“These days, when tragedy strikes — children orphaned, adults beaten close to death, students starving in schools — Chinese citizens increasingly depend not on government or officially sanctioned nonprofit organizations, but on Twitter-like microblogs called Weibo (right), for donations,” William Wan reports from Beijing:
The emergence of Weibo philanthropy has been spurred on by widespread suspicion and exasperation among Chinese with their government’s decades-long stranglehold over the social assistance and charity sector.
And for the ruling Communist Party — in the midst of a once-in-a-decade transition of leaders — the trend suggests a troubling disconnect. The fact that increasing numbers of citizens would rather donate to random strangers online than to state-managed charities points to a growing distrust in government institutions.
“Weibo is putting great pressure on the government because it shows that if they don’t solve basic problems they are responsible for like food and health, the people will solve it without them,” said former investigative journalist Deng Fei, who launched a campaign last year to provide lunches for impoverished students in rural schools.
Independent civil society activists like Wan Yanhai (left), the founder of the Aizhixing Research Foundation, a leading AIDS rights group, have been forced into exile or obliged to end their activities under pressure from the regime.
“The attacks from the government had become very serious for my organization and for me personally,” Wan told the Associated Press. “I had concerns about my personal safety and was under a lot of stress.”
Transparency also remains a problem and the authorities still strive to stifle independent NGOs.
“It is an issue of control,” said Jia Xijin, an expert at Tsinghua University’s NGO Research Center. “In the eyes of the government, there is a limited social resource for donations. The government has already defined the right causes and the right groups for those donations, so their thinking is: Why should the money go anywhere else?”
Mark Stevens profiles Ai Wei Wei for Smithsonian Magazine’s September issue, and asks whether the dissident artist “is more than just a contemporary phenom,” China Digital Times notes:
So what is it about Ai? What makes him, in Western eyes, the world’s “most powerful artist”? The answer lies in the West itself. Now obsessed with China, the West would surely invent Ai if he didn’t already exist. China may after all become the most powerful nation in the world. It must therefore have an artist of comparable consequence to hold up a mirror both to China’s failings and its potential. ….
Ai’s persona….draws power from the contradictory roles that artists perform in modern culture. The loftiest are those of martyr, preacher and conscience. Not only has Ai been harassed and jailed, he has also continually called the Chinese regime to account; he has made a list, for example, that includes the name of each of the more than 5,000 schoolchildren who died during the Sichuan earthquake of 2008 because of shoddy schoolhouse construction. ……
Ai’s work will be on display at Washington D.C.’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden from early October through February 2013, his second show in the American capital this year. See also reviews in The New York Times and The Guardian of Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry, the documentary film by Alison Klayman that premiered in late July.
China Digital Times is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.