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When Li Bingbing makes efforts to discourage consumers from purchasing rhino horns as part of a WildAid campaign, fashion brand Shanghai Tang adopts tiger cubs, and celebrities establish charity funds as wedding gifts, it may seem like charitable aid in China has had legs in the last few years. It has even recently been a mark of social status in China to give to those in need. However, Hurun’s latest philanthropy report suggests that when it comes to donations from China’s super-wealthy, China has some catching up to do.
The second edition of the firm’s annual report on philanthropy, “Hurun Global Chinese Big Philanthropy Report 2016,” revealed that to date, just 51 out of China’s 630 billionaires—only 8 percent—have donated at least $80 million to charity over their lifetime. Out of this total, about half are from the Chinese mainland, and 12 are from Hong Kong, and several were from other parts of the globe.
However, when it comes to overall donations from wealthy Chinese individuals this year alone, things are looking brighter. Total donations are up 50 percent year on year ending in March, which is five times that of three years ago. This means China’s wealthy donated $4.6 billion in total this year, with some of the major givers appearing on the list for the first time. This includes actress Angelababy, who at 26 is the youngest philanthropist in China, donating $2.6 million with her husband.
Meanwhile, topping the ultra-wealthy Chinese on Hurun Global Rich List 2016 are four well-known names on the Hurun Rich List who invested more than $1.5 billion: Li Ka-shing of CK Hutchison Holdings, Pony Ma of Tencent, Priscilla Chan (the wife of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg does not have Chinese citizenship, but is still listed on Hurun’s report), and Alibaba’s Jack Ma. Jack Ma and Pony Ma have each set up significant foundations focusing on education, health care, and culture.
Out of the rest of the 51, the majority are real estate tycoons, but some of the top contributors on the list were in IT. Most of them focused on education—it made up 46 percent of the donations in Hurun’s top 100 list. In one instance, Harvard received its biggest donation ever of $350 million from Ronnie and Gerald Chan from Hong Kong last year. Other charity efforts included projects for the poor, with an emphasis on giving in the philanthropists’ hometowns, and disaster relief.
The current state of philanthropy in China may continue its upward trend with China’s latest laws regarding NGOs, which are partly intended to establish a better system for regulation and allow for donors to apply for tax breaks. Still, it may be some time before before the numbers mirror that of the United States. To give perspective on where China is at in comparison, in 2014, philanthropy made up only 0.17 percent of China’s GDP compared to the United States’ 12 percent. And in 2015, China ranked a dismal 144th out of 145 countries on the Charities Aid Foundation World Giving Index.
But while some experts explain away the disparity as being caused by differences in government tax policies, attitudes spawned by new money, and concern over the authenticity of NGOs, according to Rupert Hoogewerf, Hurun Report chairman and chief researcher. China’s tycoons are investing in projects that promote social change and sustainability in ways that aren’t as explicit and easy to trace in reports like Hurun’s.
“Gone are the days when Chinese entrepreneurs simply give money to a charity,” he said. “Nowadays, China’s top philanthropists are much more concerned about the impact of their donations, most of which are in education.” Thus, China’s wealthy aren’t only simply donating to charitable organizations, but doing everything from investing in sustainable projects that improve the country and the environment, to supporting luxury brands with CSR initiatives.