Ji Ma, Simon DeDeo
In response to failures of central planning, the Chinese government has experimented not only with free-market trade zones, but with allowing non-profit foundations to operate in a decentralized fashion. A network study shows how these foundations have connected together by sharing board members, in a structural parallel to what is seen in corporations in the United States and Europe. This board interlocking leads to the emergence of an elite group with privileged network positions. While the presence of government officials on non-profit boards is widespread, government officials are much less common in a subgroup of foundations that control just over half of all revenue in the network. This subgroup, associated with business elites, not only enjoys higher levels of within-elite links, but even preferentially excludes government officials from the NGOs with higher degree. The emergence of this structurally autonomous sphere is associated with major political and social events in the state–society relationship. Cluster analysis reveals multiple internal components within this sphere that share similar levels of network influence. Rather than a core-periphery structure centered around government officials, the Chinese non-profit world appears to be a multipolar one of distinct elite groups, many of which achieve high levels of independence from direct government control.
J.M. thanks Dr. Zhaonan Zhu and Bin Chen for assistance with coding; Qun Wang and the RICF data quality team for data collection and data quality control. S.D. thanks the Santa Fe Institute and the Alan Turing Institute for their hospitality while this work was completed. We thank Dr. Peter Frumkin and the 2016 Penn Summer Doctoral Fellows Program fellows, Dr. Richard Steinberg, Dr. Lehn Benjamin, Dr. Bin Chen, Dr. Xinsong Wang, Xunyu Xiang, Xiaoyun Wang, Bradi Heaberlin, and Torrin Liddell for their valuable comments. The RICF project is supported in part by the Dunhe Foundation.