Overview of the Chinese Publishing Market for the NGO Sector

China Development Brief no. 48 (Winter 2010)

中文 English

This article provides a broad and useful overview and evaluation of NGO publications in China. Included in his overview is our very own China Development Brief. 

When looking at this article’s title, many peoples’ first reaction perhaps is to ask: “What are NGO books? Are they just any book published by an NGO or do they also include all published books containing NGO-related content? Does it merely refer to books with an ISSN number or does it also include in-house and informal publications?”

Whether looking at the modern library classification systems or the NGO sector’s own delineations, “NGO books” do not have an agreed upon definition. The original intention of this article was to comb through and analyze all existing materials in the field of NGO publications, whether official or unofficial. However, due to my limited exposure and knowledge, this article’s emphasis is on official publications of NGO-related content.

“The Academics”: a Focus on NGO Management

By searching the databases of the National Library and that of the Beijing University Library, I made a general accounting of all domestic literature and foreign translated works of publicly published materials with NGO-related content.. (Due to space constraints, I am unable to list the published materials. Interested readers can email office@cdb.org.cn with a request)

Statistics show that domestically published materials on NGO management basically emerged after 2000, and began a steady upward trend. Over time, three aspects can be observed: one, research on civil society and the social sector; two, collections on Western NGOs and social work (particularly American); and three, capacity building for domestic NGOs.

Beginning in the mid to late 1990’s, China’s academic and research institutions started to be concerned with “civil society and the third sector1”. This was not only related to the development of China’s market economy, but was also closely linked to a period when the academic community was enthusiastic about theories on “Civil Society and the Public Sphere”. The1995 United Nations World Conference on Women held in Beijing can be regarded as the first large-scale debut of NGOs in China. This event triggered a number of publications that introduced the organizational and operational practices of foreign NGOs, but overall, they were still relatively few. Since 2000, with the huge rise of Chinese management schools, a succession of works on western NGO management and social work was introduced into China. Translations of these works served as teaching materials for university MPAs, with the majority of these writings coming from European and American materials, especially the U.S. Drawing on the management experience of foreign NGO, scholars and practitioners began to compile works on domestic NGO management and capacity building2.

From analysis of the content of the published materials I found the following: first, most of the works (including translated works) are focused on NGO management concepts. These make up commonly used teaching materials and are similar in content. Second, these NGO management materials are comprised of “foreign theories mixed with applicable local practices”. Third, there is no specific theory of the complex, multi-tiered issues surrounding NGO survival and development in China. For example, NGO legal policy, internal and external governance, financial management and operations, strategic marketing, etc., all lack a specialized discourse. Indeed, local resources in this area are still weak, most have learned from the theories and practical experience of foreign pioneers. However, in terms of quantity and quality, translated foreign works are seriously inadequate.

In addition, the target audience of these publications are university students and professors, (especially in management studies, social work studies and similar professional fields), as well as NGO practitioners and NGO research institutions. These publications are generally not intended for the general public or for the urban middle classes (i.e. white-collar workers or civil servants, etc.). However, the development and growth of civil society, to a large extent, is dependent on the strength and growth of the middle class. With this in mind, the author considers current NGO publications as “academic” writing.

Overall, in terms of quantity and content on NGO development, publications related to NGOs are still at an early stage. In terms of both theory and practice, the knowledge resources for cultivating mainland civil society and the development of NGOs mainly come from abroad, especially from the developed European and North American countries.

It is worth mentioning, since the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, published materials reflect the accelerated development of Mainland civil society, not only on topics of “social impact” and “disaster relief and management”, but also a whole series on foundation governance. To a certain extent, the large-scale disaster and the support from all sectors of society pushed these foundations into disaster management and this required foundations to seek out better management practices suitable to the local environment.

“The Actors”: Publications on Areas of Interest to NGOs

These types of books are different from the ones discussed above. In this category, the NGO themselves are the actors and the content consists of their work and their field of interest. In such publications, NGOs participate in publishing, mainly for providing resources to other organizations or individuals concerned with the NGO sector. This is especially true for international foundations or government-backed foundations with “China at the front of their name”3.

