In one of Beijing’s oldest neighborhoods, a citizen-activist group with five full-time employees is challenging China’s powerful Ministry of Foreign Affairs over its plans for a historic residence the government owns.
The Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center says the ministry, which has more than 4,500 officials, may be violating national preservation regulations by renovating parts of the 19th century property — 10,000 square meters (2.5 acres) of courtyards and classical gardens of bamboo groves, rock formations, ponds and pavilions.
The campaign demonstrates the increasing assertiveness of advocacy groups in pushing China’s government to follow its own rules and account to the public for its actions. Such confrontations may become more common as China seeks to expand its cooperation with nongovernmental organizations in alleviating poverty, stemming the spread of AIDS and halting environmental degradation.
“NGOs help the government solve a lot of problems,” says Kang Xiaoguang, 45, head of a research center at Renmin University in Beijing dedicated to the study of nonprofits in China. The groups also “have begun to challenge government policies and its administrative processes more and more.”