Most business people would move heaven and earth for the chance to dine with the likes of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. So why have a number of China’s super wealthy reported themselves ‘indisposed’ after finally getting the sought-after invitation?
Their reluctance might have something to do with what that dinner might cost. The American duo is known to have persuaded 40 of their wealthiest countrymen to pledge much of their fortunes to charity. The prospect of following that example seems to have many of China’s own business aristocracy sweating in their designer suits.
Gates and Buffett are hosting a meal in Beijing later this month, with a view to discussing philanthropy with 50 of China’s richest entrepreneurs. The full list of invitees is a secret – but the China boss of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation admitted that some had already declined the offer.
“The timing of it, so soon after the announcement about the US donations, understandably made some of the Chinese concerned about being put in an awkward position,” a spokesperson for the foundation told the UK’s Telegraph.
The foundation has since tried to reassure potential attendees that the same largesse won’t be expected of them. In a letter to Xinhua, Gates and Buffett said they simply hoped to “learn about China’s approach to philanthropy” during their time in the country.
They’ll hope Jiangsu-based millionaire (and dinner invitee) Chen Guangbiao is typical. “To die in the midst of huge wealth is shameful,” warns the 42 year-old recycling entrepreneur, “So when I leave this world, I will donate not just half of my fortune, but all of it to charity.”
But the Chinese press reckons most tycoons don’t seem to share Chen’s outlook. As most wealth in China has been created over just the last three decades, a culture of philanthropy hasn’t had time to mature (see WiC22).
The Southern Metropolis Daily disagrees, arguing that China’s rich understand the concept of philanthropy just fine, but that other factors are holding them back. In particular it thinks that the super-rich do not want the public exposure that discussion of their wealth might bring, especially if it means awkward questions about where the money came from in the first place.
Would-be donors also need to put money aside for situations in which government officials request donations after natural disasters. That can cause them to start viewing charity as simply a cost of business, not an end in itself.
Whatever comes out of the ‘billionaire’s dinner’, these homegrown issues aren’t likely to disappear soon. But if charity’s not a simple proposition for the wealthy in China, perhaps they can start by adopting Peter Wilby’s suggestion in the UK’s Guardian newspaper for how to do good: raise your workers’ wages, pay taxes and pollute less.
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