China Quake: Controls Cautiously Lifted on Flood of Volunteers

In the days following the Sichuan earthquake, thousands of have arrived at quake sites to offer assistance. Peter Ford of The Christian Science Monitor reports on the societal and political implications of their efforts.

“For 2,000 years the Chinese were subjects; since 1949 we have been citizens. This moment is very important to awaken a sense of volunteer spirit and , even if it does not exist yet,” says Zhai Yan, the founder of a nongovernmental organization (NGO) offering psychological counseling.

The Chinese government has always been ambivalent about . On the one hand, officials recognize that such privately funded groups can fill gaps in the country’s tattered social welfare system. On the other, the ruling Communist party is deeply suspicious of any social organizations beyond its control. Some groups have legal existence, but that is not easy to achieve under current regulations.

Leslie Hook from the Wall Street Journal also reports on the interaction between the state and private philanthropic groups:

Unofficial NGOs are sprouting up everywhere. Christian churches and Buddhist groups are using their networks in Sichuan to deliver aid and place volunteers. Internet campaigns to raise money are multiplying. Countless other volunteer groups in the earthquake zone are providing medical care, counseling or child care for orphaned children.

Twenty-three year-old Li Peng is a good example. The Sichuan native set up a Web site (www.kuaichedao.org) that accepts donations of goods. “I wanted to be a blood donor,” he told me by telephone. “But when I called the emergency agency, they told me they did not lack blood. So a big plan occurred to my mind.”

…But how long will the party allow the informal organizations to flourish? Although the majority of them see their work as an extension of the government’s efforts – Mr. Li, for example, ensured that government certificates were received for all goods delivered – not all of the groups will be so benign. Already, parents of children who died in poorly constructed school buildings have organized marches and clashed with police.

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