Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Big donations reflect rising soft power

By Xin Zhiming (China Daily) Updated: 2014-11-01 07:40

Real estate tycoon Pan Shiyi and his wife donated $10 million to Yale University on Wednesday, drawing harsh criticism from some commentators and netizens. Many have said: Why not donate to schools in China?

Pan, billionaire and chairman of SOHO China, one of China's biggest prime office developers, donated $15 million to Harvard University in July, for which he was also criticized. The Pan couple have said that they would donate $100 million to renowned universities outside China.

Indeed, a large number of poor students in China need financial aid - more than that in the US, by any guess. But it is Pan and his wife, not others, who should decide which schools they want to help. Their decision should be respected, especially because the donated money will be used to help high-achieving Chinese students who get admitted to Harvard or Yale but cannot afford to pay the tuition and other costs. Students with family income of less than 65,000 yuan ($10,500) a year are eligible to apply for the aid.

Philanthropy should not be restricted by borders. China has benefited enormously from donations from foreign citizens, companies and organizations, especially in the 1980s and 1990s when the country was not as prosperous as it is today.

Even today, overseas philanthropic organizations play an important role in helping poor Chinese people, from the nooks and corners of cities to faraway countryside. Few commentators and netizens have questioned the rationality of such foreign donors.

In the same vein, the Pan couple should not be criticized for donating to overseas schools. Their donations will render much-needed help to poor but capable students to pursue education in world-class institutions, which will be of immeasurable importance to their personal growth and the community they will serve.

Even if their donations were not for helping Chinese students, they should be appreciated, because education helps promote the well-being of humankind as a whole. The benefits of education are not limited to any single university or country; they can be shared by all the people in the world.

Pan's decision is a reflection of China's rising soft power thanks to the more than three decades of fast-paced economic growth. China now has the largest group of billionaires after the United States. And it is natural for some of them to donate part of their wealth to overseas organizations - it is as normal as their decision to invest overseas.

Some people's strong reaction to Pan's donations could be attributed to high housing prices, which have thwarted a large number of young Chinese from fulfilling their dream of purchasing an apartment in a city.

Over the past 10 years, real estate has been one of the major pillars of the Chinese economy, leading to a booming property sector and rising number of real estate tycoons. It is thus not surprising that people who cannot afford to buy an apartment because of skyrocketing housing prices are criticizing Pan.

Actually almost all pieces of news on real estate billionaires have been followed by acid comments from the public. Such emotional outpouring is understandable, but it should not make us blind to the meaningfulness of donations from real estate tycoons.

The author is a senior writer with China Daily.

(China Daily 11/01/2014 page5)

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