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Rich philanthropists 'acting in poor taste'

Updated: 2011-03-25 07:52
By Duan Yan, Hu Yongqi and Zhang Yuchen ( China Daily)

Rich philanthropists 'acting in poor taste'
A recipient is overcome with emotion as philanthropist Chen Guangbiao hands out cash to farmers in earthquake-stricken Yingjiang county, Yunnan province, last week. [Zhu Bianyong / China News Service]

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.

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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.

Rich philanthropists 'acting in poor taste'

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.

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