My parents were born in southern China. They fled to Hong Kong after the communists came and took over China’s government in 1949, and eventually made their way to the United States for higher education opportunities and stayed for job opportunities. As an American-born Chinese, I often wonder how my parents view China’s economic ascendancy in recent years, after living through some very deep poverty amidst a war-torn country 60 years ago.
Following this rise is an increase in Chinese philanthropy, as chronicled by this recent article in The New York Times, featuring our friends at the Social Venture Group. Perhaps more accurately, this is not a rise in philanthropy yet – but a growing awareness. Certainly the charitable response to last year’s Sichuan earthquake was a defining moment in China’s nascent history of philanthropy. (the events have been well chronicled on this blog.) Both corporations and individuals have increased their philanthropy in various ways, including the use of shaming one into philanthropy – see the Iron Rooster list – or “birds so stingy they would not share a feather”. More importantly though, NGOs and corporations are seeing the importance of public policy and regulatory reform and taking the lead in encouraging greater philanthropy. They are doing this through “…studying the history of foundations in the U.S. and Europe to make their case for regulatory reform.”
Ever since I started in philanthropy, I’ve believed that the rise of philanthropy in China and other emerging markets of Asia will be a major story in philanthropy in the coming years. Asian-American philanthropists can play a unique role in bridging the knowledge and experience of philanthropy in America to help influence and shape China’s emerging philanthropic sector.
As for my parents, after I shared this article with them, they appreciate the radical changes China has gone through which they’ve witnessed throughout their lifetimes. They look forward to more changes in China’s emerging philanthropic sector. Now, more than ever, they are convinced that this is the next step in China’s maturation as a civil society and hopefully one day, a democracy where its people can enjoy freedom along with economic growth. It is a hope I hold with them, as the story of China’s philanthropy plays out in the years to come.