Secondly for those NGOs engaged with project, they leverage their experience to provide content and edit publications. Because the areas of greatest concern to international NGOs include poverty alleviation, disaster relief, medicine, public health, education as well as other areas, while the overall number is relatively impressive, these materials are not produced systematically and address a diverse range of topics.

Most such books, except for some official publications, are informal publications of projects and project processes that are first published in-house as reference materials. Because of the unique aspects of the issues concerning NGOs and their working style, these publications only appeal to a relatively small audience. Because most publishers are market driven, their interest in these types of publications is not great. In fact, publishers often obtain a subsidy to publish these materials. In terms of distribution, the publishers have no incentive to promote them. Most of them are purchased by the authors to distribute themselves. Overall, these books can be said “not to follow the logic of the market.”

Journal Publishing: Surviving Between the Cracks

The use of journals as a way to present the situation and the growth of the NGO movement is basically in an “underground” state. Given the current limitations of the domestic publishing system, basically none have ISSN numbers. Including those that emerged early, and have been most influential, they are basically all informal publications, but there have been many twists and turns in this process.

Aside from the above journals that reflect the dynamics of the industry, the more informal publication of journals on NGO work are published as newsletters and briefs. The better-known ones include “Friends of Nature Newsletter”, “Fuping Home Management Newsletter”, “Home of Working Women Newsletter” and so on. There are many of this type of journal. Basically, they are scattered among different NGO sectors. Their social impact and the effects of their dissemination, to a large extent depends on the NGO’s own social influence.  Of these journals, those published by NGOs in the area of environmental education and social advocacy, such as Friends of Nature, are more influential.

Overall, these journals are free of charge. Their impact is mainly restricted to their particular NGO sector, with relatively little impact on society at large.

A New Force: Online Publishing Flourishes

With the development of the “Internet Age” promoting information sharing and publication online, the Internet has become a important tool for NGOs. The methods of publishing online consist of: first, publishing electronic books in tandem with print publications; and second, publishing periodicals and other communications exclusively online. Major distribution channels are online subscription, internet downloads, e-mail blasts, and people-to-people (SNS). At present, a fairly influential electronic publication is “NGOCN Communication” (now renamed “NGOCN e-Newsletter”). It has the latest and most comprehensive information and is very well received by the industry.

This type of electronic publication has a difficult time competing with websites, blogs, and microblogs that provide online information sharing platforms. However, from the depth, breadth and comprehensiveness of their content, electronic publications have their advantages. But the writing needs to adapt to the psychology and habits of readers of the “Internet Age”, and must develop a corresponding electronic publication format.  Currently, electronic publications in the NGO field are just reproductions of paper publications. They have not developed the forms suited to the habits of internet readers, such as by refining their articles, adding links to relevant information, and leveraging new reading software. The development of electronic NGO field publications has a long way to go.

“Industry publishers” in the NGO sector

The above comments are based on the forms of publication, yet if one were to observe the publications industry in the NGO field, what would the professional NGO organization that specializes in publishing look like.

Most domestic NGOs position themselves as “action-takers”, the vast majority are engaged in activities or projects that improve society, but when they regard publications as a way of achieving their goals, then the NGO will plan some publications as a part of their project. Almost no international NGOs publish as their main means of promotion or advocacy work in China. Although these international NGOs mostly push the universality of the Western system and principles in China, when specific action plans are made, they generally cooperate with the government and mainly engage in concrete project-related work.

Only a few domestic NGOs are clearly positioned to engage in NGO research, education, training or advocacy. The most representative NGOs, with relatively large impact, are the NPO Information Consulting Center and the China Development Brief. The former is an organization that provides specialized information and advisory services to the NGO sector. Publications are a major portion of their work. In the ten years since their establishment, the NPO Center has organized translations, and edited over a dozen educational texts on NGO management, project planning, financial management, legal regulation, and governance. Many works come from the teaching materials of this organization. Consequently, such publications are used in many types of NGO trainings and thus have gained a wide audience. At the same time, it founded the “NPO Review” (now called “The Social Entrepreneur” magazine), which has a relatively large impact on the industry.

The China Development Brief takes the form of a series. Within the industry, its reports and analysis is more comprehensive and in-depth. Over time, it has experienced a process of gradual localization and specialization.

