Blame communist China’s moral bankruptcy for its lack of charity

Cary Huang says the growing ranks of Chinese billionaires only show up the extent to which the traditional values of care and giving have been destroyed

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 November, 2016, 12:24pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 November, 2016, 7:17pm

After years of stellar economic growth, China today tops the world in both billionaires and luxury goods consumption, overtaking the US. But such newfound wealth does not automatically bring about a proportional growth in generosity and sympathy for the needy. Instead, China has continued to be among the world’s least generous nations.

Last month, the London-based Charities Aid Foundation ranked China dead last in a new worldwide survey on generosity, coming in at 140th in its 2016 World Giving Index. In 2015, China ranked 144 out of 145, above only Burundi.

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The index measures the percentage of people in each country who donate money, volunteer or help a stranger. This year, Myanmar tops the index, followed by the US and Australia. Myanmar’s overall score was 70 per cent, while China’s was 11 per cent.

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Last week, the Forbes China Rich List reported a record 400 US-dollar billionaires in the country. However, the world’s second-largest economy has no Rockefellers or Fords, or a modern-day Bill Gates or Warren Buffett to emulate, as surprisingly few Chinese fat cats have embraced charitable giving.

China lags far behind many nations in both the absolute amount in charity giving and the per capita rates of giving. In the US, 165 million Americans, or 63 per cent of the population, said they donated money to a good cause, while just 6 per cent, or 66 million, of Chinese did so. Americans have spent more than 2 per cent of the nation’s annual gross domestic product on charity while China spent less than 0.05 per cent of its GDP. Total charitable giving in China was just 4 per cent of the US level in 2013, according to Hurun.

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The World Giving Index is not just about giving money, of course, as it also included statistics about volunteer work and helping strangers. Some 46 per cent of Americans volunteered their time, and 73 per cent offered help to a stranger. In China, only 4 per cent of people volunteered their time, and 24 per cent offered help.

In recent years, there has been a soul-searching debate in China on the common phenomenon of “bystander apathy”, with the media reporting on cases where people simply stood by and did not help those in need.

China is said to have a traditional culture that values care and giving. But such strong philanthropic traditions have effectively been dismantled under Mao Zedong’s (毛澤東) ruling philosophy of “class struggle”. The party has historically regarded many charitable initiatives with suspicion, believing that they challenged its dominance.

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In recent years, officials have come to realise the problems with such suppression, not least because responses to disasters have often been inadequate. The enactment of China’s first charity law in September has therefore been hailed as a milestone in efforts to promote charity in the communist-ruled nation.

However, the root of the widespread apathy and indifference in society lies in a political culture that promotes a Machiavellian philosophy and Leninist ideology, which does not encourage good Samaritans but nurtures communist warriors. It is also the result of moral bankruptcy in a society where the abuse of power, corruption, social inequality and injustice are widespread.

Philanthropy is not only an integral component of a society’s welfare framework; it is also about the dissemination of the universal values of care and love among the people, and the promotion of social equality, harmony, responsibility and morality.

Cary Huang is a senior writer at the Post