NPR logo Controversy and Charity

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