Rich philanthropists 'acting in poor taste'

08:34, March 25, 2011      

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High-profile philanthropist Chen Guangbiao (center foreground) gives out cash to earthquake survivors and some volunteers in Yingjiang county, Yunnan province last week. Provided to China Daily

Philanthropy in China is changing. Not only are more people accumulating wealth, but they're giving away more of it. Privately run charities are moving into a sector dominated by government, and transparency and accountability are expected to improve.

Some big donors are setting clear guidelines on how their gifts should be used, while others - Chen Guangbiao is the leading example - continue to hand out money directly in a high-profile fashion.

Critics say Chen is showing off and stripping the dignity of recipients. Defenders applaud his public example of charity. Social welfare scholars wonder about the efficiency and effectiveness of such direct donations.

The diverse and often well- publicized donations of the rich have ignited debate.

The official China Charity and Donation Information Center reports that contributions reached 54 billion yuan ($8.23 billion) in 2009. That's barely half of the 107 billion yuan given in 2008, when the Sichuan earthquake triggered an unprecedented flood of donations, but well above the 30.9 billion yuan in 2007, when there was no major disaster.

Zheng Yuanchang, director of the Ministry of Social Affairs' charity and social donation office, estimated contributions in 2010 at 70 billion yuan. A more precise total isn't yet available.

Private charity foundations in China nearly doubled in the past three years, despite a State-required minimum donation of 2 million yuan (higher under some local regulations). The number rose from 436 in 2007 to 846 in 2009, said the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Its blue book on charity said the nation can expect a charity boom over the next 10-20 years.

Very public face of giving

Despite the promising future of philanthropy, much of China's charity work remains underdeveloped and falls into Chen Guangbiao's pattern of direct donation.

Chen, president of Jiangsu Huangpu Renewable Resources, made headlines and drew criticism two months ago when he gave out red envelopes stuffed with money in Taiwan, and again this month during his charity road show to earthquake-jolted areas in Japan and Yunnan province.

On a five-day trip to Japan, Chen donated 1 million yuan ($24,690). He also handed out about 2 million yen ($24,735), giving 1,000 yen and 100 yuan - and his business card - each to Japanese students who were collecting donations on the streets.

The most controversial incident involved posed photos of Chen pulling a woman from the rubble. The photos were spread online quickly and generated harsh criticism from Internet users at home.

Chen, 42, declined to elaborate on the "rescue". "The media attention on that is abating," he said. "I don't want to put it back in the spotlight."

Chen left Japan, citing the risk of radiation from the damaged nuclear plant, and flew straight to Yunnan's Yingjiang county, where he donated 230,000 yuan in one day. Again, he posted photos online.

Some of the money went to volunteers who were helping the earthquake survivors. Chen told China Daily that when he was giving money to villagers, someone told him the volunteers couldn't afford to return home, so he gave them money, too. The Nanfang Daily newspaper reported that the volunteers were specifically asked to hold up the money for a photo.

Xu Yongguang, secretary-general of the Narada Foundation, labeled Chen's actions "violent charity" - sacrificing the dignity of recipients to meet his own needs. Defenders praised him for giving when many wealthy people don't.

"I'm being high-profile not to promote myself. I've been high-profile since I was little," Chen told a group of more than 40 executives of charitable foundations on Sunday in Beijing. "If I did not talk about the good deeds I've done, I would feel pent up."

Chen said he believes that his way of "violent charity" is what China needs, and he gives that way to push the development of philanthropy forward.

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Source: China Daily
 
 
     
 
 
 
     
 
 
 
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