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A Watershed Moment for Charity in China?

When American billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffet announced their plans in September to host a dinner to promote philanthropy among China’s superrich, the Beijing event quickly ignited a media frenzy. Speculation was rife over who was on the undisclosed guest list, would they attend and whether or not Gates and Buffet were imposing Western philanthropic ideals on a society not accustomed to transparent giving. Ultimately, despite the pair calling the Giving Pledge event “a tremendous success”, the future of charity in China remains unclear.

After Gates created the Giving Pledge program in June, the duo spent the summer holding events around the United States encouraging wealthy individuals and families to give away 50 per cent or more of their fortune within their lifetime or upon death. Thus far 40 people have publicly made that pledge. China, with the world’s second largest number of billionaires, seemed to be the next logical destination.

Early reports alleged that many invitations were initially ignored by the country’s nouveau riche, leading Gates to stress that attendees would not be pressured into giving. Eventually 50 individuals, approximately two-thirds of the original invitees, joined the pair in a frank discussion on how philanthropy should work in China. According to Buffet, “There was no reluctance of people to tell their own stories and their experiences about reservations they had connected with charity.”

One such reservation is on the definition of charity itself. Chairman of Wahaha Group – and China’s richest man – Zong Qinghou, publicly snubbed the event claiming philanthropy was creating wealth and jobs, not simply giving it away. “I don’t think donating a lot of money is real philanthropy. It is just a way to get around the high inheritance tax and other taxes,” he said. “A true philanthropist should be able to continuously create social wealth.”


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