In the go-go capitalism that pervades today's China, success is measured by money. And now sincerity is also being measured by the same yardstick. With ordinary people digging into their pockets to contribute to the earthquake relief effort, the spotlight is being turned on what Chinese celebrities and companies are doing to help out. And this has triggered an angry debate in the blogosphere.
First under the spotlight was basketball star Yao Ming. Although he was quick to make a public appeal for aid, his initial donation of less than $73,000 US was derided by bloggers such as the unusually-named "fish is crazy about balls!"
"When Yao Ming injured his foot, every basketball fan in the whole country worried about him....But this time our country suffers through such a catastrophe, our sporting icon made only a courtesy donation of less than $73,000 US... Yao Ming, this time you let us down."
Perhaps sensing a groundswell of hostility, Yao Ming later upped his donation, giving another $217,391 US. This gained him some support among bloggers.
"Some foreign corporations in China donated less than he did," wrote "nikkimp3." "And for those who accused Yao Ming, how much did they donate?"
China's other sports icon the Olympic gold medallist and hurdler Liu Xiang was also the object of wrath after he gave less than $73,000 US to the earthquake effort, together with his coach. Critics felt that, as one of the highest-earning sports stars in China whose face adorns many an advertising billboard, he should have given more.
One blogger, "Guan Gong plays with Knife," wrote, "Liu Xiang earned $23 million US in 2007, while he only donated 72,464 US dollars together with his coach. It's a large sum of money for ordinary people, but it's too little compared to Liu Xiang's income. As a sports star who has been raised by the nation, his shamelessness has left us speechless."
Under pressure, Liu Xiang also stumped up, adding more than $400,000 to his donation. But such sentiments underline just how pervasive the Confucian notions of duty and obligation are today, as well as how important the idea of reciprocity is. Critics clearly believe China's athletes, and even celebrities, have a duty, both to their fans and to the country, to step up in its hour of need.
For Chinese businesses, the quake relief effort offers an unparalleled opportunity to show their corporate social responsibility and many are giving large amounts of money. The biggest private donation is from China's richest businessman, Li Ka-shing. This Hong Kong tycoon has already pledged to donate a total of $19.5 million US through his charitable foundation to the quake relief effort.
It's also noticeable that the excitable blogosphere is now turning its attention to the response of foreign businesses in China. McDonalds donated $145,000 US to the relief effort. But still it was the target of angry street protests in the city of Nanchong, Sichuan for its perceived lack of charity. The day after, it donated another $1.5 million. Bloggers have also singled out Coca-Cola, KFC, Toyota and Carrefour. Some have even ferretted out information apparently proving that some multinational corporations donated less to China than they did after the tsunami that devastated coastal parts of southeast Asia in 2005.
Among some more nationalistic youth, this is being perceived as proof that foreign companies are less sympathetic towards China than they have been to other disaster-struck regions. Psychologists say that in times of crisis, social cohesion is increased among communities most affected, and they may lash out at those perceived as outsiders. It may say something about the sense of national crisis that even those trying to help are being singled out for attack.