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The ideas of civil society in mainland China and Taiwan, 1986-92

posted on 01.10.2011, 00:00 authored by Baogang HeBaogang He
The idea of civil society has been the source of contested debates, and has been a dominant discourse in recent Chinese political and ideological life since the late 1980s both in mainland China and Taiwan. The paper describes and explains the emergence and transformation of the ideas of civil society. It analyzes political innovations associated with, and democratic implications of, the conceptual changes of civil society both in mainland China and Taiwan. These conceptual changes can be identified as a shift from the idea of the totalitarian society to the liberal idea of civil society before June 4, 1989, to the antagonist model of civil society as a democratic strategy among some intellectuals overseas after 1989, and then to the mutual support model between the state and civil society since 1992 in mainland China. These changes also involve a shift from the antagonist model of civil society, which was popular in 1986–87, to the Habermasian version of civil society on Taiwan.The discourse on civil society in both Taiwan and mainland China seems to support, confirm and reinforce the key element of the liberal idea of civil society, that is, the necessity of the normative distinction of the state from civil society. It also demonstrates that it is dangerous to believe that all the problems, and all the solutions lie within the body of civil society; the idea of civil society alone cannot offer a solution to all the problems. We need to turn for help from the democratic ideas of constitutionalism, citizenship, and the rule of law; above all, civil society itself has to be democratized.


Title of book

State and civil society: the Chinese perspective



Chapter number



197 - 239


World Scientific Publishing

Place of publication






Publication classification

B Book chapter; B1.1 Book chapter

Copyright notice

2011, World Scientific Publishing




Z Deng