Fashion-Fueled Charity Night Gives Star-Struck Chinese Another Reason to Warm up to Philanthropy

The annual Bazaar Stars’ Charity Night has been praised by Western media for its Chinese celebrities’ show-stopping ball gowns, but given China’s notoriously poor relationship with charitable giving, the event’s philanthropic successes are likely turning heads, too.

Fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar China hosted its 14th installment of the Bazaar Stars’ Charity Night on September 9, in collaboration with internet giant Tencent, which declared the date in 2015 as “Charity Day” in China. The live-streamed event attracted more than 60 Chinese celebrities, including internationally known names like Fan Bingbing, the youngest philanthropist on the Hurun Rich List in China this year, Angelababy, and Li Bingbing. The night was a culmination of online efforts headed by actors Deng Chao, Huang Xioaming, and Huang Bo, who split into three teams to compete to raise funds online for purchasing ambulances for rural areas in need. The online fundraiser took place alongside an auction of high-end items donated by companies and artists, including diamonds, artwork, and advertising spaces. According to media reports, this year’s event brought in more than 64 million RMB (~$9.61 million), or enough money to donate more than 1,000 ambulances to more than 400 cities in China.

Tencent’s Charity Day may be new, but Bazaar Stars’ Charity Night has been taking place every year since 2003, when it was first launched in response to the public health crisis fueled by the SARS epidemic. Since then, Harper’s Bazaar China and its partners have raised more than 320 million RMB and have worked with more than 39 charities that serve a wide range of social issues, from poverty to disaster recovery and medical aid. The event also manages to get a long list of big stars in one room, boasting enough red carpet glamour to attract a handful of “best-dressed” articles every year.

What Bazaar Stars’ Charity Night has accomplished appears to be a stark contrast to reports that China is, according to the World Giving Index, the second to worst charitable giving nation in the world, despite it having hundreds of billionaires. That’s not to say that wealthy Chinese people aren’t donating to charity, but only about 8 percent of the super-rich are doing so. What doesn’t usually get accounted for in official data is that some of China’s rich prefer to invest in causes like “technology to rid Beijing of pollution” as opposed to an NGO, according to a recent article published in Barron’s.

The lack of charitable giving in China has been blamed on public distrust of charities. This infamously kicked off in 2011, when Chinese social media celebrity Guo Meimei simultaneously claimed to be working with China’s Red Cross and posted photos online flaunting luxury handbags and cars. That, in addition to very little regulation of charitable organizations, has prompted the Chinese government to try to turn public opinion around. A new law went into effect earlier this month that requires charitable organizations to be more transparent and gives tax benefits to those who comply.

The law comes at a time when app developers are turning to social media to also help try to change the negative public mindset about giving by creating programs that will help philanthropists vet charitable causes online. Tencent has been vocal about being a part of this movement since launching Charity Day, another sign that the situation in the public sphere is improving.

Alongside the Bazaar Stars’ Charity Night, Tencent launched a series of fundraising campaigns through the web and WeChat in cooperation with NGOs and Chinese enterprises. Tencent founder Chen Yidan told China Daily last year that his “vision is to promote a society that is filled with goodwill and trust,” and is committed to making the donation process as transparent as possible for aspiring philanthropists.

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