A Market Research NGO's Troubles Illustrate Broader Problems for Civil Society Groups

May 6, 2005

Difficulties faced by a market research association illustrate broader problems that face Chinese civil society groups, as discussed in an April 6 analysis in the 21st Century Business Herald. These difficulties illustrate two broader problems facing Chinese civil society groups. First, the revenue-seeking behavior of government bureaus often leads them into conflict with successful civil society organizations. Second, excessive government regulations constrain the ability of Chinese society organizations to respond to these challenges.

The Market Analysis Organization (MAO) is a self-organized association that comprises private firms and government bureaus. Members had difficulties trying to register the organization. The Bureau of Statistics denied initial requests for official sponsorship in 1998, then, after a four-year delay, the MAO successfully registered in 2001 under China Information Association sponsorship. MAO has since achieved financial independence, supporting itself by providing market research and other services. MAO's financial success appears to have inspired the Bureau of Statistics to establish a competing group, the Market Information Survey Association (MISA). Formed in 2004, MISA's top officers are all current officials in the Bureau of Statistics, while MISA's permanent committee is actually the Bureau's research arm.

Growth of the state-controlled MISA has gradually weakened the more independent MAO. MAO's membership has declined from 200 in 2001 to about 60 in 2005. Most provincial government statistical bureaus, previously MAO members, have moved to MISA. MAO's weakness stems in part from regulatory constraints. MAO is a "second-tier" industrial association, unable to establish sub-branches around the country. Authorities have also repeatedly refused to grant MAO a book number for its industry journal, thereby blocking publication. MISA's publications have encountered no such problems.