Key Points

Chinese foundations flourished in the 21st century, and empirical studies emerged to address multiple aspects of their activities and relations with the government. Yet there has been little research synthetically reviewing their development and operation. As a result, we often lack the knowledge of the context in which these organizations interact with state and society.

This article divides the history of Chinese foundations into three phases: in search of identity, 1978–2004; in search of legal status, 2004–2016; and in search of the role in civil society, from 2016 onward. Within those three periods, it also examines overseas foundations and their representative offices in China. The discussion covers the normative and contextualized foundation operations in regard to the legal, political, and economic environment during each phase.

This article not only helps readers understand and interpret findings from research on Chinese foundations, but also provides practical information to Chinese and non-Chinese practitioners who work, or will work, for or with foundations in China.

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