Development and Urbanization
Middle-class urbanites in South China often mentioned embezzlement, abusive use of donations, and lack of transparency among state-affiliated charity organizations to explain to us why they started to practice philanthropy through non-governmental organizations such as Guangdong Lions Clubs, the first internationally affiliated service team organization in China. The rise of this organization is part of a larger social movement calling for the modernization of the philanthropic sector and the introduction of new international standards of “good practice” capable of curbing corruption. This paper draws on longitudinal fieldwork research (2012-2018) with one of the most active service teams of Guangdong Lions Clubs to show how suspicions and accusations of corruption play an important role in the on-the-ground work of defining good philanthropic practices. What counts as corruption? Under what circumstances reciprocal relationships and personalistic exchanges become practices of corruption? Is corruption always bad? What if some degree of corruption is necessary to extend help to those in need? Has the new focus on transparency and accountability resulted in less corruption or more corruption? We explore these questions in the context of a larger dialectic of corruption and anti-corruption, shaped by increasing tensions between government and private business sector, and growing structural inequalities in Chinese society. We argue that corruption and anti-corruption do not need to be conceptualized as two discrete things but, rather, as one complex phenomenon, as each anti-corruption effort transforms the logic of corrupt practices and each corrupt practice generates new ethical (and legal) discussions on anti-corruption measures.