Joy Ma

Controversy and Charity

After ten days of working with the All Things Considered Chengdu crew, I'm back in Beijing.

People's lives outside of the epicenter are gradually getting back to normal. Although survivors' pictures are still rolling across the TV screen, entertainment programs are back on. But people seem as enthusiastic about donating to the relief effort as ever, and there's a huge online controversy related to it going on in right now.

It began when the Vanke Company, China's top real estate company (with revenues of 35.5 billion RMB (about $5 billion), donated two million RMB (about $290 thousand) on the day of the disaster. That sum didn't place Vanke among the largest corporate contributors to the relief effort, and thus began criticism from online observers.

Don't Be Burdensome

Shortly thereafter Wang Shi, the Chairman of Vanke, wrote a blog article titled "After All, Life is Most Important" as a response to the criticism. "I of course admire the companies which donated over 10 million RMB", he wrote, "but as the Chairman of Vanke, I think two million is an appropriate number for our company to give." He also said: "China is a country with frequent and various natural disasters and contributing to disaster relief is normal. Companies should donate continuously, but the donations should not become burdensome." In order to be free from burden, his company also reminded all its staff that their individual donations should be no more than 10 RMB ($2.00.)


In just a couple of days, there were 1,050,000 search hits for the title of Wang's blog article. On many online forums, and even his own blog, millions of comments like "cold blooded", "miserly" and "conscienceless" were dumped onto Wang's head. There were also more supportive voices who argued that Wang was being rational. But the voices in support were just the buzzing of a bug's wings compared to the thunder of criticism.

Compared to other Chinese real-estate developers, Wang Shi has a forthright, almost combative personality. He often makes surprising remarks about the Chinese real-estate field, boasting that no real estate company in China could compare to Vanke. He himself is also an expert mountain climber. He has conquered many summits, including Mount Everest, and his company is likewise famous for conquering difficult business 'peaks'. Now someone has accused him of shrinking from this challenge, saying "you have conquered many great mountains, but you can't climb over a single grave mound in Wenchuan."

Additional Aid Promised

Wang finally apologized, and said that his words had not been appropriate. He promised that his company would give additional aid for rebuilding, and forgo making profits from any reconstruction work his company does. He emphasized that his intention in writing his blog post was to remind people that charity should not become a contest.

But right now donations really have become a sort of contest. Many companies and individuals are giving all they can, and Wang isn't the only one whose donation has been scrutinized and found wanting. Successful businessmen, movie stars, singers and famous athletes are also under intense scrutiny.

The amount of money you make might not mean anything, but at such a tragic moment, the amount of money you give means a lot. But people tend to forget that no matter how much others give to the relief effort; it is all done out of good will. Wang Shi is right. Making donations is charitable work. It should be something people can do on a regular basis, without becoming a burden. Once it turns into a competition, however, in the long run it won't just be the donors who suffer, but the people who should be benefiting from their generosity.

- - Joy Ma



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Like the rest of the world, I do not worry about Vanke or any other weathy since they do have a least few teams of professtional to protect them. I am more worry about the private citizens who got so emotional on this since China never broadcast its suffering people on TV 24/7. They have no one to protect them and they might have given all they have, a begger gave all he had got a job offer, but he was one of the few lucky ones. Chinese will have to learn how to give on the pot light as we all done here in America.

Sent by Mary | 2:05 PM | 6-5-2008

This is not just a charity. This is to save someone who is dying.

Sent by mike | 4:26 PM | 6-5-2008

Goodwill and generosity can not be judged in financial terms. The semi-forced donation/publicity contest is resonance of the forced donation scheme prevalent in China where the government and businesses make employee donations mandatory rather than voluntary year round. I am glad to see that "voluntary" philanthropic culture finally budded in China after the earthquake. And to echo Mr. Wang Shi, donors should do what then can within reason, and within their means. However, to conclude that future victims could suffer from reduced generosity due to donor fatigue may not be founded. According to this New York Times article, donor fatigue is largely not supported by evidence.

