Yang points to the post '89 crumbling of the Chinese academic world as the key background to this move - the turn towards NGO creation offered "a logical way of seeking meaning at a time of intellectual crisis" but simultaneously helped create a new class of public intellectuals more intimately connected with grassroots, civic movements. As Yang summarizes:
Perhaps more than anything else, the combination of the image of an active and participatory citizenry with the Confucian image of a world of human-nature harmony epitomizes Liang Congjie’s vision as a scholar-environmentalist in action.The last three months in HK have pulled me into a number of conferences - on impact investing, social enterprise and philanthropy - all primarily revolving around the burgeoning civic sector of China. [An excellent and yet developing reference to social enterprises in the PRC here, btw.] Having somewhat settled down now, I'm trying to figure out the analytical lenses most useful for cutting into what I've been observing, and at least one rough dynamic is certainly the role that scholars play within the sector. I'd been coming from a group whose primary goal was to better integrate scholarship and policy, so was somewhat surprised to notice that scholarly expertise was not only enlisted by every association in this tightly knit NGO community - but seemed a necessary prerequisite for any sort of legitimacy.
Also, re: the reading list, BUMP to the top Guobin Yang's The Power of the Internet in China: Citizen Activism Online (Columbia University Press, 2009) - which for all my talk of loving him, I haven't actually read yet.