Tsinghua University’s School of Public Policy and Management’s NGO Resarch Institute began teaching about and researching NGOs relatively early. In order to fulfill their basic teaching and research requirements, the NGO Research Institute planned a set of theoretical essays on NGOs that included both translated Western works and a number of writings by domestic researchers. However, overall, most of their writing contributes little in the way of innovation and their impact outside the college is very small.

The Institute for Civil Society at Sun Yat-sen University has made a significant attempt to do action research and create domestic case studies. A portion of their publications embody this goal. There is also the Peking University Center for Civil Society Studies, the NPO Research Center at Renmin University and other organizations where publishing research is an important part of their work.

These organizations mostly pay attention to the content of NGO publications. From book planning and distribution and other perspective, they cannot be called professional. Strictly speaking, the domestic NGO sector has no “professional publisher”.

The Prospects for Chinese-language NGO Publications

From the above mentioned study, it is easy to see the special features of Chinese-language NGO publications:

First, the level of marketization of these publications is low and their readership is limited. This is fundamentally related to the rather low level of development of China’s civil society organizations – the social sector has only just begun to develop. The “partnership between government, industry, and NGOs” that exists in Western countries is still non-existent in China. NGOs in China do not yet count for one-third of the whole, and this fact determines that NGOs’ publishing strategy cannot completely take a market-oriented path, and so they cannot completely move toward profit-driven models.

Second, while publications on civil society and the NGO/development field have a certain degree of influence, that influence is mostly limited to “insiders”. These publications lack depth and breadth. This type of publication is mainly reflected in translations of foreign NGO theory and practice, such as the “Oxfam Library” series, as well as in the thinking and actions of China’s civil society, as in the former “Minjian” series and the “人间丛书系列” series4. But in terms of their numbers, scope of coverage (only limited to NGO management and fund-raising), and depth, none compare positively to publications from developed areas such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, America, and Europe.

Third, publication projects are mostly managed unprofessionally. Professional publishing talent is in short supply. This is most apparent for published books that are self-funded. This situation results in poor economic returns and their social impact is difficult to see.

Based on the above observations, I am now free to make the following analysis on the future of Mainland Chinese-language NGO publications:

In my opinion, over the long-term, publications covering the NGO field will be driven primarily by social impact, while also considering the economic benefits, and thus seek to balance the public interest with market considerations. Perhaps because of the economic times, we must face reality and feel helpless – we will not get as rich as traditional humanities authors nor can we out-compete those that peddle finance or management books. Instead, we will need to be accorded special support. But, in the long run, with care and support, these humanities and social science texts will really possess everlasting value.

Management theories from foreign NGOs and published translated case studies are still very necessary, and along with the developing trend of service to the community, they will gain greater readership. In addition, there is much room for development of both formal and informal publications, such as circulars, newsletters, and reports, in promoting civic education and policy advocacy.

Publications serve as a comprehensive platform for displaying the work and project results of NGOs. In terms of long-term effectiveness in disseminating information, they hold advantages over online communications, newspaper, television and radio and other traditional media.  This point should be incorporated into the planning, principles and priorities for NGOs planning publications. And these types of publications, for a long time into the future, will continue to be the mainstream of Chinese-language NGO publications.


  1. Editor’s Note: The third sector refers to the voluntary, nonprofit sector.  The first sector is government and the second sector is business. 

  2. Editor’s Note: The term “capacity building” is often used to refer to developing the organizational capacity and skills of NGOs so they can more effectively meet their mission and goals.  Areas commonly focused on include strategic planning, financial management, governance, project development, and fundraising. 

  3. Editor’s Note: National foundations with “China” in the front of their name are considered GONGOs.  Examples include China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation, China Youth Development Foundation, etc. 

  4. Editor’s Note: “Minjian”, which translates literally into “from the people”, was a journal published under the auspices of the Civil Society Center at Sun Yatsen University. It was closed down by authorities in July of 2007, about the same time as the shutting down of the English-language China Development Brief.  人间丛书系列 was a series of books published by Oxfam Hong Kong. 

