China, ‘state-centric’ humanitarianism, and the International Committee of the Red Cross

A historical background

Authored by: Caroline Reeves

Routledge Handbook of South–South Relations

Print publication date:  December  2018
Online publication date:  December  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138652002
eBook ISBN: 9781315624495
Adobe ISBN:


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Presenting historical examples of Chinese and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) state-centric humanitarianism in China throughout the early 20th century, this chapter undermines assumptions of a universal, immutable understanding of what global giving should be and unpacks the formulation of ‘neutrality, impartiality and independence’ in humanitarian action. Highlighting the early years of the Red Cross Society of China, a national-level, indigenous Chinese Red Cross organisation with international ties formed in 1904, this chapter delves into the history of state–civic collaborative aid in China and gives historical and geographical depth to current debates on what constitutes good humanitarian practice. Based on an analysis of extensive empirical data, this chapter argues that the current trend of criticising significant state involvement in humanitarian efforts is myopic, given both the variety of the world’s charitable traditions as well as the global North’s own recent history of encouraging state involvement in relief provision. China’s current statist position on aid provision is not a new construction of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), but is historically grounded in a much longer tradition of Chinese attitudes toward the provision of social welfare, and can provide an important example for giving throughout the global South.

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