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Findings: Chinese Philanthropists

This section examines the motivations among Chinese philanthropists and their social impacts.

Motivations for Giving

Among Chinese philanthropists, sector interests, pragmatism, and affiliation were similarly frequent factors that motivated giving.


Chinese philanthropists tended to identify strong interests in key sectors such as education, poverty alleviation, disaster relief, the environment, and philanthropic sector development.


When considering affiliation, hometowns, alma maters, and religious affiliations (Confucianism, Buddhism) were mentioned. Familial affiliations were also described but typically in the context of fostering the next generation of philanthropists or ensuring the next generation’s inheritance of wealth.

When referring to pragmatic reasons for giving, they discussed their philanthropy in the context of corporate social responsibility, working with governmental entities, and employee engagement. In a few instances, Chinese philanthropists formalized in their company mission statements abiding by government rules or working harmoniously with government and society. They also described contributing toward building stronger communities.


Measuring Impact

Chinese philanthropists described projects with measurable impact in significant proportion: about one half. They or their staff referred to social outcomes of their activities. Many of them gathered and documented the impact of their projects.


Among Chinese philanthropists, there were at least two instances of a third party independently evaluating a social program. These evaluations included some type of controlled comparison, enabling an estimation of impact. Examples include Susana Chou and the Macao Tong Chai Charity Association study of a rural education project, and the Narada Foundation (led by Mr. Zhou Qingzhi) supported third-party evaluations of disaster relief programs.


The small number of rigorous impact evaluations reflects a need for greater attention and commitment to impact and for practice to match philanthropists’ aspirations and intentions.


Communications and Publicity

Among Chinese philanthropists, explicit reference to participation in public forums about philanthropy was infrequent. Only about one quarter of Chinese philanthropists identified in this study considered deliberately using varying degrees of communications. Even so, in most cases they have refused to give media interviews or only do so on rare occasions in addition to using the media to promote a cause. Frequently, philanthropists chose to remain anonymous or to allow others to speak on their behalf.

There were rare instances of Chinese philanthropists who deliberately engaged the media to advance certain issues or explain their giving choices in the face of controversy. One example is Ms. Zhang Xin of SOHO China who expressed her perspectives in the New York Times on giving funds for scholarships for Chinese students to U.S. universities. Other examples of philanthropists deliberately seeking to engage the media to promote the philanthropic sector and its further development are Ms. Wei Xue and Mr. Wang Zhentao.

Perspectives on Giving to China, Partnering With Government

Among non–mainland Chinese philanthropists, about half referenced giving based on ethnic ties. Nearly all philanthropists from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau referenced some philanthropic activities with mainland China. An example of philanthropists’ giving based on ethnic heritage is higher education. A number of philanthropists identified a need to support the global education of Chinese students. As China becomes more economically and socially developed, it influences and is influenced by global forces. Developing the country’s youth to become future leaders who can operate in a global context is an unavoidable imperative. As examples, Zhang Xin and Pan Shiyi have given to globalize Chinese youth to benefit China and the world.

Finally, this review of philanthropists’ giving revealed constructive approaches to working with governmental partners and others engaged in collectively solving systemic problems. In China, philanthropists are engaging government agencies to address today’s most pressing challenges in a variety of ways. For example, Zhai Meiqing, He Xiangjian, Huang Wenzai, and Zhu Mengyi have partnered with the Guangdong government to address poverty alleviation and education.

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