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Patricia M. Thornton: On Chinese Communist Party organized non-governmental organizations (PONGOs)

22 March 2013

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The China Quarterly / Volume 213 / March 2013, pp 1-18
Copyright © The China Quarterly 2013
DOI: (About DOI), Published online: 21 March 2013

The Advance of the Party: Transformation or Takeover of Urban Grassroots Society? *
by Patricia M. Thornton

University of Oxford. Email: Patricia.Thornton at


While existing scholarship focuses attention on the impact of state control and repression on Chinese civil society, the increasingly independent role of the Communist Party has been largely overlooked. This article reviews the Party’s drive to “comprehensively cover” grassroots society over the previous decade against the theoretical debate unfolding among Chinese scholars and Party theoreticians regarding the Party’s role with respect to civil society. Focusing on greater Shanghai, frequently cited as a national model of Party-building, I describe the Party’s advance and the emergence of Party-organized non-governmental organizations (PONGOs), a new hybrid form of social organization sponsored and supported by local Party committees. I argue that these developments invite a reconsideration of our understandings of the ongoing “associational revolution” and of the Party’s relationship to China’s flourishing “third realm.”


civil society;
Chinese Communist Party;
Party building;
social policy;

Patricia M. Thornton is a lecturer in Chinese politics in the department of politics and international relations, University of Oxford, and a tutorial fellow at Merton College. She is the author of Disciplining the State: Virtue, Violence and State-making in Modern China (Harvard University Press, 2007).

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