A new book about Chinese associations and activism by Taru Salmenkari, Associate Professor of Chinese Studies at Tallinn University, just came out from Routledge.
In this book, Taru Salmenkari discusses ways to define and assess civil society in East Asia and other areas that developed outside European and North American historical, institutional, and philosophical backgrounds that gave birth to the concept. She examines anthropologically two common presumptions about civil society in mainland China and in Taiwan.
According to these presumptions, civil society is defined by a clear state-society boundary and it is the emergence of the middle class with its own economic interests that accentuates this boundary. The book finds that a state-society boundary is made through practical encounters between the state and society. Every state makes social actors into outsiders at times, but encourages cooperative and even boundaryless relations to other actors in other situations.
The book shows that, due to their property rights, East Asian middle classes might lack social capital to associate in civil society in the first place or might become attracted to non-political philanthropic activities instead of more assertive forms of civil society activism.
The book is meant for readers who are interested in recent social developments in East Asia, but also for academic readers who want to understand better how well civil society can fulfill promises of development and democratization and how well Eurocentric analytical concepts travel.