Amid concerns that Bill Gates and Warren Buffett would pressure wealthy Chinese to donate to the Giving Pledge project they initiated in June to persuade US billionaires to leave most of their wealth to charity, only a small number of Chinese businessmen had accepted their invitations to the dinner as of last week, which created a stir over the willingness of China\’s rich to part with their money for a good cause.
Gates and Buffett explained in their letter: \”One part of the trip we are looking forward to is the opportunity to sit down with a number of successful business people and philanthropists to learn about philanthropy in China and to share some of our own experiences about the impact giving can have on society and our world.\”
They said they know that their project is just one approach to philanthropy and may not be the right one for China.
\”Our trip is fundamentally about learning, listening and responding to those who express an interest in our own experiences. China\’s circumstances are unique, so its approach to philanthropy will be as well.\”
The pair said the present generation of successful Chinese entrepreneurs has an opportunity to set an example for future generations, which is likely to influence the growth of philanthropy in modern China.
As wealthy Chinese have traditionally passed on their fortunes to their descendents, the concept has become ingrained and might present an obstacle to charities attracting donations, according to Zhang Yinjun, spokesperson for the China Charity Federation.
Zhang Jing, spokeswoman for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Beijing Representative Office, told Xinhua a week earlier that how many of the select 50 wealthy Chinese who had been invited to the dinner planned to attend had yet to be confirmed, as many had reservations about the gala event.
Zhang said the office did not simply invite the top 50 on the wealthy list, but selected those who had shown an interest in philanthropy.
In their letter, Gates and Buffett said: \”Of course, there is noteworthy philanthropy going on at all levels of society in China, not just among the very fortunate.\”
The tycoons even drew on an old Chinese saying to encourage people to do what they can: \”Remember what you have received. Forget what you gave.\”
They also showed enthusiasm and optimism over charitable acts in China.
\”As it has done in so many other ways, China will surprise the world in its embrace of philanthropy.\”
The Chinese billionaires who have confirmed their attendance at the banquet include Chen Guangbiao, China\’s most famous philanthropist and CEO of a resources recycling company in eastern Jiangsu province, and Zhang Xin, CEO of SOHO China, the country\’s leading real estate development company.
According to the Hurun Wealth Report 2010, there are 55,000 people with wealth over 100 million yuan ($14.81 million) in China.
Chen posted an open letter on his company\’s website, in which he pledged to donate his fortune to charity after his death and accepted his invitation to the Gates-Buffett dinner in Beijing.
In his letter, Chen related that he had contributed 1.34 billion yuan to charity over the past decade, including 313 million yuan, or 77.6 percent of his company\’s annual profits, in 2009.
\”If Gates\’ and Buffett\’s visit and banquet could change the way Chinese billionaires handle their fortunes, it would be a good start to encourage more people to donate to society,\” Zhang said.