Volunteerism and the State: Understanding the Development of Volunteering in China
The notion of volunteerism embodies a set of values, such as altruism and philanthropy, which emphasize taking action by personal choice without expectation of payment (Dunn, 1995). As an action, volunteerism includes a set of voluntary structures that could be very diverse since the voluntary organizations are likely to exist as either formal organizations within the social welfare system or informal, independent, purely non-governmental organizations (NGOs) (Brilliant, 1997; Butcher, 2003). The term state expresses both a monopoly that can defend a given territory with force against outsiders and a legal relationship that varies in accordance with the specific laws, conventions, and customs of a particular country (Weber, 1968). Although the state is not equal to the government, the current government is important since it has legitimate power that implements the state’s power on behalf of the country. In China, the terms state and government are interchangeable since the government has a high degree of formal, centralized power in the country.
The relationship between volunteerism and the state is complex. On the one hand, “to volunteer is to choose to act with an attitude of social responsibility when a need is recognized, without concern for tangible gain” (Dunn, 1995, p. 2483). In this regard, the government may actively promote volunteerism because volunteerism represents a moral superiority, which not only improves the nation’s economic development but also enhances social cohesion (de Tocqueville, 2000; Xu & Ngai, 2011). On the other hand, the spirit of volunteerism emphasizes free will, which means that people choose to act without coercion. Organized volunteering is not limited to altruism; it can actually help people who are not involved in politics pursue freedom, opportunity, safety, and social justice (de Tocqueville, 2000; White, Howell, & Shang, 1996). As a result, governments in autocratic countries regard such volunteerism as a challenge to their authority.
In other words, since most governments in developing countries are committed to two important tasks—promoting national development and maintaining the existing regime—the state is likely to support some types of volunteerism (e.g., volunteering in nonpolitical welfare services) while attempting to control other forms of volunteerism (e.g., advocacy and legal support volunteering). Given that the current rate of adult volunteerism in developing nations is much lower than in developed countries (Anheier & Salamon, 2006), solid knowledge about the relationship between volunteerism and the state in developing countries has been limited. Based on a comprehensive literature review and interview data from a study undertaken between 2006 and 2014 (Xu, 2014 ; Xu & Ngai, 2011), this chapter applies the moral resources and political capital perspective to examine the role of the state in promoting volunteerism in an ever-changing China.
-  For example, in 1995, 43 % of adults volunteered in the Netherlands (Gaskin & Smith, 1997,pp. 28-31), while in China, the volunteering rate was only 3 % in 2005 (Pan, 2005).