研究晚明-清前期-清中后期江南的地方慈善组织。very concrete social history, with reference to some 1,500 县志...
A good point to make is that there'd always been gap between the state and the society prior to late 19th century, without the "modern" instruments that makes authoritarian regimes possible. The idea that so-called "oriental despotism" somehow suffocated creativity of every social sphere simply does not make any sense. Rather we find the central imperial state rather weak. There certainly were places and organizations controlled neither by the state nor by the private sector alone; said Liang. We're not that surprised to find Rowe's Hankow, or Mary Rankin's Zhejiang, where a lot of such activities were proved to be going on.
So a more interesting question is to ask why, and in what ways, did the various conservative philanthropic organizations gradually transformed into antagonizing forces to state control, compared to the old question whether China had "civil society" or any kind of "public sphere" prior to the 19th century. It is worth pondering--- from which point did the notion that the state should take philanthropy as a means to minimize economic/social risks of its citizens first penetrated, or not yet, the Chinese version of modernity.
It is thus linked to the study of medicine and science in late 19th-early 20th century China. Both provided indispensible means (and even ends, esp. in the case of medicine and the cultural authority possessed by modern sciences) for the vital transformation at that time. What a messy yet intriguing period for historians!