September 26th, 2010 | Global Times State role restricts charity's development in China
Some people claim that a sense of charity is missing in Chinese culture, but this is hardly true.
A central principle of Confucianism is that “The benevolent person loves others,” and compassion has been a key plank of Buddhist thought in China for over 2,000 years.
Due to such ideas, Chinese are hardly insensitive to social problems.
Apart from the rich, the public would readily participate in charity within each person’s own capacity, donating to or actively helping others.
Almost all my friends donated money in the wake of the disastrous snowstorms and the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008, and truly felt for the people in the devastated areas.
In this sense, despite different philosophical roots, most Chinese are not necessarily less willing than Americans or others to give to charity.
Only among China’s wealthy elite is there a relative absence of charitable work observable when compared to the West, a fact the press uses to quickly deduce the impotence of charity as a whole in contemporary China. While still immature by many standards, people should have more confidence in its growth prospects.
The China Charity Donation Report 2009, published by the Department for Social Welfare and Promotion of Charities of the Ministry of Civil Affairs, mentions that China raised and received donations totaling more than 33.3 billion yuan ($4.91 billion) in 2009, a 3.5 percent year-on-year increase, while the total numbers of donors also increased.
This increase is happening at a moderate pace, and as a CNN report pointed out, “121 Chinese philanthropists donated a combined $277 million, less than half of what a single family, American financier Stanley Druckenmiller and his wife, gave away in 2009 in the US.” But why not focus on the fact that it nevertheless still marks a step forward?
While the aggregate volume of donations is improving, few rich people are willing to part with the kind of sums that Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have been proposing to donate, such as half or all of their assets.
The late Fei Xiaotong, a renowned Chinese sociologist and anthropologist, suggested that Chinese see society in terms of social networks which has far-reaching effects on family and greater society.
People perceive their relationship as a circle with the self as the center, where the closeness decreases as one moves outward.
This creates the deep-rooted notion of superiority of family over society in China. This concept moreover echoes “love with differentiation,” another important doctrine in Confucianism that essentially implies you will always love your family more than your neighbors.
Consequently, most Chinese would not be inclined to devote most of their fortune to strangers rather than leaving it within their own family.
This is an important notion which Bill Gates and other US billionaires need to fathom if they want to persuade their Chinese counterparts to join their charity effort.
Another point to consider is that individual and private participation in China’s civil society, such as by independent charity organizations, remains heavily restrained by governmental control.
Charity organizations can barely function autonomously and only a small percentage of them are able to find the government backer they need to be officially registered.
If they are registered, they have to give 10 percent of the money they raise to their affiliated government agency, which also supervises the distribution of the funds.
This undoubtedly blurs the boundary between civil society and the state and frustrates citizens’ confidence in non-government organizations and other independent charity.
Moreover, the government asks its citizens to donate after major disasters. The interference of government turns charity, which should be a collective action originating from the grass-roots of civil society, into another form of welfare provided by the State.
The social environment most conducive to charity remains a civil society that provides space for either individuals or organizations to freely participate in and impact social affairs.
Charity organizations, as crucial components of civil society, have the responsibility of inspiring innovation for the public good and by holding public and private institutions accountable for their actions.
Unless civil society finds its niche to maintain an appropriate and efficient interdependent relationship with the State, it is hard for charity groups to func-tion properly and foster greater sympathy among the public.
By Zhang Moxue