Debate on Chinese philanthropy abroad

September 8, 2011

The Project Hope Africa affair seems to have reignited the debate on Chinese philanthropy abroad. Economic Observer Online, a Peking-based bilingual publication whose English website describes it as independent (the Chinese does not), has published an article arguing that China should not be deterred by those who overseas aid as long as there are so many poor in China. According to the article, China (the country) should develop philanthropy abroad essentially for purposes of public diplomacy; according to the author, an EMBA (student? graduate?) of Peking University’s School of State/National Development (国家发展学院), “this will also help establish a preference for Chinese goods in the future.

On Minjian International, the mailing list on China’s development activities abroad, the topic aroused different reactions. One poster, Xiao Xu, wrote that “charity knows no borders” and that it perfectly possible that a poorer country aids a richer country. The problem was, rather, what actually was charity.

Why Chinese people so far are not donating to charities abroad is an interesting question. But Chinese volunteers abroad are certainly appearing. This summer, I ran into two Chinese students from Canton who, via a global programme ran by AIESEC, the international economics student association, were volunteering at a kindergarten in Budapest. Young Chinese hanging out in countries like Laos or Nepal, teaching language or setting up small social enterprises, are sure to become more numerous. The question how the relationship between the state’s desire to develop an overseas philanthropic/volunteer presence, the interests of businesses like Lu’s but also like China’s multinational state enterprises, and individual young people’s attractions will interact.


Lu Junqing, the new Liu Jianjun?

September 6, 2011

第一财经日报 (First Financial Daily, part of the Southern Media Group) published an article (言木, 中非希望工程背后的卢俊卿父女发迹史, 18 August 2011) on Lu Junqing 卢俊卿 and his daughter Lu Xingyu 卢星宇, the twenty-something whose microblog has attracted so much attention that she has been, apparently, compared to Guo Meimei 郭美美, the suspected Red Cross worker who boasted of her affluent lifestyle.

Lu Junqing is the chairman of 世界杰出华商协会, a Hong Kong-registered company that styles itself the World Federation of Prominent Chinese Entrepreneurs. Lu Xingyu is the secretary-general of this federation’s Future Leaders Club and of the executive secretary of Project Hope Africa 非洲希望工程, a joint venture between the federation and China Youth Development Foundation (CYDF) 中国青少年发展基金会. Lu pere is Project Hope Africa’s chairman.

Project Hope is one of contemporary China’s earliest and most famous charity projects. Launched in 1989, it collects donations to build and improve rural schools. Its early 1990s ad campaigns, featuring photos of poor children, are still well-known in China. In the 1990s, it successfully collected donations from Chinese businessmen overseas. CYDF, a government-organised “NGO,” was basically established to run Project Hope. (Interestingly, today, CYDF’s website appeared hacked — I wonder whether it’s anything to do with the Lu affair.)

Project Hope Africa was launched in 2010 with the goal to set up 1,000 schools in Africa. According to CYDF, as of now, it has received 31 million yuan from the World Federation (Lu Xingyu has personally donated 1 million) and has made arrangements to build 20 schools in Tanzania, Kenya, Namibia, Burundi, and Rwanda. According to CYDF’s secretary-general, the schools will most likely be pre-assembled containers shipped to Africa, rather than constructed locally. In March this year, Xinhua reported that Project Hope Africa officially started with the signing of an agreement between CYDF and the Tanzanian government. The Chinese ambassador was present at the ceremony, at which Lu called Project Hope “China’s top charity brand” (中国的第一公益品牌).

The Federation’s list of advisors includes several retired high-level officials. A 3 August article about Lu Xingyu in the overseas edition of People’s Daily features a photo of her with several African presidents.

Lu Junqing was an official in Guangyuan, Sichuan, before venturing into entrepreneurship in 1995. Lu Xingyu is said to have graduated from California State, whereas Lu Junqing has degrees from Mianyang Teachers’ College and Priceton (sic) University, a U.S.-based institution that appears to specialise in delivering correspondence degrees in China. But the paper’s reporter has been unable to determine what kind of business Lu does, and whether he has anything to do with Africa.

One of Lu Junqing’s posts, apparently reposted on Qufeizhou.com, a forum for Chinese in Africa or wanting to go there, waxes lyrical about businessmen who donated (or pledged to donate) 15 million yuan to Project Hope Africa but “couldn’t bear to spend 40,000 yuan” (around 4,000 euro) on a business-class ticket to Africa, which sees as an example of modesty. “Actually, many people don’t understand how lovely we Chinese entrepreneurs are,” he concludes.

Of course, it is possible that this is simply a crude hoax, that CYDF has been taken for a ride (or just been too greedy) and the story is an example of the ephemeral celebrities produced by microblogs. But, as in the case of Liu Jianjun — who has recently resurfaced in Chinese media! — or the Lumbini project, I suspect that there is more to it. And why not? Surely 1,000 Chinese-sponsored schools in Africa is an idea that many would like. If not this time, then soon.

Thanks to Cao Ke for forwarding the story to Minjian International.