Rich dig deeper to give the poor a helping hand

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 April, 2006, 12:00am

Yu Panglin, 85, has seen the light and wants other cataract patients to be able to do the same.

That's why the chairman of the Shenzhen-based Panglin Hotel set up his 500 million yuan Pang Lin Bright Project in 2003 to offer free cataract operations to impoverished patients. By 2008, he hopes the project's surgeons will have operated on at least 150,000 underprivileged patients on the mainland who do not have the money for treatment.

Mr Yu, whose own sight was saved by a cataract operation seven years ago, says he is filled with joy whenever somebody walks into one of his mobile surgical theatres and comes out with his or her sight restored.

Last week, Shanghai-based wealth-tracking agency the Hurun Report named Mr Yu - using his mainland name of Yu Pengnian - the mainland's most generous philanthropist.

The report said Mr Yu, who has business interests in hotels, the property market and stock markets in the greater China region, had pledged 2 billion yuan to charity projects since 2003.

Second on Hurun's 2006 China Philanthropy List is Yang Lan, a mainland television personality identified as having contributed 550 million yuan to education through her Sun Culture Foundation since 2003.

Together they account for half the 5.1 billion yuan the top 50 philanthropists have donated to worthy causes over the past three years. The total is nearly four times the accumulated donations noted in last year's report.

The Hurun Report's founder, Rupert Hoogewerf, said the surge in contributions showed the growing interest in charitable works on the mainland in response to the alarming gap between the rich and the poor.

Hurun's rich list last year put the wealth owned by the 400 richest people on the mainland at US$75 billion, equal to about 7 per cent of the country's gross domestic product in 2005.

While the gap has led to a backlash against the rich, Sun Culture Foundation chairwoman Ms Yang said that those sentiments 'do no good to anybody'.

In July, Ms Yang and her husband Bruno Wu decided to use 51 per cent of their holdings in Sun Media Investment Holdings to set up the foundation for education, cultural exchange and environmental protection projects.

There has been some public scepticism about the couple's exact contribution but Ms Yang said charitable work was her way of life. 'I do what I choose to do and it is no on else's business,' she said.

Ms Yang said she and her husband had a strong belief in 'philanthropic capitalism'.

Tsinghua University associate professor Ning Xiangdong said people chose to get involved in charitable work either for publicity or because they have a social conscience.

But for rich people there was more of a trade-off, he said.

'I don't suppose these people can live in peace if they are surrounded by the destitute, so the rich are willing to give something in return for maintaining the status quo,' Professor Ning said.

Mr Hoogewerf said his list was designed to 'change the image of wealth' on the mainland.

Mr Yu understood why there were such strong feelings about the wealthy because 'there are so many getting rich overnight'.

He said he was not ashamed of his own fortune because he started off as a cleaner 50 years ago in Hong Kong and was willing to give, as long as it was for a good cause.

Mr Yu said he made his first donation in 1982, when he gave 5.8 million yuan to build the Lishan Middle School in his home town, Lianyuan , in Hunan province .

But he was also frustrated and sometimes disenchanted when his donations failed to reach the intended recipients.

In 1986, Mr Yu donated 10 ambulances to local governments in Lianyuan and Changsha , but the vehicles were waylaid by the local governments and used for other purposes. In protest, he demanded the vehicles be returned to him, but only received five of them.

He said he had become savvier about community projects over the years and now directly employed Pang Lin Bright Project's team of specialists to carry out operations in 10 mainland regions.

'There is no way I would throw money away unless I could see and feel these projects for myself,' he said.

Mr Yu has also criticised local governments on the mainland for their indifference to charitable efforts.

Ms Yang agreed, saying the culture of doing charitable work had not taken off on the mainland.