NGOs as welfare providers in China: emerging new modes of state control

Stream: Chinese social policy: states and markets
Date: Monday, 9 September 2019
Time: 1.30 pm – 3.10 pm


Since 2013 the Chinese government, under the premise of increasing state capacity and improving efficiency, has rolled out a national programme to deliver welfare by contracting services out to NGOs. Given the novelty of this policy, existing research has mainly explained its institutional origin and design within different locations in China. This paper, however, examines the politics surrounding the emergence of this new welfare model and of the relations between the new service provider and the state.

The paper draws on fresh empirical evidence from three different locations in China and from two different welfare service sectors, namely, migrant workers and child welfare. It presents threefold findings: first, the purchasing process is not a level playing field, but instead favours NGOs with pre-established relations with local authorities (incidentally, a significant driver of variation within China), and excludes rights-based groups that are politically sensitive; second, together with the contraction of alternative sources of funding, service contracting makes NGOs highly dependent on government funding for their survival; third, service contracting drives NGOs away from their mission, vision and values, becoming functional arms of the state in the delivery of welfare.

All in all, we argue that the introduction of purchasing of social services from NGOs into the welfare system in China seeks to increase state legitimacy and is, in fact, a mechanism of co-optation of civil society that fulfils a social order-maintenance function.


Regina Enjuto Martinez (Presenter), London School of Economics and Political Science
Dr Regina Enjuto Martinez is a Research Officer at the Department of International Development at LSE.Her research interests are in civil society in authoritarian contexts, labour relations, welfare and social policy, and legal development. Currently she is researching the politics of social service contracting to NGOs in China, under an ESRC project. Regina holds a PhD in Development Studies from LSE and an MSc in Sociology from National Chengchi University (Taiwan). She also obtained a Bachelor’s degree in East Asian Studies and a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Autonomous University of Madrid (Spain).

Jude Howell (Presenter), London School of Economics and Political Science
Professor Howell is a political scientist working in the broad interdisciplinary field of development studies. Her research interests relate to the politics of policy processes, state-society relations, securitisation of aid, and authoritarianism and development. Her most recent research has focussed on the securitisation of aid and counter-terrorism, civil society, gender and labour relations in China, and the accountability and legitimacy of NGOs. She currently directs an ESRC research grant on the politics of government contracting of welfare services to NGOs in China.

Yuanyuan Qu (Presenter), London School of Economics and Political Science
Yuanyuan Qu is a research officer in the ESRC project “Services subcontracting to NGOs in China". Her research interests lie in the areas of social inclusion, digitalisation and vulnerable people (disabled people, people living with HIV/AIDS), with a particular focus on China. Her PhD examines the internet use of Chinese disabled people and the impact of that on their empowerment and citizenship. Prior to her PhD in sociology at the University of Glasgow (2017), Yuanyuan obtained a Masters from the Central China Normal University (2014) and two BAs (in sociology and in English literature) from the same university (2011).