Field of Philanthropy in China Still in Nascent Stage, Study Finds

Fewer than 10 percent of the six hundred and thirty billionaires of Chinese origin have given at least CNY500 million ($80 million) to charity during their lifetime, a study by Hurun Report finds.

According to the 2016 edition of the Hurun Global Chinese Big Philanthropy Report, fifty-one individuals of Chinese origin have reached the 500 million yuan level in giving, with Li Ka-shing, Pony Ma, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, and Jack Ma all topping 10 billion yuan ($1.6 billion). (Although Chan has few shares of Facebook in her own name, she and her husband make all their philanthropic contributions jointly.)

The report also found that real estate was the principal source of wealth for almost half the billionaires on the list; that 34 percent of the wealthiest Chinese, including Jack Ma, Pony Ma, Cao Dewang, Niu Gensheng, and Xu Lianjie, made their donations through their own foundations, and that education was the most popular cause among Chinese billionaires, followed by poverty-alleviation projects in their hometowns.

Hurun chair Rupert Hoogewerf told Barron's that while Chinese wealth is increasingly apparent, it is still a relatively new phenomenon and many of the billionaires on the list have not yet thought deeply about how to maximize the impact of their giving. The country also lacks the kind of charitable infrastructure that has helped fuel and democratize philanthropic giving in Western countries. Hoogewerf said he suspects the trend toward investing in companies and technologies that can drive social and environmental change also muddies the picture of what Chinese philanthropists are actually doing to create change. Investing directly in technology to rid Beijing of pollution, for example, is an appealing alternative for many of China's wealthy entrepreneurs, but it’s not easily tracked.

"The trend of making a simple donation is almost passé," Hoogewerf said. "More and more, it's about creating sustainable investing, impact investing, and social enterprise."

Abby Schultz. "China’s Wealthy Lag in Philanthropy Ranks." Barron's 07/14/2016.