Civil society 1 has played a key role in public health in many countries, including those with strong public provision of health services. Historically, the Chinese government 2 limited the space for the emergence of an independent civil society. Today this is changing with a greater encouragement of citizens and civil society actors in various areas of policy, as well as local governments engaging in pragmatic partnerships at the grassroots level. While China has seen the emergence of civil society players in health [1] (notably in the area of HIV/AIDS [2, 3, 4]), the space has not yet been clearly defi ned.