Eccentric philanthropist Chen Guangbiao on a mission in New York (and he sings too)

Eccentric philanthropist is taking 1,000 homeless New Yorkers out to lunch in the hope it will inspire Wall Street to open its pockets

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 June, 2014, 10:41pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 January, 2018, 12:49pm

Controversial Chinese philanthropist Chen Guangbiao arrives in New York tomorrow bursting with ideas for how he can help America's poor and the country's ailing newspaper industry. But first he has some requirements.

Before 1,000 underprivileged people can join him for lunch at The Boathouse restaurant in the city's Central Park and receive red packets stuffed with US$300, they must sing for their supper - the patriotic ditty Learn from the Good Model Citizen Lei Feng, named after the supposedly selfless People's Liberation Army soldier hailed by Mao Zedong.

To prep his guests, Chen, 46, had copies of the song's English lyrics distributed at places that distribute food to the poor.

Overseeing proceedings will be 200 Chinese volunteers recruited from Columbia and New York universities dressed in green military uniforms.

The entertainment also will involve Chen and two Americans singing the song written by Michael Jackson for the charity USA for Africa in 1985 , We are the World in English.

There is nothing that can’t be bought as long as the price is right

"I have received 5,000 applicants and I estimate by Wednesday the applications will outnumber 10,000," Chen said last week before flying to the US.

Watch: Chinese tycoon Chen Guangbiao attempts to sing USA for Africa's, "We Are the World"

He announced the lunch with typical brio, taking out a full-page ad in The New York Times and a half-page ad in The Wall Street Journal in which he calls himself the "Lei Feng of a new era".

"My charity luncheon is to stimulate tycoons from Wall Street and the rest of America to learn from me."

The tab? More than US$1 million, Chen said.

Chen is the founder of Nanjing-based recycling company Jiangsu Huangpu Renewable Resources Utilisation Group, which recycles construction waste.

He is listed at 227 on Forbes' list of the 400 richest Chinese.

Chen refuses to disclose his assets or his company's profits but says 50 to 60 per cent of the profits go to charity.

His antics are legendary. Earlier this year, he offered to buy the Times.

He said if his bid was successful, he planned to make the newspaper bilingual and use the pages to advocate environmental protection and world peace.

When the company refused, Chen said he began negotiating to buy the paper's Opinion page.

"There is nothing that can't be bought as long as the price is right," he said last week. "I would like to buy either the ownership or management rights of this page. I love reading opinions."

Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy said the company was not negotiating with Chen. "No, there is absolutely no truth to this story. It's ludicrous."

Undeterred, Chen is still hoping to buy an online American news site. He said one website had approached him asking if he'd like to buy it.

"If I am wealthy enough, I will purchase CNN," he said. "I hope Hong Kong tycoons can lend me money to complete this deal and let's together promote 'positive energy' worldwide."

Chen said that unlike most mainland Chinese billionaires, he did his own publicity and came up with his own ideas for the charity events.

His zany antics have included standing on street corners in 2012 when the pollution was particularly bad, selling cans of "fresh air".

Then there were the cars he offered to 43 people whose Japanese vehicles were smashed up in a massive anti-Japan protest in 2012.

He likes to put on a good show. Chen was photographed in a military uniform with a submachine gun on March 5, 2012, the official "Learn from Lei Feng" day. Last year he starred in a short, self-made video as late premier Zhou Enlai to spread Zhou's "serve the people" spirit.

Chen said while many Chinese entrepreneurs question his sincerity they were just jealous, and ordinary citizens liked him.

"They said I am making a show of myself and they wonder where my money is from," he said. "You can compete with me by taking money from your pockets for charity. The source of my income is none of your business. If I have done unlawful things, judicial authorities will get me.

"It is not necessary to keep [anything] secret if you are doing good things. With media covering my charity and public welfare activities, more people will follow me to dedicate themselves into the cause."

The businessman first rose to fame when he led 120 workers driving 60 excavators to the area in Sichuan wrecked by the earthquake of 2008.

He said he pulled out the bodies of more than 200 students and saved 14 lives. His team, he said, built roads near the disaster-struck villages.

Chen said he had donated hundreds of millions of yuan in the past decade.

In return, his accolades include 4,000 honorable certificates, 20,000 hada (silk scarves presented by Tibetans to respected people), and 3,000 banners, all of which are displayed in his Nanjing office.

The Ministry of Civil Affairs named him the nation's top philanthropist, based on his donations, in 2008 and 2010.

Chen's enthusiasm for saving the planet seems to know no bounds.

In 2011 he said his family members had changed their names to advocate conservancy. He was renamed Chen Ditan - ditan meaning "low carbon" in Chinese. His wife took the name Zhang Luse, as luse means green.

One son was renamed Chen Huanbao and the other Chen Huanjing - the given names translating to "environmental protection", and "environment".

But Chen still goes by his old identity.

Chen said he hadn't bribed any government officials or polluted the environment, two sins he said built the fortunes of the mainland Chinese elite.

"I can make a pledge that every single cent I earn is earned through honest and legal means," he said.

He said his charitable work had not benefitted his business.

"Of every 100 demolition projects my company does, 98 are second-hand and don't come from the government because I don't carry out those 'unwritten rules'," Chen said.

"If you want to win the bid, you must send gifts or sponsor officials to hire prostitutes. Government bidding is false and the winner has already been decided."

In 2010 Chen wrote an open letter to American billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett , who were encouraging Chinese tycoons to donate more. Chen said he would donate all of his assets after death.

He reiterated that vow last week, saying: "I will definitely donate all my money after my death, otherwise my two sons will be cursed by the public."

But first he has to get through the rendition of that Michael Jackson song.