)emergence in the 1990s and to remember, as best we could, some of the early pioneers and possibilities.

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