A staple of political theory is that democracy depends on a vibrant civil society. What are the indicators of such a society? Is it the number of voluntary associations, their relative independence from government, the content of their activities, their systemic relationships with one another—and/or the way the relationships among these variables are evolving over time? In this paper, I place special emphasis on the systemic relationships among civil society organisations and their evolution over time, and I revisit some of the findings from the book Democracy’s Dharma to show how this emphasis might offer a new perspective on the development of Taiwan’s civil society today.
Any assessment of the role of Christianity and Chinese civil society has to take into account the multiplicity of forms of Christianity and visions of civil society. The forms of Christianity differ not only by denomination but by local context. Visions of civil society are arrayed on a spectrum from liberal to corporatist. One condition for this diversity has been a porous government apparatus in which commands from the center have had difficulty making it to the grassroots and local officials have been able to modify policies in response to particular relationships and concrete circumstances. Xi Jinping has been trying to exert more central control and to suppress such diversity, but he probably will not succeed in homogenizing the culture. Meanwhile, Christianity’s thrust toward transcendence will always leave open the possibility of radical critique.