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Grassroots Activism Bubbling Up Despite Single- Party Rule

. 2014-06-30 10:21 AM EST Last Updated: 2014-06-30 10:25 AM EST
Deng Fei, a journalist, saw it first-hand on a reporting trip in Guizhou province: scores of children going to school hungry. Deng started his own private charity to provide free meals for China's village children. As reported by CNN, China is a single-party state run from the top. But grassroots activism has been bubbling up from beneath, bringing about much needed social support and change.

Deng’s "Free Lunch for Children" campaign, in 3 years, has fed a total of 92,000 kids across 23 Chinese provinces.

"The government won't be able to solve all our problems," Deng tells CNN. "We must give up this unrealistic idea and take the initiative ourselves."

Officially, China has around half a million registered non-governmental organizations (NGOs), most with government connections. Unregistered independent NGOs, number
close to two million as estimated by some professionals.

These are tiny little groups of people all over the country trying to improve the lives of people in those areas: on labor issues, women's rights or the environment.

Han Dongfang, founder and director of China Labor Bulletin, said China's national trade union has failed to represent the needs of the nation's workers. So the workers have no choice but be their own force for change striking for better wages and launching civil action for just compensation

The Party remains vigilant toward these NGOs. Therefore, a lot of NGOs in China have been forced to register as industrial and commercial associations. For instance, Beijing “Yi Ren Ping Center” is a non-profit charity organization, founded December 2006. It works in health education for prevention and treatment of disease, medical rescue and elimination of discrimination. Lu Jun, founder of “Yi Ren Ping Center” told NTD Television it was registered as a commercial association.

Lu Jun: “In China, it’s very hard for an NGO to get approved by the civil administration department. So, like a lot of others , we are registered as industrial and commercial associations.”

As reported by CNN, the misleading registration has caused a lot of difficulties for NGOs, normally charity organizations dependent on volunteers. But, industrial and commercial structures lack the cohesive force to get volunteer support. Chinese-style NGOs often confuse foreigners. It’s challenging for them to gain support and approval.

Lu Jun: “NGOs need to raise funds externally. We also need to cooperate with governments,
companies, other NGOs, and internationally. When your partners see the way you are registered, they will assume you are a for-profit organization. This is a concern when they consider donating money or collaborating with you.”

Lu Jun said in China the government has been watchful of NGOs. In the past, a lot were banned or fined. “Yi Ren Ping” office has been searched and colleagues investigated. Some coworkers went missing for days, and their website closed down.

Lu Jun: “The stability maintenance department's view of NGOs is out-of-date. In their eyes, NGOs in China are like Middle-East groups which might bring about a revolution. They were unprecedentedly worried in 2005 and 2006. ”

Lu Jun pointed out that NGOs can help alleviate social conflict. They positively contribute to people’s happiness and the nation’s stability. It’s hard to understand the Party’s attitude.

With the rise of social media in China, society is more connected and better resourced than before, bringing people in need together, including China's once isolated coal miners suffering from deadly lung diseases.

James Miles, the Economist's Beijing Bureau Chief, said in CNN's report: "What we might see now compared with 25 years ago during Tiananmen, is that the cells of organizations are more quickly formed." "It would be more difficult for the government to control information, to stop people organizing, and to stop the flow of information in these kinds of critical events." Miles believes civil society may very well play a crucial role in changing China's political landscape.

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