Chinese rich give little to charity

Chinese rich give little to charity
A worker cleans the promenade on the Bund along the Huangpu River against the skyline of the Lujiazui Financial District in Pudong in Shanghai on July 24, 2014.

The number of millionaires in China grew to 2.4 million last year, second only to the United States, which totaled 7.1 million, according to the Boston Consulting Group.

The number of billionaires is about 300, according to the 2013 China Rich List, which is compiled by the Hurun Report. The most recent compilation of the Forbes World's Billionaires List includes more than 130 Chinese individuals.

China ranked 133 among 135 countries for donations and last for volunteering, according to the World Giving Index 2013, an annual survey by the Charities Aid Foundation.

Where does the world's second-biggest economy stand on charitable donations versus the world's biggest economy, the United States?

Total charitable giving in China was just 4 per cent of the US level in 2013, according to Hurun.

In 2013, China's top 100 philanthropists gave away a total of US$890 million (S$1.11 billion).

In the US in 2013, individuals gave roughly US$240.6 billion.

"The potential is there in China as a result of the growth in the country's number of millionaires and billionaires," said Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations.

"But we have to keep in mind that just having the capability to donate does not mean there's an incentive. Motivation could be provided by the government or in the form of tax benefits, but there's not much there."

Some individuals such as billionaire real estate developer Hui Ka Yan serve as examples of that potential. Hui, chairman of the Evergrande Real Estate Group, gave US$68 million to charity in 2013, making him the biggest philanthropist in China, according to the Forbes 2013 China Philanthropy List.

Other notable names on the list include: Wang Jianlin, chairman of Dalian Wanda Group Corp, China's largest entertainment group (US$42 million, third overall); Ma Huateng, founder and chief executive officer of Tencent Holdings Ltd (US$23 million, sixth overall); and Jack Ma, co-founder of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (US$8 million, 29th overall).

But because there is no inheritance tax in China, some entrepreneurs are not shy about keeping their money within their immediate families, said Dien S Yuen, managing director of Kordant Philanthropy Advisors, a San Francisco-based global philanthropy research and advisory firm.

"China is in what I call the 'accumulation of wealth stage', and they are still building their businesses and growing, which I think is one of the reasons you're not seeing an outburst of philanthropy," Yuen said in an interview with China Daily.

Yuen said she expected philanthropy in China will grow to be more standardized, but without an "enabling environment" to foster the proper infrastructure.

She said individuals will continue to abstain from giving because of the attention and potential backlash that goes hand-in-hand with high-profile philanthropy.

Whether there is a growing culture of Chinese philanthropy and if so, how it will take shape going forward was the topic of discussion in June among experts on foreign philanthropy at the Asia Society in New York.

Melissa Berman, president and CEO of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors Inc, said at the event that the "robust nonprofit sector" in the US has allowed citizens to develop trust in philanthropic organisations, a sentiment that she said has not yet emerged in China.

"Philanthropy is based on trust and confidence in the nonprofit sector," she told China Daily in an interview.

"So getting that nonprofit sector accelerated and developed is really going to change the landscape of philanthropy in China," she said.

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