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In Search of Civil SocietyMarket Reform and Social Change in Contemporary China$

Gordon White, Jude A. Howell, and Shang Xiaoyuan

Print publication date: 1996

Print ISBN-13: 9780198289562

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198289562.001.0001

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(p.219) Methodological Appendix

(p.219) Methodological Appendix

In Search of Civil Society
Oxford University Press

This book is based in large part on six sources of information: government documents (both published and unpublished) pertaining to social organizations; published and unpublished documents produced by social organizations themselves; official publications and statistical compendia; scholarly research reports and articles provided or published by Chinese social scientists; interview notes amounting to over four million characters (in both Chinese and English) generated from our three field visits to China between 1991 and 1993, with supplementary information from otherwise unrelated field visits in 1994; and data from 4,000 people reached through three sample surveys conducted in 1992. The last two sources were particularly important since the issue of ‘civil society’ is a new topic for empirical research in China which is politically sensitive and on which there are very few existing materials of relevance. We derive our main findings from the empirical materials collected in our field investigations. Our methodological approach was ‘pluralistic’ in that we used a variety of methods and tried to avoid overreliance on any one of them, rather attempting to use the strong points of each to build up an overall picture in the manner of a mosaic.

Our research proceeded with the following steps. First, we decided to concentrate on the urban sector with a rural case-study to provide a comparative benchmark. With this in mind we selected four research sites along the urban-rural continuum, including one large city, one medium-sized city, one small county-level city with a large rural hinterland, and one rapidly modernizing rural county. Second, we collected documentary materials on the social, economic, and political backgrounds of the four research sites. Third, we conducted over 300 in-depth interviews with people from relevant enterprises, government departments, social organizations, and individuals from our three targeted social groups (urban manual workers, women, and enterprise managers). Fourth, using the first batch of in-depth interviews to guide the preparation of questionnaires, we organized sample surveys in two Chinese cities on the three social groups, with the help of Chinese statistical experts, well-trained survey supervisors, and interviewers.

The research sites were as follows: Shenyang, a large heavy-industrial city which is the capital of Liaoning province and a major regional centre for the North-East; Nantong, a middle-sized light-industrial city at the prefectural level in Jiangsu province, one of the first fourteen cities in China to be opened to the outside world in the early years of the reform era; Xiaoshan, a rapidly modernizing rural county which was transformed into a county-level city in 1988, located in the suburbs of the large city of Hangzhou in Zhejiang province; and Nanhai, a rapidly developing rural county in a relatively rich part of Guangdong province. These locations represent relatively developed and well-off areas of the country and were chosen because this is where we expected to find social organizations emerging as a new social phenomenon. Together with our investigation of national-level social organizations conducted in Beijing, these cases allowed us to look at social organizations at several levels of the political system, from the national to the municipal, county and town levels (with the exception of the provincial level).

(p.220) The sample surveys of three social groups were conducted in the cities of Shenyang and Nantong. The two cities differ in terms of regional location, size, and economic profile. The sample surveys were selected by a multi-stage, probability, and random method, the respondents for the surveys of women and workers being selected from families sampled from residents’ committees in each city, and for the managers/ entrepreneurs from eighty different types of enterprises in each city. The method of sampling in the two cities was similar to facilitate comparison. The number of stages for the surveys of women and workers in the two cities is different because the scale of the target population in the two cities is significantly different. There are three stages in Shenyang and two stages in Nantong. The size of the samples in the two cities are the same since the size of all three target populations in both cities are theoretically large enough. In each city, sixty neighbourhood committees were selected and in each one of these, fourteen families were selected as sample families. The sampling design required interviewers to use a Kish sampling table to select one respondent in each family in order that the distribution of samples could represent the targeted populations as far as possible. Turning to the survey of managers/entrepreneurs, we sampled eighty enterprises in each city from six stages decided according to the size and ownership of enterprises officially registered in both cities. Four main leaders of each enterprise were selected as respondents. In all, 4,000 questionnaires were issued (1,680 for women, 1,680 for workers, and 640 for managers/entrepreneurs) according to the sampling design, of which 3,575 were returned and 3,501 were considered valid.

Our personal and institutional interviews were conducted both by ourselves and by co-operating Chinese scholars, in particular from the Institute of Sociology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. Interviews varied in terms of their degree of formality. Interviews with individuals tended to be more frank and free-flowing, whereas more official interviews with government departments and social organizations tended to be more structured and formal. In general, however, especially in light of the potential political sensitivity of the topic, the conversations were relatively free, frank, and friendly.