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Calling on the rich to help the poor
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-12-18 10:31

It was a special debut for "A World Without Thieves" in Beijing - a charitable evening party for creating a world with more humane care.

Stage properties, even a chance to dance with the actress in the movie, have gone under the hammer. All the revenue was said to be donated to poor students in primary and secondary schools in the capital.

The movie, starring Andy Lau from Hong Kong and Rene Liu from Taiwan, is about a pair of pickpockets who are moved by a young naive migrant worker, Sha Gen, and decide to give up their profession to help him. The young man, carrying 60,000 yuan (US$7,230) in cash, does not believe there are thieves in the world.

"A World Without Thieves" is more like a fairy tale. A pair of thieves prick their consciences and try to shake off their disgraceful profession.

Ringing in the new year is a time when people traditionally have their highest hopes and express their best wishes. This movie meets such demands.

The charitable move at the movie's debut is a demonstration of Director Feng Xiaogang's belief that those who can afford it should give a helping hand to the poor.

Striking a chord through getting close to real life in his movies might be a major reason for Feng's success, who in this film shows human kindness to the disadvantaged, such as farmer-turned workers as Sha Gen in the movie.

The gap between the rich and poor and how to bridge the gap has been listed one of the top concerns of the public.

A recent book on China's social life compiled by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) has pointed out that the income gap has widened between urban and rural residents, despite the country's rapid economic progress.

Statistics show that the disposable incomes of the richest families, who account for 10 per cent of the population, are eight times that of the poorest. About 60 per cent of urban residents' individual disposable incomes do not reach the average level, let alone those living in the country's vast rural areas.

It has also been pointed out that Chinese families have to pay more for education than housing and post-retirement expenditure. Education expenditure has been a heavy burden on most families, especially in rural areas. Many students in rural areas have had to drop out from school, unable to afford extra fees even though they should enjoy free tuitions for up to nine years in school under the Compulsory Education Law.

Accompanying the widening gap between the rich and poor is unemployment. The CASS report says this is an issue attracting most attention from the public.

China has made efforts to keep a sustainable economic development. However, if not properly handled, the widening income gap with other related social problems could easily offset achievements made on the economic front.

The ever-growing disparity between the rich and the poor has given rise to strong social resentment towards the rich in some places. This has also been reflected in the movie. At the very beginning, viewers see the pair of thieves stealing a BMW limousine, worth 1 million yuan (US$121,000), from a rich man without any mercy.

To bridge the gap between the rich and poor, many experts are calling for the development of charity causes in China, which are still in their fledgling stages in the country.

China now has only about 100 such organizations. Compared with more than 1 million charities in the United States, such a small figure has a lot of room for further development.

In China, charity depends much on celebrities' charisma instead of a well-functioning mechanism.

The country has no specific legislation to regulate charitable organizations on pooling donations, designing charitable projects and operating funds. There is also a lack of supervision over those charities to ensure a transparent performance and guarantee donations for those who really are in need.

"A World Without Thieves" may seem more like a game among celebrities or a device to promote the movie than a charitable message.

Charity auctions are launched in the hope the rich will feel a prick of their conscience and put their hands in their pockets.

Recently, the China Charity Federation said only 15 per cent of donations it has received have been from mainland millionaires. There is also a need for more incentives. Further legislation should be set to safeguard citizens' private property. Preferential policies should go to donors and their enterprises, such as tax exemptions. And inheritance tax should be considered as a way of avoiding astronomical legacies being left entirely to descendants.

More importantly, it should be made clear that charity is a social responsibility. Not only should the rich offer a helping hand, ordinary people could also make contributions. Charity is not a matter of how much is donated, but a matter of whether or not one is willing to show his/her concern for those in need.

If you are moved in any way at all by the end of the "A World Without Thieves," just think about what you can do for those needy people when you walk out of the cinema.

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