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Embedded Civil Society: NGO Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness in Authoritarian China Open Access

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In this dissertation, I have undertaken the first systematic effort to examine how grassroots NGO leaders in a nondemocracy have contributed to the ability of their respective organizations to meet organizational objectives. Using a case-study method, I undertook an in-depth examination of seven Chinese NGOs that operated in different issue areas, geographical locations, and at different stages of organizational development. I paid special attention to three commonly-identified socio-political characteristics of successful Chinese NGOs, i.e. state linkage, media connections, and international ties, and examined them as leadership qualities. Drawing from nearly 100 interviews, informal conversations, written correspondence, and participant observation sessions involving approximately 40 Chinese NGOs, I have found that the leaders of successful Chinese NGOs have developed personal affiliations with specific state organizations. In contrast, Communist Party membership has exercised less obvious effects. I have also found that the leader's media connections have exerted positive effects on state linkages. The leader's international ties, however, have exercised no direct effects on the NGO's state linkages and, in fact, have been highly conditioned on the presence of the leader's state affiliations and media connections.These findings confirm the importance of state linkage as a precondition for NGO effectiveness in nondemocracies. In this manner, they challenge the view that organizational autonomy vis-à-vis the state is an imperative for effective NGOs. These findings further challenge the perception that successful NGOs cannot be found in nondemocracies. An important implication of these findings is that the state can contribute positively to the development of nascent civil society in nondemocracies. In this sense, these findings challenge the civil society paradigm, which suggests that conflictual relations between the authoritarian state and civil society actors have been both inevitable and beneficial for civil society organizations.

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