国内NGO中文图书出版行情观察 

刘迪志

中国发展简报2010冬季刊第48卷

看到这个标题,很多人的第一反应可能是:“何谓NGO图书?是泛指所有由NGO参与出版的图书呢,还是以NGO为内容的出版物?是仅指以国际书刊号正式出版的图书,还是也包括一些机构内部印行的非正式出版物?”

无论从现代图书分类目录,还是NGO行业的认知情况看,“NGO图书”都没有一个统一的界定。本文意在对NGO领域存在的出版物作一个总体性梳理和分析,举凡以NGO为内容,或者由NGO参与出版的各种正式、非正式出版物,皆在考察之列。不过,限于笔者的接触和了解,本文重点考察以NGO为内容的正式出版物。

“学院派”:以NGO的组织管理为内容的出版物

通过检索国家图书馆和北大图书馆的馆藏图书数据库,笔者对1994年以来国内著作和国外译著中,以NGO为内容的公开出版物情况,做了一个大致统计(由于篇幅限制,无法一一列出作者所统计的公开出版物名单,感兴趣的读者可发邮件至office@cdb.org.cn索取) 。

统计显示,国内以NGO的组织管理为内容的公开出版物,基本是2000年以后出现的,而且呈现逐渐增加的趋势。从发展时序来看这些出版物,其表现为:第一,公民社会与第三部门研究;第二,西方NGO及社会工作译丛(其中又以美国为主);第三,本土NGO管理能力建设。

最早是在1990年代中后期,内地学术研究机构开始对“公民社会及第三部门”的关注。这不但与中国市场经济的深入发展相关,也与其时学术界热衷的“市民社会与公共领域”理论紧密相连。1995年在北京举办的世界妇女大会,可算是NGO组织在国内第一次较大规模的亮相。此后引发了一批介绍国外NGO组织运作实务的图书,但总体而言仍比较零散。自2000年以来,随着国内管理学浪潮的兴起,陆续有一些西方NGO管理及社会工作的著作被引入国内。翻译这些著作是为了服务于大学行政管理专业的教学,大部分著作都以欧美教材(特别是美国)居多。在借鉴国外NGO管理学经验基础上,陆续有学者及实务工作者开始对本土NGO管理能力建设进行著述。

通过对这些出版物的内容作进一步考察,笔者发现:第一,大多数著作(包括译著)集中于NGO管理概述,属于教材普及性,且内容大同小异;第二,本土NGO管理类著述多体现为“国外理论(或纸面经验)+本土实践”,实际上是“理论实践两张皮,貌合而神离”;第三,对于NGO生存与发展的多层面问题及其复杂性,缺乏专著性论述。如在NGO的法律政策背景、内外部治理、财务管理与运作、战略营销等方面,都缺乏专门论述。确实,此方面的本土资源目前还乏善可陈,更多是借鉴国外先行者的理论与实践经验。然而从国外译介著作来看,无论在数量还是质量上,仍然是严重不足。

此外,从这些出版物的目标读者群来看,高校师生(尤其是行政管理学、社会工作者等专业背景者)、NGO从业人员(含NGO研究机构)是其主体,基本上没有面向普通公众、城市中产阶级(企业白领、公务员等)群体的出版物。而NGO的发展及公民社会的生成与壮大,很大程度上可说是与中产阶级的壮大一脉相承。在此意义上,笔者暂把目前以NGO为内容的公开出版物,统称为“学院派”著述。

总体而言,无论从出版物的数量,还是出版内容所涵涉NGO发展的主题,内地NGO图书出版还处于起步阶段。而内地关于公民社会培育与NGO发展的智力资源,从理论到实践,目前主要来自国外,特别是欧美发达国家。

值得一提的,2008年汶川地震以来,国内公民社会的加速发展在NGO图书出版方面也有所反映——除了涌现出一批关于“社会响应”和“灾害救济及管理”方面的著述,也出现了一系列关于基金会治理的图书。在一定程度上,这或许反映了把整合社会力量参与重大灾害的基金会推上了前台,并寻求一种对立足本土的善治的迫切需求。

