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Seven Things You didn't Know about Chinese Philanthropy

Between 2010 and 2016, donations from the top 100 philanthropists in mainland China more than tripled to 4.6bn. $. What’s behind this rise in charitable giving?


1. Philanthropy in China is poised for expansion

China has a long tradition of philanthropy but it stagnated after the 1949 communist revolution when private philanthropic initiatives and NGOs were shut down and foreign organisations told to leave the country. Since the market reforms that have accelerated this century, private wealth has spiralled – China accounted for 80 out of 113 of Asia’s new billionaire entrepreneurs in 2015 – and philanthropy has seen a resurgence. Between 2010 and 2016, donations from the top 100 philanthropists in mainland China more than tripled to $4.6bn and 46 of the wealthiest 200 now have foundations.

2 Social harmony is the overarching desire

Chinese philanthropists show a strong desire to contribute to social harmony, a particularly Chinese concept found in the tenets of Confucianism, combined with an immense gratitude for their good fortune of having benefited from China’s modernisation.

“The ultimate goal of our endeavours is to achieve a harmonious society,” says autoglass magnate Cho Tak Wong. “Wealth comes from society and should be given back to society,” says billionaire philanthropist Zhao Weiguo, echoing a common view.

I raised pigs and herded sheep for a living. I knew that only education could change my fate Billionaire philanthropist Zhao Weiguo.

3 Majority focus on a single issue, with education the most common

Many of the philanthropists interviewed spoke about the role education played in lifting them out of poverty. Zhao Weiguo says: “I raised pigs and herded sheep for a living. I knew that only education could change my fate.” Steel magnate Zhao Jing believes “education is the only chance for poor people to change their destiny”.

IT billionaire Pang Shengdong has a long-term commitment to improve equity in education in China. This includes a scheme to subsidise salaries over 10 years for education-focused NGOs in western China, where low pay makes it hard for NGOs to retain staff. “All my philanthropy is in support of education. This is the highest leverage rate possible,” he says. Other philanthropists are focusing on minorities such as the Yi ethnic group.

4 Giving is becoming more institutionalised

Philanthropy in China is more often an individual rather than a family affair, as many philanthropists are first generation wealth holders. But an infrastructure for giving is slowly evolving. Of the 200 wealthiest individuals in China, 46 now have foundations. Two-thirds of philanthropists interviewed for the study had established or were planning to establish charitable foundations. There is, however, less distinction between private and corporate foundations than in other parts of the world. When asked if a company foundation served corporate or personal purposes, one corporate leader said: “I am the company.”

5 China’s 2016 charity law seeks to boost public confidence

Widely publicised scandals involving organisations such as the Red Cross Society of China and China Charity Federation, particularly after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, undermined public confidence in the charitable sector. Attitudes towards private wealth are also complex, with several interviewees describing resentment of those who have amassed large fortunes. As billionaire investor and philanthropist Wang Bing says: “Doing philanthropy in China, you need a strong heart. There is much criticism, scepticism and suspicion.” China’s 2016 charity law seeks to boost transparency, which many philanthropists hope will bring more legitimacy to the sector. They are also increasingly looking to role models at home and abroad in the form of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.

6 The foundation sector still faces significant challenges

Regulations capping administrative costs at 10% limit the ability of foundations to hire qualified staff. When combined with a lack of experienced talent and competition with for-profits, a shortage of skilled staff is the result. However, a new ecosystem is taking shape to develop and professionalise the sector, including China’s first philanthropic training centre, the China Global Philanthropy Institute, established in Shenzhen by five prominent Chinese and American philanthropists: Bill Gates, Ray Dalio, Niu Gensheng, He Qiaonyu and Ye Qingjun.

7 Technology is increasing giving across society

China is home to the largest number of internet users and the fastest growing e-commerce market, and many Chinese wealth holders have made their fortunes in the technology sector. It’s no surprise then that technology is driving an increase in charitable giving. Following the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, internet provider Tencent developed an online platform through which Chinese people could donate to relief efforts, quickly raising 20m RMB. More importantly, Tencent founder Chen Yidan managed to keep donors engaged through a monthly donations platform and a large-scale fundraising initiative called the 9.9 Internet Philanthropy Campaign. Wang Bing, billionaire investor and founder of the Ai You Foundation, says he aims to make it “the Facebook of philanthropy”.


By materials The Guardian