The registration of One Foundation as the country's first independent private charity organization in the southern city of Shenzhen on Jan 11 is of groundbreaking importance.
It breaks governments' monopoly over philanthropic groups and augurs well for pluralistic development of non-government charity organizations. In other words, it signifies the beginning of a new era of charity development in the country.
One Foundation was initiated by Chinese movie star Jet Li three years ago, and had been attached to Red Cross Society of China (RCSC). It did not have an independent account and all its fund raising activities were under the auspice and supervision of the RCSC.
Relevant regulations say a private foundation cannot be registered unless it is attached to a government department, which has the obligation to administer and supervise its activities. As a result, One Foundation could not raise funds independently, nor could it conduct charity activities on its own. Little wonder that Jet Li described his foundation as "a child without identification card for its own independent development".
Statistics show that the total charity donation in the country reached 33.3 billion yuan ($5.06 billion) in 2009. Though it was much less than the 107 billion yuan in 2008, its annual increase would be 3.5 percent if 70 percent of the 2008 donation for the Wenchuan earthquake were excluded.
A noteworthy point is that donation by individuals increased from less than 20 percent of the total before 2007 to 30.4 percent in 2009. This shows the rising awareness about charity among the Chinese public.
But government departments' rigid administration of charity activities is no longer compatible with today's situation. Besides, the governments' long monopoly on the cause of charity does not help stimulate individuals' enthusiasm for benevolent activities.
The registration of One Foundation is likely to make a big difference. The foundation will post online all information about the use of its money on time to enable all donors to oversee its operations.
The bureau chief for the management of NGOs in Shenzhen has been elected the chief of supervisors of One Foundation. That means the foundation will be supervised by the local government and donors both.
One Foundation will act as a rival to or mark of reference for the charity foundations attached to government departments. If the foundation does a better job, more donors will extend their benevolent hands to it.
And its success will exert pressure on charity groups managed by governments and push them toward reform.