至于以NGO为内容的非公开出版物,据笔者的观察,数量上不是很多,内容上也不超出上述公开出版物的范围,此处不再赘述。

“行动者”:以NGO关注领域为内容的图书

这一类图书与上述不同,是以NGO作为行动者,及其所关注的领域和所从事的社会工作为内容的出版物。在此类出版物中,NGO的参与出版,主要是为其他组织或个人的、以NGO关注领域为内容的著作提供资助,这尤其体现在境外基金会或有政府背景的“国字号”基金会身上。其次是将自身所从事的项目工作成果,以出版物方式来呈现,NGO在此成了图书内容的提供者或编辑者角色。由于境内外NGO的关注领域涵盖了扶贫、赈灾、医疗、卫生、教育等诸多领域,尽管总体数量上比较可观,但由于分散在各个角落,故显得不成系统,不上规模。

此类图书,除了一些正式出版物外,大部分是以非正式出版物方式存在,而且是对项目过程或成果的总结,先在内部印行,供同行参考借鉴。由于很多NGO关注的领域和工作方式的独特性,使得这类出版物的受众面相对狭小。此外大多数出版社基于市场前景的考察,对出版此类图书兴趣和动力也不是很大。而正式出版的此类图书,也往往是获得了一定的出版补贴,才得以公开印行。而且在发行上,出版社也没有什么积极性去推动,很大部分还是由著作方自行回购、自办发行。总体来看,这类图书可说是一种“没有遵循市场逻辑的非市场化出版物”。

期刊出版:夹缝中求生存

以期刊方式来传播NGO动态和公民社会成长情况,基本上处于“地下运作状态”。鉴于目前国内书刊管理体制的局限,NGO以公开刊号出版的刊物,基本没有。包括国内较早出现的,在业内影响比较大的几家刊物,基本都是非正式出版的,而且这个过程也一波三折。

除了反映行业动态的上述期刊外,更多的非正式出版期刊,是以各NGO组织的工作通讯、简报等方式出版的。比较有名的,如《自然之友通讯》、《富平家政通讯》、《打工妹之家通讯》等等。这类期刊数量很多,基本在NGO各自的交往圈子内流通,在工作中随机发送。其社会影响和传播效果,很大程度上也取决于该NGO本身的社会影响力。相对而言,此类期刊中,做环保教育与社会倡导工作的社团,如自然之友,其期刊的影响力比较大。

总体来看,这类期刊基本都是免费派送的,影响主要在NGO同业之间,而其相对于社会普通公众而言,仍然是比较陌生的。

新势力:蓬勃兴起的网络出版

伴随着网络时代的发展,借助网络进行信息传播和出版,也逐渐成为NGO领域的一个基本手段。在出版方式上,一是出版电子书,与纸版图书或期刊同步发行;二是专门出版电子期刊或通讯。在线订阅,线上下载,邮件群发,人际传播(SNS)是主要的发行渠道。目前,比较有影响力的电子刊物,是《NGOCN通讯》(现改名为《NGOCN电子简报》),它以提供行业内最新、全面的资讯,获得了业界广泛的知名度。

此类电子出版物的传播影响,难以与作为信息发布平台的网站、博客、微博等相抗衡。但如果从传播内容的深度、全面和广博性看,电子出版物还是有其优势的。不过,这需要立足网络时代的读者阅读心理和习惯,开发出与之相应的电子出版物形态。而目前,NGO领域的电子出版物基本还是纸质出版物的翻版,并没有发展出一些与网络阅读习惯相适应的读物形态,比如文章的精炼性、信息的关联度链接、借力新的阅读软件等。可以说,NGO领域电子化出版物的发展,其路漫漫。

NGO领域的“行业出版人”

以上是基于出版物形态,而对NGO领域的出版物所做的行情观察,那么从NGO领域专业从事出版传播的组织来看,又是一番怎样的景象呢?

