The controversy over Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi's relief fund established after the May 12 earthquake of 2008 indicates the need for stronger laws to regulate China's charity system, experts say.
The star of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" has been under attack since a post on the popular Tianya website in late January accused her of giving only 840,000 yuan of the 1 million yuan ($146,500) she promised for relief work after the devastating Sichuan earthquake.
Chinese netizens have continued to bombard the star with criticism even after Zhang gave the outstanding 160,000 yuan in February and two charity groups, including the Red Cross Foundation of China, released details of her donations to demonstrate her honesty.
"Such a stupid mistake and fraud against quake-hit people can never be forgiven," said one post by someone calling himself "The Feeling of Walking Alone".
But Professor Chen Tao, of Beijing-based China Youth University for Political Sciences, said the public should focus on problems behind the case rather than the reputations of celebrities.
"Don't make it personal. The current laws and rules lack clarity on regulating personal donations," Chen said.
Efforts should be made first to improve the framework of laws and rules on charity as well as the overall system with more detailed provisions, Chen said.
Jia Linqing, a law professor with Renmin University, said legislation was needed to track donations from the source to the destination.
"Despite several provisions on charity in the Donation Law and the Trust Law, there is no law to regulate the whole process of donations to charities," Jia said.
Many Chinese celebrities are actively involved in charitable causes, such as Jet Li's One Foundation and Faye Wong's Smile Angel Foundation.
Celebrities are believed to have advantages in making public appeals and raising money, but their words and deeds are coming under the scrutiny of the media as well as millions on the Internet.
Experts agreed that China's charitable causes need more support as the system improves.
"It's good to see netizens join the supervision of charity efforts, but the core issue is to improve the system," Chen said.
(China Daily 03/29/2010 page20)