Sent by JW | 6:42 PM | 6-5-2008

Help of any shape, form, color, and amount, if measurable, should be appreciated. Donation is just one way of help and should be something volunteer, wholehearted not under pressure of any kind. Mr. Wang's blog, however, sounded a little insensitive to say the least, especially in the wake of a disaster. And he has no business to tell his employees whether they should or should not donate, or how much they should donate. Based on what he said I assume that he regularly donates sitting on top of the enormous revenue. It isn't through quite the same between life saving and life recovering.

Sent by cz | 10:18 PM | 6-5-2008

Life is not easy for Chinese. For majority of Chinese everywhere, money does not come easily. That's why they are big on bargain hunting. People line up for hours to get discounted product or free rides, etc. Generous donations are not an easy decisions for Chinese.

In the mean time, bloggers in China are discussing how the donated money have been spent. You can see angry comments on corrupted officials stealing donated money. Donors donated the money and then assert their rights to see them properly spent.

Don't you see some changes?

Sent by Donald | 11:54 AM | 6-6-2008

I have been glued to NPR Chengdu Diary ever since the earthquake. What I would like to commend is the quality and unbiaed nature of reports coming from NPR. Speaking of the charity issue, the outpouring of support from China and all over the world has been tremendous.I am confident it will be used wisely for reconstruction. Now compared to what has been spent on the war in Iraq. There is simply no comparison. As the congress is approving yet another $100 billion war buget for next year, it's time to ask why at the time after 911, most media such as CNN, Fox News, MSN, etc, was so alligned with the Bush admisnistration and made such a propaganda to fool a nation to fight the wrong war. The money could have been spent on many good causes, but not to kill 100,000 innocent people in Iraq. There has to be some very ugly reasons behind the war and we all deserve the truth. Earthquake is a natural diaster. However, the war in Iraq that killed even more people than the earthquake is unforgivable and the truth behind the war shall be told. I only wish some of those "right" news media could understand that they owe the public the truth. NPR can not do this alone.

Sent by lw | 1:54 PM | 6-8-2008

Though I always think that charity is a personal choice. I am in no place to judge if or how much one should contribute. But as a merit, charity should be encouraged in the society and by employers.

It sounds so strange to me that the chairman of the company reminds their staff that their individual donation should not be more than $2. If considering the disaster relief is a long term project, or if considering any charity activity should be in long run, the company should have stated so more clearly and encouraged its staff by using some policy like "gift-matching"...

Wang Shi may be right in some sense. But I think he went too far. From what I learn from the news and some discussion with friends, what he did seems not problem-solving in the somewhat competition-like charity activity.

Sent by Mei | 12:07 PM | 6-9-2008

It is quite an irony that the poor people can not get attention unless they are stroke by the disasters like this. In my view, the donation right after the disaster is mostly short term. There should be a long term strategy to lift them out of poverty. It will help them to resist future disasters. If Wang and his company want to have real remedy, they should not just simply add donation, they should set up foundations for education and training of the victims, and build earthquake resisting houses.

Another issue of donation is how to use them wisely when they are available. Of course, everyone is paying a close attention of possible corruption. We need to know how the money is spent not only to prevent corruption, but to maximize the benefit to the people there. Unfortunately, everyone may have his/her own view. Even the experts can NOT agree with each other. For example, how much to spend on temporary relief, how much should be allocated to training and long term improvement. Another example is what should be used for temp housing. Demand is high now to move out from tent and live in temporary houses. However, due to the damage of the road and railway, very few mobile houses can be sent to the area. Board houses made by polyethylene foam are used. Please see However, will the heavy use of plastic foam bring excessive pollution to the area? Will it hamper the future development or even bring health risks?

There are many other issues about releif plan, such as allocating resources on short term relief and long term development, possible permanent relocation of victims, balancing between cost and results, etc. Some of them are in active debate in Chinese media now. Of course, you need to know some Chinese to understand them and contribute your expertise :-)


Sent by Z | 11:32 PM | 6-9-2008


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