国内对NGO的定位更多是“行动者角色”,绝大部分NGO所从事的都是社会改良类活动或项目,如果视出版为一种达致目的的手段,则NGO可能会在项目中设计传播的元素。而以出版作为主要工作手段,从事传播推广、政策倡导的国际NGO则近乎没有。尽管这些国际NGO大都有将西方的原理和制度普适化以在中国推广,但落实到具体的行动策略上,他们一般采取与政府部门合作,从事具体的项目工作为主。

然而在本土NGO中,将自身明确定位于从事NGO研究、教育、培训以及传播倡导的,倒是有几家

最典型、影响也比较大的,要数NPO信息咨询中心和中国发展简报。前者作为追求在NGO领域提供专业化信息咨询服务的机构,出版在NPO信息咨询中心的工作中占有很大比重。成立以来的十年间,该中心组织翻译、编著了十多种关于NGO组织治理、项目策划、财务管理、法律规制、问责制度等为内容的出版物,很多著作还来自于它组织的培训教材。相应地,此类出版物在NGO各种培训中得到了比较广泛的使用。同时,其创办的《NPO纵横》(现改版为《社会创业家》杂志),在业界也产生了比较大的影响。

中国发展简报则主要是以丛刊的方式,对行业内的事件、动态有比较全面、深入的报道分析。它的定位,也经历了一个逐渐本土化、逐步专业化的过程。

清华大学公共管理学院NGO研究所是国内比较早从事NGO专业教学和研究的机构。为了满足基本教学和研究的需要,该所策划了一套NGO论丛,除了译介西方的作品,还收录了一些国内研究者的专著。不过,总体来看,大部分作品在本土创新方面的贡献不大,在学院以外的影响很小。

中山大学公民研究中心,在行动研究、本土案例发掘方面,做出了不少有益的尝试,其部分出版物正是此一类成果的体现。还有诸如北大公民社会研究中心、中国人民大学非营利组织法研究所等组织机构,出版也是其从事研究教学工作的重要方式之一。

上述这些机构,主要专注在NGO出版物内容方面。如从图书策划、市场发行等角度考察,仍谈不上专业化。严格意义上来说,国内的NGO领域还没有专业出版人。

NGO中文图书出版的前景

通过上述考察,不难发现NGO中文图书出版,存在下述特点:

第一,出版物的市场化程度较低,读者群体有限。这在根本上,与中国民间组织发展程度较低、社会工作起步较晚紧密相关,因为没有那样一个固定而较广泛的读者群市场存在。西方国家所谓“政府、企业与NGO三足鼎立”的格局,在目前的中国仍是难以实现的。NGO在中国不可能有“三分天下有其一”的势态,也决定了NGO的出版策略不可能完全走市场化的路子,一味朝向盈利性模式迈进。

第二,在公民社会与NGO发展领域的出版物有一定影响力,但主要限于“圈内”,而且深度和广度都显不足。该领域的出版物主要体现在对国外NGO发展的理论与实践的译介如“乐施文库”系列,以及对本土民间社会的思考与行动,如曾经的《民间》季刊及“人间丛书系列”。但是从数量、涵盖面(只涉及NGO治理与筹款)、深度上看,都无法跟港台和欧美发达国家在此领域的出版物相比。

第三,出版项目以非专业化管理为主,专业化的出版发行人才缺乏。这在资助出版的图书中体现最为明显。这种状况导致的结果是,经济效益低下,社会效益也难于衡量。

基于以上观察,这里不妨对未来国内NGO中文出版物的前景作一个分析:

在笔者看来,在未来相当长一段时间里,NGO领域的图书出版方针,仍然是以社会效益为主,兼顾经济效益,从而谋求公益传播与市场化出版的平衡。这也许是置身当今经济战国时代,我们不得不面对的现实与无奈——如同传统人文类读物无法跟理财、管理类读物市场相抗衡,而需要给予特别的扶持一般。但从长远来看,对此类人文、社科类读物的呵护与扶持,却是具有永久性价值的。

国外NGO管理的理论和案例类的译介和出版,仍然很有必要,并随着服务社会化的发展趋势,将会拥有更多的读者群体。而针对公众教育、政策倡导工作的各类正式/非正式出版物,包括简报、通讯、报告等,也将获得比较大的发展空间。

出版物作为NGO项目成果、工作内容的一种深度、全面的呈现方式,在发挥长期传播效果方面,将具有比网络传播、报纸、电视和广播等传统媒体更大的优势。这一点,应成为NGO出版策划的原则和重点。而此方面的出版物,未来相当长一段时间内,仍将构成NGO中文图书出版的主流。

(作者系贵州亚泰职业学院教师 )

Professor at the Guizhou Yatai Vocational College

Translated by Bryan Withall

Reviewed by Josh Friedman

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