Society and Identity
Following the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008, the disaster-affected areas in Sichuan Province witnessed a rapid influx of a large number of NGOs offering help to rehabilitation and reconstruction. The devastating natural disaster posed a multitude of challenges to local officials, motivating them to seek innovative approaches and potential partners in the emerging civil society to address various daunting governance problems. This study, based on ten years of ethnography research in six cities in Sichuan after the Wenchuan earthquake, delineates local officials’ dispersed innovation collaborations with NGOs. The collaboration patterns include “grasping at straws”, “accepting all rivers”, “orchestrating concerted efforts” and “training helpful assistants”, the variation of which is explained by the local government’s NGO network breadth and resource autonomy. It is a story of the Chinese local state “packaging” NGOs. Local officials have assumed the role of both gatekeeper and entrepreneur, making a highly conscious effort to select and mould “reliable” NGOs into desirable shapes, and then using the material resources, professional expertise, social networks and symbolic capital that the NGOs bring in to engineer governance innovations and government branding.