A Show With Real Cash — China’s “Violent Charity”

“Even if it’s a show, it’s a show with real cash,” says Guangbiao Chen, the President of Jiangsu Huangpu Recycling Resources. Mr. Chen was  rated as China’s number one philanthropist according to the 2008 China Philanthropy List published by China Philanthropy Times.

陈光标赴盈江发钱2小时 志愿者被强塞现金(图)In March 2011, Chen appeared in China’s Yunnan Province to visit its earthquake victims, as reported by Nandu News.  Chen generously handed out Chinese banknotes to victims and even volunteers who deferred his “good will”. Furthermore, Chen asked his cash recipients to take a picture with him, while holding money in their hands. The photo was voluntarily posted online by Chen himself and circulated rapidly, which provoked a heated debate in the Chinese philanthropic sector. Secretary-general of the Narada Foundation, Xu Yongguang , criticized Chen’s behavior as “violent charity” that sacrifices “the dignity of recipients to meet his own needs”, while Chen’s supporters applauded his philanthropic philosophy as a force to push China’s philanthropic development, according to People’s Daily.


During an interview with HuaXi Daily, Chen commented in reply to the criticism,

“I don’t think it’s a show. Even if it’s a show, it’s a show with real cash. The society needs such behaviors to encourage more people to involve in philanthropy… My real purpose is to wake more people up, telling them to become responsible, appreciative and reciprocal to the society.”

It was not the first time for Chen, one of the most high-profile billionaires in China, to cause great controversy by his “violent charity”.

Before his trip to the Yunnan Province in China, Chen led his volunteer team to Japan with trucks of disaster relief resources, thirteen hours after the devastating earthquake occurred there. According to People’s Daily, Chen personally donated around 2 million RMB (approximately $320,000) for Japan’s earthquake relief and post-disaster reconstruction. During the rescue, Chen rented eight excavators and rescued three people from the house remains. Again, a photo featured him dragging a Japanese woman out of the ruins was posted online and stirred suspicion that he was showing off his “brave salvation”.

Chen’s “violent” philanthropic engagement is not limited to monetary contributions, but also includes the “appealing” promotion of social innovation and saving resources.

Chen Guangbiao,Chinese philanthropistIn Dec. 2012, Chen once again became the focus of media by stacking a “money” hill with Chinese 100-yuan banknotes in Nanjing, China. This time, his goal was to boost the development of innovation among Chinese youth.

In the beginning of this year, Chen publicly led his 40 employees to eat leftover food from restaurants in Nanjing. In an interview with China’s Liaoning Radio and Television Channel, Chen called on the whole Chinese society to stop wasting food, electricity and water. He emphasized, “Calling hundreds of times can’t be compared to doing once.”

Chuanjin Chen, professor at the Research Center of Philanthropy and Social Enterprise of Beijing Normal University, thinks Chen sets a good model for all Chinese rich people to emulate,

“Basically Chen’s behavior is a good example, inspiring the rich to donate money, although the manner employed in the process of donating needs to be regulated more professionally.”  — People’s Daily

On the other hand, some question why Chen prefers “direct donation” instead of cooperating with organizations.

“Why don’t you rely on professional philanthropic organizations to donate, which will enhance the efficiency of your philanthropic activities?” Secretary-General of Red Cross Society of China, Liu Xuanguo asked during the first “Chinese Foundation Leader Training Class” hosted by One Foundation Philanthropy Research Institute of Beijing Normal University.

In reply to Liu, Chen described the current development of the Chinese philanthropy as “holding stones to cross the river”.

“I think China needs such ‘violent charity’ to drive the development of philanthropy in the entire society,” said Chen, “It’s good to see controversies and debates on my behaviors. But this is something from my heart. My philanthropic engagement is not for promoting myself.” — Beijing News

Whether Chen’s “violent charity” is purely a “show” or real consideration for the needy population, there is no doubt that the commitments of Chinese rich entrepreneurs and their corporations comprise a significant component of Chinese philanthropic work. According to the “2012 Chinese Philanthropy List” published by Forbes China, there were 13 Chinese entrepreneurs whose individual donations exceeded 100 million RMB (around $16m) respectively, which accounted for 46% of the total amount of money donated by 100 philanthropists on the list. On the contrary, Forbes China also revealed that such figures were 41% lower than the 2011 data, which indicated the Chinese philanthropists’ donating activities were somewhat affected by the scandals in the Chinese philanthropic sector, such as the “Guo Meimei Incident” and “The China Soong Ching Ling Foundation’s Irregularities”.

Does Chen’s “violent charity” reflect the credibility issue of Chinese philanthropic organizations through another lens? The Vice Director of China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs, Yupei Dou said that the current Chinese philanthropic sector is indeed suffering from issues like the lack of transparency and the comprehensive philanthropy-related laws and regulations. Until now, China is still in demand of a universally applicable and feasible philanthropy business law with a relatively higher legal status. China’s present regulations related to donations and fundraising belong only to the government agencies’  administrative regulations, which have little influence in the actual national legal system.

According to The Beijing News, the Ministry of Civil Affairs of PRC submitted the draft of “China Philanthropy Law” to the country’s State Council for review last summer. A more comprehensive and hopefully well-functioned philanthropy law is expected to be decreed soon.


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