Chen Guangbiao, one of the few Chinese billionaires who answered Gates’ and Buffett’s call
Perhaps even more interesting than the fact that Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, two of the richest people in the world, were coming to China as part of their
The pledge, started by Gates and Buffett, asks billionaires to dedicate at least half their fortunes to charity under the idea that it’s quite possible to live well even if you only have $500 million to your name. More than three dozen billionaires in the U.S. have joined the pledge – including David Rockefeller and New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. Some who haven’t, such as George Soros, have nevertheless followed up by making unprecedented donations to NGOs under their own name.
With over 8000 billionaires in Beijing alone, it’s no wonder that Gates and Buffett have now set their sites on China’s elite. But, three weeks before the ball, only two billionaires have agreed to go.
The deafening silence has drummed up critics of China’s rich, with reports painting them as being afraid of being asked to donate money. One opinion piece in the Global Times added that many of the rich don’t want to draw attention to themselves, since they earned their fortunes in sometimes shady ways (one study found that China’s rich had $13 trillion in hidden, untaxed income):
Seventeen rich people who made it on to a top 50 rich list since China started to record fortune makers in 1999 have been found guilty of cheating in some way while they rose. More have gone under because of business integrity investigations. Every year there are people knocked off the heights of wealth – the rich are cursed, people say.
Lack of transparency and an arbitrary moderating system mean a person can gain or lose fortunes by questionable methods. Riches are intuitively associated with something fishy, which makes showing off rather ill advised.
China’s old time wisdom with regard to wealth and its implications can be encapsulated in one idiom: “Being rich brings a man the same thing as being fat brings a pig.”
The bad press is probably no surprise for a country that, for the most part, hates its rich people. Recent studies found that 96% of Chinese feel resentment towards the moneyed. And nothing gets people quite as worked up as news about the rich behaving badly. To try to stem the negativity, the foundations have been backpedalling and clarifying.
Gates and Buffett have committed to writing a letter that will detail why they’ve invited Chinese billionaires to the Beijing dining event with an emphasis about how it’s more about “learning” than “donations.” Said their press person, Zhang Jing, “Our biggest intention for this month’s China trip is to learn how to do philanthropy in China… We would like to learn how to propel the charity business in such a big developing nation.”
Zhang Jing went on to add in the Global Times that it’s understandable why some billionaires can’t attend, since they’re usually pretty busy. “But that does not mean businessmen are afraid of being lobbied to donate their wealth. Some may not make it simply because of their tight schedules.”
Even if only two people show up though, at least one of them has already made a huge commitment. Chen Guangbiao, the CEO of a resources recycling company in Jiangsu, has officially published a letter committing his entire fortune to charity… after he kicks the bucket.
Meanwhile, anyone would be remiss not to mention the acts of China’s best samaritan, who even before the Billionaire’s pledge had committed to giving away all of his assets. Yu Pengnian never made it to the list of China’s billionaires, because he kept on giving too much away ($1.2 billion by some counts) to have the net worth to be one.