The Hanna Holborn Gray Fellowships offer funded independent research in the humanities. We're highlighting the research of this year's fellows in a series of online profiles.
Anqi Yan (HC '21), Growth and Structure of Cities: "Collaborative Governance and Consultative Authoritarianism for Better Governance: A Study of Interactions between China’s Environmental NGOs and Local Governments"
Abstract: Exploring interactions between local environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) and local governments in Guangzhou and Shenzhen, China, this research applies theories of consultative authoritarianism and collaborative governance on a current national environmental policy, the River Chief System, in China. Through looking at national and local government propaganda, regulations and policies on water management, NGOs, and civil society, as well as the two case studies of ENGOs and research interviews with employees of these two ENGOs, this paper finds that formal channels to participate in policymaking for ENGOs remain open and vibrant, which fosters the development of civil society. Simultaneously, local governments have been co-opting ENGOs as an indirect governance tool to improve local governance and further legitimize the authoritarian regime. This paper argues that seeing the potential of civil society as a governance tool, through adopting consultative authoritarianism and collaborative governance, local governments encourages the development of a relatively autonomous civil society that does not undermine their legitimacy. However, the consultative and collaborative interactions between local governments and ENGOs cannot provide the basis for democratization. Instead, they promote a more reticent authoritarian authority.
Was there anything surprising about the work you did for your project?
The most surprising thing would be research interviews. Conducting research interviews in the States with my participants in China was a challenging task. And I was surprised that the degree that local governments have co-opted these ENGOs was much more severe than what I had thought. Many research papers I've read on this topic imply that ENGOs in China are gaining more autonomy. Yet, based on my study on ENGOs in two mainland China cities, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, I found that they are losing their autonomy/independence under the current political environment.
How will you use your research in future studies?
I will use my HHG research for my thesis. My thesis will be focusing on civil society in some parts of China (I can probably only speak on the two cities I've studied). Specifically, the thesis is about how political language and interactions between local governments and environmentalists shape and manipulate the notion of civil society to justify their activities. I try to compare two agents of environmentalists: ENGOs, which were co-opted by local governments to serve as the "third department," and environmental litigators who directly confronted local governments and generally held a confrontational and a more aggressive stance.
How did you choose/what made you choose your research topic?
During the summer of my junior year, I went back to China and emailed a public policy professor at Sun Yat-Sen University for his insights in this field. The conversation went pretty well. He asked me to be his research assistant for his investigation of the River Chief System, an emerging national environmental regulation (or policy experiment), and government policies regarding this environmental regulation. I was surprised to see the potential of environmental issues to generate a nascent democratization process in China, though my research paper ultimately refutes this idea.
The Hanna Holborn Gray Fellowships offer funded independent research in the humanities. Each summer, Bryn Mawr College awards up to 15 students a summer fellowship of $4,500 to undertake an independent research project in the humanities or humanistic social sciences. The research may either be the beginning of the senior thesis or a project that stands alone, but is relevant to their intellectual interests and must be supported by a faculty advisor.