The last years have seen lively international sinological and domestic Chinese debates oDn the structure and development of the Chinese public sphere. The international discussion has been largely analytical in orientation, prompted by developments in late Qing social history research and the new availability in English and French of Habermas's seminal study. The Chinese discussion has been more strategic, suggesting or legitimizing paths for China's further development: PRC government-directed research in the context of the Seventh Five-Year Plan focused on those aspects in the development experiences of cities like Shanghai which might be of use for the city's further development, especially regarding its relationship with the developed world. Independent critics writing outside the PRC felt prompted to join the discussion about the Chinese public sphere by the growing conflict between a society in the process of rapid diversification and development on the one hand and a political leadership rigidly maintaining the ideal of the people's uniformity in thought and attitude on the other. These differences notwithstanding, the international and domestic branches of the discussion share, for different reasons, an endogenous perspective explaining modern developments from the internal dynamics of Chinese society rather than from the impact from or the response to the West.
The international sinological discussion has searched for elements of a self-assertive Chinese public sphere in traditional areas such as guilds, associations or landsmannschaften, in the new private social welfare institutions set up by reconstruction activists after the Taiping rebellion, in the late Qing qingyi discussions within the bureaucracy, or in more modern areas such as labour unions or chambers of commerce.