Strength in Numbers and Voice: An Assessment of the Networking Capacity of Chinese ENGOs

  • Shapiro, Matthew A. (Department of Social Sciences, Illinois Institute of Technology) ;
  • Brunner, Elizabeth (Department of Communication, Media, & Persuasion, Idaho State University) ;
  • Li, Hui
  • Published : 2018.12.31


Under authoritarian regimes, citizen-led NGOs such as environmental NGOs (ENGOs) often operate under close scrutiny of the government. While this presents a challenge to a single ENGO, we propose here - in line with existing research on network effects - that there are opportunities for multiple ENGOs to coordinate and thus work in ways that supersede government controls, affect public opinion, and contribute to policy revision and/or creation. In this paper, we specifically examine the possibility that the gamut of citizen-based ENGOs in China are coordinating. Based on network analysis of ENGOs web pages as well as interviews with more than a dozen ENGO leaders between 2014 and 2016, we find that ENGOs have few direct and public connections to each other, but social media sites and personal connections offline provide a crucial function in creating bridges. A closer examination of these bridges reveals, however, that they can be substantive to the environmental discussion or functional to the dissemination of web page information but typically not both. In short, ENGOs in China are not directly connected but rather are connected in a way that responds to the available social media and the government's censorship practices.

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Figure 1 Micro-network and groups of 116 citizen-launched ENGOs’ URLs

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Figure 2 Full network and groups of 116 citizen-launched ENGOs’ URLs plus all citing/cited nodes

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Figure 4 Enlargement of core area from Figure 3

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Figure 6 Enlargement of core area from Figure 5.

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Figure 3 Full network, without groups, of 116 citizen-launched ENGOs’ URLs plus citing/cited nodes

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Figure 5 Full network, without groups or trimmed domains, of 116 citizen-launched ENGOs’ URLs and following/followed nodes

Table 1. Attributes of the groups from the micro-network of 116 seed URLs

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Table 2. Properties of the most central 25 seed-nodes based on the entire network

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Table 3. The 25 most central non-seed nodes, grouped by web page type

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Table 4. Properties of most central 25 seed-nodes based on the entire network, no trimmed domains

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Table 5. The 25 most central non-seed nodes, no trimmed domains

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