Policy Innovation and Social Governance in China: from Big Society to Social Credit Scores

  • Summer schools
  • Global Academic Engagement
  • Application code LPS-PP201
  • Starting 2021
  • Short course: Open from October
  • Location: Beijing

PP201 play cover

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

China’s meteoric rise as an economic superpower has improved the well-being of most its citizens. But development has also brought with it a number of new challenges, affecting some more than others and heightening the inherent difficulties that come with managing any society with diverse interests and needs. To address complex social, economic, and environmental problems, China has cultivated a long history of developing, testing, and implementing a wide range of macro and micro level policy innovations.

The course uses tried and tested innovations, like the ‘big society’, and brand new ones, such as the Social Credit system set to launch in 2020, as lenses through which students explore key questions: How do states organize and manage societies? Why are some policy innovations employed over others? How can states, societies, and markets work in cooperation to address pressing social problems? How successful are these schemes, and how might they differently affect particular groups? And, how can we anticipate (and potentially minimise) the unintended effects of planned social management policies?

The first half of the course historically contextualises ‘big society,’ using it as a case study to examine key actors in social management: the decentralised state, bureaucrats, and local politics; NGOs and social organisations; the family as fundamental unit of society; and the market. The second half introduces the latest policy innovation in China, the Social Credit system—a private sector-inspired innovation (e.g., think Uber ratings) in which citizens are awarded points for good behaviour and deducted for bad, with overall goals of making citizens ‘better’ and governance easier. In the following days, we highlight some key areas that Social Credit is designed to improve. In so doing, we also examine potential unintended consequences.

Throughout the course, we draw upon a number of empirical examples including demographic challenges, family planning policies, elder care, health care, environmental protection, gender, and sexuality—paying particular attention to the most vulnerable in society, and those who are frequently ‘unseen’ by states in social management schemes. This course draws upon literature from a variety of fields, including political science, sociology, economics, public health, psychology, and social policy. Finally, illustrative of LSE’s commitment to doing research-led teaching, the instructor draws upon his leading research into state-society relations and NGO development, as well as his current ongoing research into the effect of policy innovations like Social Credit on notions of citizenship, trust, and loyalty in China.

Click here for a PDF of the course outline

Programme details


Dr Timothy Hildebrandt

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

Dr Timothy Hildebrandt is Associate Professor of Social Policy and Development. Trained as a political scientist, his current teaching and research is interdisciplinary, engaging in debates and contributing to literature in the fields of development, sociology, political science, social policy, health policy, and Asian studies. Tim’s areas of expertise include state-society relations, Chinese politics, political communication, civil society, sexuality, and social policy. Currently, he is engaged in several research projects, most notably a nationwide longitudinal study on volunteerism and civic participation in China. His book Social Organisations and the Authoritarian State in China (Cambridge 2013) is widely recognised as one of the key works on the topic. His research has appeared  in various academic journals, such as: China Quarterly, Journal of Contemporary China, Review of International Studies, Voluntas, Development & Change. Tim is also frequently interviewed by media outlets around the world, including BBC, CNN, The Guardian, South China Morning Post, among others.


Student feedback

This course is new for 2019, however below you will find feedback from students who took the course previously offered by Dr Timothy Hildebrandt.

"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

"Dr. Timothy Hildebrandt is by far the most inspiring professor that I've ever encountered. Not only did he give us a full picture of a civil society in the Chinese context, but he also gave me the direction to apply the knowledge to reality. On the last day of the class, I talked to Dr. Hildebrandt about my upcoming exchange year at the University of Copenhagen and asked him for advice in terms of NGO studies in Denmark. Dr. Hildebrandt advised me to focus on refugee NGOs in Denmark. So I joined one of the biggest refugee NGOs in Copenhagen, called 'Trampoline House', where I mainly volunteer to help asylum seekers in Copenhagen. This experience inspired me to combine my Major of Danish and the theories that I learned during the LSE-PKU Summer School into writing my bachelor dissertation.  I had zero knowledge about NGO or social enterprises before LSE-PKU Summer School, however, after the high-quality and amazing ten lectures that Dr. Hildebrandt taught, I gradually developed an interest of NGO-studies. I now have the plan to further my interest by applying for master programs that are related to NGOs."  Yihan Wu, Beijing Foreign Studies University, China.

"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 electronic 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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