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Jennifer Y.J. Hsu

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Jennifer Y.J. Hsu and Reza Hasmath

This chapter explores the role of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) as welfare providers and the difficulties they face during the reform era. Since 1978, the move toward a market economy has led to the dismantling of the old support system distributed via the work unit (danwei) and communes. The liberalisation of the welfare system has left millions of Chinese citizens with no or an inadequate support system. Systemic social reforms did not take off until the turn of the 21st century. Reforms were informed by various local experiments, with local governments responsible for new and innovative solutions. As a result, various novel methods of delivering welfare assistance were developed by both State and non-State stakeholders to fulfil such responsibilities, with NGOs playing a growing role. The devolution of responsibility, since the late 1970s, from the Central level down to the lowest levels of government, created opportunities from the 1990s onward for NGOs to engage with broader segments of society. Nevertheless, we argue in this chapter that the institutional and internal organisational constraints that beset NGOs can provide us with a clearer picture and more realistic expectations of what NGOs can achieve as welfare providers. We contextualise and support our argument with a case study of welfare NGOs in the city of Nanjing, in order to demonstrate some of the obstacles that NGOs face in conducting their work in China in general.