China's wealthy and their outlook on philanthropy

Chinese businessmen, initially excited to meet two American billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, worried if they would be forced to pledge their fortunes over dinner with them.

Once the Chinese media caught wind, accusations of miserly conduct began flying as well as breathless speculations about who exactly had been invited and who had declined. The result has been much soul-searching among the wealthy in China about how best to help society and what responsibilities come with new-found wealth.

As in America's era of robber barons, new titans of industry are emerging every year in China. But in the United States, the industrial age also ushered in a generation of philanthropists - names such as Carnegie and Rockefeller that still resound today - and it is unclear whether the same is happening, or will happen, in China.

China now has one of the world's largest collection of billionaires, second this year only to the United States, according to Forbes. While the Chinese government has been eager to compete with the United States and the rest of the world in other fields, philanthropy is one sector in which it remains hesitant. China's leaders have not fully embraced the idea of handing over to individuals or groups the power to help the nation's people - a role traditionally reserved for the Communist Party.

"One thing holding back philanthropy may be the reluctance among the rich. But the other is the worry of the government," said Li Huafang, a researcher for the Shanghai Institute of Finance and Law. "They don't want other entities competing with them for the people's hearts.”

Chen Guangbiao, a multimillionaire who has been one of China's most outspoken philanthropists, believes Chinese can become world-class philanthropists, given the benefit of time.

"In the U.S. you had more than a hundred years to develop this idea," he said. "In China, people haven't even come into wealth until these past 20 years. Our speed has been very fast, and, who knows, in the next 10 years, we have the potential to become the best givers in the world."

[Washington Post]

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