Why an NGO’s Earthquake Recovery Program Faltered in Rural China

Start date

Monday, 27 May 2019, 13:00

End date

Monday, 27 May 2019, 14:15

International Institute of Social Studies
Spoken Language

On 27 May 2019, a Professor of Asian Studies and Political Science at UC-Berkeley, Kevin O'Brien, will give a seminar at the International Institute of Social Studies entitled "Losing the Community’s Trust: Why an NGO’s Earthquake Recovery Program Faltered in Rural China". This seminar is part of the Development Research Seminar series. 

NGOs in China cannot operate successfully and achieve their goals if they lose the trust of the community they seek to serve. In the wake of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, an environmental NGO lost the support of villagers and grassroots leaders partly because of poor communication and limited responsiveness to community concerns. But better downward accountability would only have exposed a deeper mismatch in goals and aspirations. Villagers and village cadres did not want what the NGO had on offer and the NGO, as a value-driven organization, was handcuffed by its mission.

This talk examines tensions over home reconstruction, organic agriculture, eco-tourism, self-governance, embroidery workshops and local elite displacement to highlight the importance of trust and value clashes when studying how a rural collaboration with an NGO can collapse. It is also a cautionary tale about community power. Villagers and grassroots cadres had the ability to thwart an NGO and drive it out, but theirs was the power to frustrate and block, not to make their dreams of development rea

  • Kevin O’Brien is the Alann P. Bedford Professor of Asian Studies and Professor of Political Science at UC-Berkeley. He is also the Director of Berkeley's Institute of East Asian Studies and the Walter and Elise Haas Professor of Asian Studies. He received a B.A. from Grinnell College and a Ph.D from Yale University, and taught at Ohio State before moving to Berkeley in 2000.

    His research focuses on contemporary Chinese politics. Among his publications are Reform Without Liberalization: China's National People's Congress and the Politics of Institutional ChangeRightful Resistance in Rural China (with Lianjiang Li), Engaging the Law in China: State, Society and Possibilities for Justice(co-edited with Neil Diamant and Stanley Lubman), and Popular Protest in China, as well as articles on legislative politics, local elections, fieldwork strategies, NGOs, migrant workers, implementation, policing, rural protest and village-level political reform. His most recent work centers on the Chinese state and theories of popular contention, particularly as concerns the policing of protest and types of repression that are neither "soft" nor "hard."