Beijing lets the charity balls roll
A token of just how much attitudes in Beijing have changed over two years are the high-profile charity events the foreign community is now free to organise.
In April 1996, 40 police stormed the Lido Hotel where about 400 people, mostly Americans, were attending a charity dinner to raise money for Chinese orphans. The police tore down the banners, writer Amy Tan could not give her speech and the Philip Hayden Foundation, the organiser, was told it was an illegal gathering.
It followed an international scandal about alleged abuses at Shanghai orphanages. The mood in China was so xenophobic the Foreign Ministry sternly rebuked the charity for not being registered and obtaining the prior consent of the police before holding the dinner.
This year China is encouraging the world to focus on the plight of its flood victims to the extent that everyone seems to want to help. Even otherwise low-profile groups like the wives of Arab ambassadors are helping out. On Sunday they organised a charity dinner at the Kempinski Hotel for the disabled victims of the floods attended by the wife of Qian Qichen, China's former foreign minister.
Handicapped children performed and women in veils danced for the guests. Airlines gave away tickets for raffles and guests stuffed money into boxes left around the dining tables.
Many other foreign embassies and foreign schools have been thinking of ways to raise contributions from staff and pupils.
The Swiss Embassy even released a benefit CD: Village In The Floods. Swiss commercial counsellor Arthur Mattli, a talented pianist, wrote the music together with renowned pipa player Yang Jing.
The CD was launched at a reception in the Great Wall Hotel attended by Mrs Sun Baiqiu, vice-president of the Chinese Red Cross Society, and the money raised is going to the Red Cross.
Big foreign investors, individual governments and international bodies have all been keen to show how the outside world can help China with its problems.
This weekend European Commission president Jacques Santer will tour Hubei province, which was badly hit by the floods. The European Union has donated US$1.79 million (HK$13.8 million) to non-governmental organisations like the Red Cross Foundation and Medecins Sans Frontieres.
United Nations organisations are also pitching in. The United Nations Development Programme has launched an appeal for US$139 million to help the flood victims rebuild their homes, schools and hospitals.
And - much to the surprise of some diplomats - the World Food Programme has asked for US$87 million for flood relief supplies.
'I don't know why the Chinese want this grain as they keep saying they have record grain stocks?' said one US diplomat.
The US Government is considering contributing more than US$25 million worth of food as a surplus is pushing down domestic prices. Australia, which has already contributed to Red Cross flood relief, is also donating A$1 million (HK$4.77 million) to the World Food Programme appeal.
Now that China is no longer so touchy about accepting the help of foreigners, it is not just governments that are profiting from this new open door.
This month the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Animals Asia Foundation even dispatched 'Dr Dogs' to visit a group of handicapped children at a special education centre in Beijing. Dogs, which are more or less banned in the capital, were taken in to meet the children as a form of therapy. So far the dogs have not been arrested.