Philanthropy on the Rise Among Chinese-Americans

Chinese immigrants who have become successful entrepreneurs in the United States are giving back to their adopted homeland by donating hundreds of millions of dollars to American universities, think tanks, and nonprofit groups, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Typical of these new Chinese-American philanthropists is steel and pharmaceuticals magnate Cyrus Tang, who came to the United States as a student in 1950 and in the decades since has established three foundations with combined assets totaling more than $150 million to work on issues related to education, health care, and community development in both China and the United States. He also helped establish the Tang Center for Herbal Medicine Research at the University of Chicago as well as the new U.S.-China Institute at the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica. Other members of the group include Ming Hsieh, a survivor of the Chinese Cultural Revolution who made a fortune from fingerprint identification software and gave $35 million in 2006 to the University of Southern California, his alma mater, and Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang and his wife, Akiko Yamazaki, who donated $75 million last year to Stanford University, their alma mater.

But while the rise of Chinese-American philanthropy is apparent in major gifts like these, they remain relatively rare. The Chronicle of Philanthropy's annual list of the biggest individual donors, for instance, has included ethnic Chinese individuals only four times since 2000. More common are gifts to academic institutions of $1 million or less, like the one retired banker Wilbur Woo gave to fund an annual Greater China Business Conference at UCLA, or the gift made by plastic entrepreneurs Shirley and Walter Wang to create new programs on Chinese Americans and U.S.-China relations, also at UCLA.

And while statistics on ethnic Chinese philanthropy are virtually nonexistent, experts and researchers agree that it is growing. A City University of New York study last year found that Chinese family foundations in the region had grown almost ten-fold since 1990. And in a 2004 study for Georgetown University researcher Andrew Ho found that, because of rising education and wealth levels, "the philanthropic potential of Asian Americans has never been greater."

Indeed, since the devastating earthquake in China's Sichuan province last month, a national organization of Chinese American leaders called the Committee of 100 has raised at least $3.5 million for relief efforts. "There's an unprecedented wave of philanthropy by Chinese Americans that is breaking records in the level and breadth of giving," said Stewart Kwoh, the committee's regional vice chairman for Southern California. "It's important to make the broader public aware of how this philanthropy is strengthening communities."

Teresa Watanabe. "Chinese Immigrants Increase Philanthropy in Their New Homeland." Los Angeles Times 06/15/2008. Teresa Watanabe. "Asian American Billionaire Gives to Inspire Charity in Others." Los Angeles Times 06/15/2008.