From NGOs to Social Enterprises: Chinese Social Organizations in Local and Global Governance

  • Summer schools
  • Academic Partnerships Office
  • Application code LPS-SA301
  • Starting 2018
  • UK/EU full-time: Open
  • Overseas full-time: Open
  • Location: Beijing

Video Play SA301

Video: Dr Timothy Hildebrandt discusses his LSE-PKU Summer School course.

In the last decade, the number of NGOs in China has risen exponentially, and their scope has broadened significantly. Originally isolated to the political and economic centres of Beijing and Shanghai, and the areas of the country once thought to be incubators of civil society, like Yunnan, NGOs can be found throughout the country, engaged in a wide variety of social projects. But to the surprise of many observers, the vast majority of NGOs operating in China today maintain a relatively cooperative relationship with the state. They are playing sometimes key roles in local (and perhaps global) governance. 

This course explores the unique context within which NGOs and other social organisations have emerged in China, revealing how they have been able to often coexist with the government. It draws attention to the strategic adaptations that leaders of these organisations make in order to operate in a more narrow political environment such as China's, and examines how this might change the nature of their activities and ultimately the effect they can have on society. 

This course does not examine Chinese social organisations in isolation but rather places them in both an historical and comparative context, highlighting the difference in character, activity, and effect of NGOs in China from the rest of the world. In doing so, this course will familiarize students with relevant theories and literatures from a wide variety of fields, including international relations, comparative politics, sociology, and management. Important conceptual issues pertinent to the study of NGOs and social enterprises include: development and management of NGOs, role of transnational activism, views and practices of volunteerism, philanthropy and funding, and the effect of NGOs and civil society on Chinese society and politics. Courses will also examine how international NGOs operate in China, and how they interact with domestic Chinese NGOs – in addition, it will highlight the new role of Chinese NGOs going outside domestic borders to do international work of their own. Throughout the course, empirical cases of NGOs will be discussed, including organisations working in the areas of public health, poverty alleviation, labour rights, environmental protection, and education.

Click here to see the full course outline


Programme details


Dr Timothy Hildebrandt

Assistant Professor in the Department of Social Policy, London School of Economics

Dr Timothy Hildebrandt’s research and teaching focuses on the relationship between non-governmental organisations (NGO) and the state, particularly in non-democracies. His recent book, published by Cambridge University Press, is a ground-breaking comparative study of several NGO sectors across China. Trained as a political scientist, he researches social organisations primarily through a political economy lens, attentive to the role that both politics and economic resources play in the life of NGOs. He also draws upon management theories and literaturein highlighting how NGOs are highly adaptive organisations, interested in ensuring long-term sustainability. One of his current research projects has him examining how Chinese NGOs have begun to spread their reach outside of the mainland as frequent government partners in development projects. His perspective is both theoretical and practical; his work seeks to engage policy and practitioner audiences, in Beijing and the rest of the world.

Student feedback

"As a professional working with NGOs and social enterprises, I would highly recommend this course to anyone including other professionals seeking to gain an understanding of the economic and political context in which these organisations work in China.  Dr Hildebrandt was an expert facilitator and his cross-cultural and first-hand experience really brought out the fascinating different perspectives in the classroom.  Being with classmates from around the world was a real highlight and enhanced the immersive experience of the course." Jon Cheung, Principal Prolegis Lawyers, Australia

"This course was specifically designed for satisfying students’ needs to explore the function of NGOs including but not limited to the Chinese perspective. It discovered the roles of NGOs in the development of civil society, which fascinated students by providing a complete outline of recent scholarship in this field. It personally expanded my horizons to understand the state of the Chinese polity not only from the view of NGOs, but also from some of the unusual issues in China such as LGBT. I think the unique methodology and a comparative global perspective from this course prepare me well to connect my own research in social history and Dr Hildebrandt’s research. Both the lectures from Dr Hildebrandt and the Teaching Assistant were inspiring and interacting. Especially during the seminars in the afternoon, students had plenty of time to engage with the TA and thus had a clear structure of what they had learned. It was particularly useful when the course touched upon some abstract theories. I had wonderful time in that class, probably because I met so many divere and amazing people. Students on this course came from different fields, including a lawyer, an incoming MPP student, a NGO staff member and a student who majored in history (that’s me haha). I still remember the last time we were together when we had a party in a karaoke room.  Communication across different backgrounds and cultures really shaped my understanding of diversity and the importance of mutual understanding and respect, which influenced me both accademically and personally." Junyi Zhang (Simon), Nankai University, China

“From NGOs to Social Enterprises: Chinese Social Organizations in Local and Global Governance surpassed all my expectations for a short summer course on such a complex topic and prepared me for my subsequent master’s degree in the field of public administration. The breadth and depth of work covered by both Professor Hildebrandt and our tremendously talented TA, was astounding given the compressed time frame. Professor Hildebrandt’s interactive seminar style of teaching was most conducive to the pace of the program and promoted inter-student learning, which was particularly beneficial given the diversity of perspectives and experiences of students in the program. His subject matter expertise in the field of social organizations in the Chinese context also cannot be understated, and it was truly a tremendous privilege to learn from him on this ever-evolving topic. Moreover, the ability of both Professor and TA to convey complex theories to a class with varying levels of knowledge about the topic and associated literature was remarkable. Regardless of your academic and professional background, students can expect to leave the class with a strong understanding of theories and literature from many disciplines including sociology, international relations, and political science; as they relate to the workings of NGOs and social enterprises in the Chinese context. I would highly recommend this class to anyone remotely interested in learning more about NGOs, the Chinese economic and political context, or LGBT rights; you will not be disappointed. Like most exceptional classes, be prepared to leave with more unanswered questions and to truly broaden the scope of your thinking in relation to the topic and China!” Jadey Huray, Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs, USA

Click here to read our alumni testimonials.


There are no prerequisites for this course.

Preparatory reading list

The list below provides an indication of some of the main recommended texts for the course, however a full reading list and course pack will be provided to registered students approximately six weeks before the beginning of the programme.
  • Hildebrandt, T (2013) Social Organizations and the Authoritarian State in China. New York, Cambridge University Press.
  • Ho, P and Edmonds, R (2012) China’s Embedded Activism: Opportunities and Constraints of a Social Movement, New York, Routledge.
  • Pei,  M  (1998) “Chinese  Civic  Associations: An  Empirical  Analysis” Modern China, 24, 3, 285-318.
  • Saich, T (2000) “Negotiating the State: The Development of Social Organizations in China” The China Quarterly, 161, 124-141.
  • Schwartz, J and Shieh, S eds. (2009) State and Society Responses to Social Welfare Needs: Serving the People, New York, Routledge.
  • Teets, J (2009) ‘Post-earthquake relief and reconstruction efforts: an emerging civil society in China?’ The China Quarterly, 198, 330-347.



Assessment will be based on a mid-term essay (worth 50% of the final mark) and a final exam (worth 50% of the final mark).

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