Saturday, January 29, 2011

Tycoon Buffoon

All Taiwan is buzzing this week with the tale of Chinese tycoon Chen Guangbao, who arrived in Taiwan this week to hand out money to the poor.

Chinese tycoon and philanthropist Chen Guangbiao (陳光標) arrived in Taiwan last night to begin a controversial “thanksgiving” tour that will see him hand over hundreds of millions of NT dollars.

Chen and a 47-member delegation are set to visit Taipei, and Hsinchu, Nantou and Hualien counties over the next six days, with pledges to give out an estimated NT$500 million (US$17.2 million) to impoverished Taiwanese.

New Taipei City (新北市) and Taoyuan County rejected conditions for the handouts, which reportedly include busing recipients to municipal offices to thank Chen personally for the gifts.

The political slant of the trip was obvious: the red envelopes were embossed with the phrase "the Chinese race is one people". Further, the Taipei Times reported that there was no evidence Chen had contacted any of the DPP-run local governments about making donations in their areas.

People came from all over to wait in line for days to beg him for money. The chaotic scenes drew criticism for making Taiwan look poor and shameful -- painful because Taiwanese consider themselves to be far above the Chinese.

The pro-China propaganda rag WantChina Times editorialized on the difference between charity by Taiwanese and Chinese:

There is really no need for Chen to promote philanthropy in Taiwan however, where the public already embrace the idea that it is better to give than to receive. Many are engaged in charity work because they identify with the suffering and pain of those in need.

In comparison, several Chinese philanthropists engage in charity work purely out of pragmatic considerations.

Such considerations, Chen said, can be divided into two types. First, participation in high-profile charity activities can boost popularity and bring economic benefits. Second, the message of doing good deeds through charity can be spread faster, more effectively and to a wider audience through high-profile charity work.

During the 2008 Sichuan earthquake for example, a large number of Taiwanese businesses donated huge sums of money but this was all done in a low-profile manner. Chinese enterprises meanwhile adopted a completely different approach.

Chinese beverage giant Wang Lao Ji in Guangdong donated 100 million yuan (US$15.2m) but also generated quite a lot of publicity in doing so. Some local media reports even described the massive donation as a good piece of business. By contrast, similar amounts were donated by certain Taiwanese enterprises, though they did it quietly.

If Chen wants to replicate his high-profile approach of doing charity work in Taiwan, it would be no different to building a "fence of money" between the two sides, which would hurt not only the recipients of the donations but also cross-strait ties.

"hurt cross-strait ties." Naw, it will just confirm the low opinion of Chinese that Taiwanese already have. It has already created bad feelings -- there was much public complaint that some people had gotten more money than others -- one woman got NT$70,000, another person, just $10,000. Taiwanese are very invested in the idea of "outcome fairness" where everyone gets the same result -- professors get the same pay no matter what school they are at or how good they are, awards in schools are rotated to ensure that everyone gets one irrespective of merit, employees rise through seniority, not merit, etc. Chen was also asked to donate the money through established non-profit channels and local governments, but refused -- since the whole thing was about publicizing himself. Chen's random, senseless acts of flamboyance have simply resulted in more ill will.


The Taipei Times reported today that Chen seems to have dialed back his desire for publicity in the wake of all the criticism directed at him.
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Anonymous said...

Disgusting... what kind of political ideology is it that drives someone to want to take away the dignity of the most vulnerable in society?

M said...

Although as one editorial pointed out - distributing money that way at least ensures that it goes to the intended beneficiaries. There is a lot of corruption and malpractice in the charity sector in China, handing out cash in red envelopes is one possible way of bypassing that.
But things are somewhat different in Taiwan.

Thomas said...

It looks bad no matter how you slice it. Those who are really interested in helping others don't need to go to such great lengths to see that they get credit for it. Does his method ensure that the money goes to the beneficiaries? Maybe. But couldn't he give the same amount of money to the same people in a low-key fashion and still achieve that result?

Michael Turton said...

M, the people who took the money had no proven need, some of the local papers ran stories saying people who didn't need the money but talked a good line got it.

Although I agree that theoretically you are right....

Gavin Sullivan said...

I don't find Mr. Chen's hongbao distribution offensive at all. People who fear spiritual pollution are free to refuse his gifts.

Were Chen to solicit my advice, I'd suggest giving in the Congo--where global poverty is worst.

But it's his money, not mine--and he should be free to dispose of it as he pleases.

Anonymous said...

but gavin what is sickening about Chen fakery is that he came to the island calling it part of the motherland, and he called his Taiwan friends there his compatriots when they are not compatriots at all. And future news stories will detail that in fact the money he made in China was dirty money, channelled and set up by the CPC of which he is a member. he came to the island as a united front tactic. let's he honest. he did not come to do good works. he is and was a fraud as were his crocodile tears at the tomb on Terea Ten on that rainy day....what a faker he is. and taiwan got swindeled by him. On the same week that HK would not Wang Dan into HK to attend an old friends funeral, Taiwan allows this fraud Chen to come to the island and pose for the camera 10,000 times. fakery, and a farce.

Anonymous said...

What the different between him and the Mormon cult? both are in it for the money.