Thursday, 30 September 2010

The Tough Sell of Charity in China

So the super filthy rich in China got to press the flesh and take pictures with Warren Buffett and Bill Gates yesterday in a faux French chateau in the outskirts of Beijing yesterday.

Some of them included PanShiyi, chairman of Soho China real estate company, as well as Yu Pangnian and former peasant Chen Guangbiao, now a recycling billionaire from Jiangsu Province.

Others were Cao Dewang, chairman and chief executive of Fuyao Glass Industry Group in Fuqing, Fujian; Chen Lihua, president of Fu Wah International Hong Kong Group; Zhang Chaoyang, chairman and chief executive of Sohu.com and Jack Ma Yun, chairman and chief executive of Alibaba Group.

These nouveaux riche arrived in a series of black limousines to this gated chateau with tight security. Even though they had to wait half an hour for their hosts, Buffett and Gates and apparently only dined on biscuits, champagne and water.

There was a big brouhaha over whether Gates and Buffett would cajole Chinese tycoons to hand over more of their money for philanthropic purposes, making many worried about showing up. This led to further speculation that many of them would be a no-show, preferring to be away from the limelight, as they may have gotten their riches from corrupt practices.

The two American billionaires had to reassure the Chinese they were only there to encourage them to give more, and no there wouldn't be any face losing.

In the end Buffett gave a 40-minute speech and then left for an interview. And about a dozen Chinese guests gave short speeches (thankfully) on what they thought of charity. But according to reporters at the event, the super rich seemed more star-struck in hanging out with Buffett and Gates than really wanting to pledge their wealth for the common good.

Nevertheless the two American laowai were determined to put a good spin on the event. After the two-hour session, Buffet said through a press release, "By any measure, it was a tremendous success. We had a terrific exchange of views, and learned a great deal about the good work that is already under way."

Gates said: "We've both been very eager to have this meeting. We're grateful so many people made the time to attend, and for their candour and insights. People are doing some very good thinking about how their good fortune can have a positive impact on China and the world."

What's interesting to note is that of the some 50 Chinese billionaires invited to attend and discuss the state of philanthropy in China, only about half of them showed up.

Earlier this summer they managed to convince 40 US billionaires, including New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and Oracle founder Larry Ellison to leave half of their wealth to charity in their wills.

And pumped by such exciting results, Buffett and Gates thought they could do the same in China.

Not.

It's yet another example of what works in the West does not necessarily work in the East.

The Chinese just got their wealth now. They aren't ready to part with it so easily.

1 comment:

  1. traditional chinese thinking is more blood tied and family oriented. we leave our fortune to our descendants, not to any body else. charity starts at home. from the closest to the distant. it is said that the extreme of capitalism is communism while the extreme of communism is capitalism. it seems this is a very good example.

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