Environmental Civil Society Organizations and the State in China: Institutional Analysis of the Dynamics, 1980s‑2010s

Written by Kyoung Shin and Tingting Zhu


The answer to the oft-asked question of state-civil society relations and the latter’s role in environmental governance in China seems to be “in the eyes of the beholder.” A number of discrepant accounts, narratives, and theories continue to be offered by China scholars and experts, largely due to methodological reliance on a snapshot of a given space and time. This article takes a different approach. Based on a more nuanced longitudinal analysis, we show that there have been at least three kinds of relationship between the Chinese state and environmental civil society in the last few decades, each defined by a distinct institutional field. The dynamics of these institutional changes have been anything but linear or predetermined. This article contributes to the existing debate by offering a more systematic and analytical account of the nature of state-society relations in China’s environmental governance. Findings also point to the need for more dynamic and evolutionary, rather than static, analyses in future scholarship.

This article was published in the Journal of Chinese Political Science. You can find the full text at: https://rdcu.be/c6B5k

Kyoung Shin

Founder and Director in Environmental Sustainability Research Team

Tingting Zhu

Research Fellow in Corporate Diversity Research Team