Reflections on civil society thoughts in the field of rural sociology: an analysis based on theory, history and reality

WANG Juan1

(1.Colleague of Marxism, Huazhong Agricultural University)

【Abstract】Civil society is an ideological theory about the relationship between the state and society abstracted from the development of the Western history. Civil society theory has a long history and can be traced back to ancient Greece. Its viewpoints are different in different historical and theoretical stages of development. In the 1990s, it was introduced into China, and quickly attracted the enthusiastic attention of scholars in the fields of politics, sociology, history and so on. In the field of rural sociology, scholars discuss civil society and its construction in rural areas in the light of China’s rural social development, new rural construction practices and rural governance. Meanwhile, some problems need further discussion. With regard to a definition of civil society, different researchers emphasize different elements of this concept based on their own research objects, which seemingly correspond to the elements of civil society, but in essence, it is hard to say that there is no structure and spirit deviation. At the same time, researchers in this field tend to regard civil society as an ideal goal rather than an interpretation pattern. So they pay more attention to the rationality, advantages and functions of civil society without full understanding of the essential characteristic of civil society. The historical period from the late Qing Dynasty to the early period since the founding of the People’s Republic of China has been regarded by some researchers as an embryonic period of civil society, and the implementation of villagers’ autonomy after the reform and opening up has been regarded as the symbol of the development and even formation of civil society. The so-called civil society and civil society organizations in rural areas of China in these historical periods are essentially different from civil society. Even today, rural social organizations in China are not spontaneous social organizations formed by the people, but new social organizations are embedded in the local governance structure led by the government. It is inappropriate to regard these social organizations as civil society organizations or the germination of civil society. Therefore, civil society is not in line with the reality of China’s rural social development, nor is it the future direction of China’s rural development. Social construction is an important part of the overall layout of socialism with Chinese characteristics. Under the background of the rural revitalization strategy, the study of rural social development needs to actively grasp the relationship between the state and society, and explore the development model of positive interaction between localized social organizations and the government.

【Keywords】 rural sociology; civil society; civic society; social organization;


【Funds】 National Social Science Fund of China (17BKS150)

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(Translated by Lin Jing)


    [1]. ① Out of respect for the original text, the translation of “civic society” is still retained in this paper when literature on civil society studies is quoted directly. [^Back]

    [2]. ① [Germany] Marx, K. & Engels, F. in 马克思恩格斯选集(第1卷). Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 87–88 (1995). [^Back]

    [3]. ② [Germany] Marx, K. & Engels, F. in 马克思恩格斯选集(第1卷). Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 130–131 (1995). [^Back]

    [4]. ① This point of view is from Xia, W. 中国社会科学季刊, (4): (1993). Since original literature is not available, here it is quoted from Min, J. (2005). [^Back]

    [5]. ② This point of view is from Xiao, G. 中国社会科学季刊, (4) (1993). Since original literature is not available, here it is quoted from Min, J. (2005). [^Back]

    [6]. ① The current Organic Law of the Villagers’ Committee of the People’s Republic of China was revised at the 17th Session of the Standing Committee of the 11th National People’s Congress on October 28, 2010, which was promulgated and implemented on October 28, 2010. Here it refers to the Organic Law of the Villagers’ Committee of the People’s Republic of China passed at the Fifth Session of the Standing Committee of the Ninth National People’s Congress on November 4, 1998, which was promulgated and implemented on November 4, 1998. [^Back]

    [7]. ① The earliest known source of this view is from Yang, N. Twenty-First Century(二十一世纪), (32): (1995). Since original literature is not available, it is quoted from Min, J. (2005). [^Back]

    [8]. ① The eastern coastal areas include Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Liaoning, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Fujian, Shandong, Guangdong, Hainan. The central inland areas include Shanxi, Jilin, Heilongjiang, Anhui, Jiangxi, Henan, Hubei, Hunan. The remote Western regions include Chongqing, Sichuan, Guizhou, Yunnan, Xizang, Shaanxi, Gansu, Qinghai, Ningxia, Xinjiang, Guangxi, and Inner Mongolia. [^Back]

    [9]. ① [^Back]

    [10]. ② The “five veterans” refer to the minors-helping group consisting of veteran cadres, soldiers, experts, teachers and models; the “five students” refer to the five kinds of special students who are left-behind students, students with learning difficulties, extremely poor students, students with single parents and disabled students. [^Back]

    [11]. ① 推进农村改革发展的伟大纲领. Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 19 (2008). [^Back]

    [12]. Decision of the Central Committee of The Communist Party of China on Some Major Issues Concerning Comprehensively Deepening the Reform in 十八大以来重要文献选编(上). Beijing: Central Party Literature Press, 528 (2014). [^Back]

    [13]. ③ Xi, J. Secure a Decisive Victory in Building a Moderately Prosperous Society in All Respects and Strive for the Great Success of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era—Delivered at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 18 (2017). [^Back]


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This Article


CN: 11-3586/F

Vol , No. 06, Pages 128-141

November 2018


Article Outline


  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 Theoretical dimension: complexity of civil society theory and partiality of conceptual understanding
  • 3 Historical dimension: the concreteness of civil society and particularity of Chinese rural society
  • 4 The realistic dimension: the prescriptive characteristic of civil society organizations and the uniqueness of the Chinese rural social organizations
  • 5 Conclusions
  • Footnote