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China's new luxury

Wei Gu 

Chinese philanthropy: Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have star power, but even they may struggle to persuade China's billionaires that celebrity philanthropy is a must. Chinese billionaires feel insecure about their wealth, and trustworthy charities are lacking. Still, as China's wealth gap widens, the super-rich should start thinking up ways to look more generous.

The Middle Kingdom is home to more dollar billionaires than anywhere except the United States, according to Forbes. But charitable giving accounted for only 0.1 per cent of China's GDP in 2009, versus two per cent in the United States. Buffett and Gates are set to hold a banquet in China as part of their philanthropy-themed world tour, but some local moguls have reportedly kept a wary distance.

Chinese billionaires aren't quite like their U.S. counterparts. Charity probably feels like a luxury for the first generation super-rich, most of whom are still building their wealth in China's young, fast-growing economy. Many want to leave their empire to their children. Buffett, by contrast, has publicly worried about leaving his children too much.

Nor does China make philanthropy easy. China's charities are mostly state-owned and not transparent. Some have been hit by corruption scandals. Project Hope, backed by the Communist Youth League, was accused by Hong Kong media in 1994 of mislaying $10 million in donations. The result of a National Audit Office investigation was never made public.

First Published: Wed, September 29 2010. 00:14 IST