Chinese tycoon offers free lunch, cash to poor in NYC
Updated: 2014-06-19 08:40
By ELIZABETH WU in New York (China Daily USA)
The Loeb Central Park Boathouse Restaurant in New York's Central Park. Photo provided to China Daily USA.
He is known as a philanthropist who likes to grab the media spotlight for dramatic publicity stunts promoting philanthropic causes. His English name card lists a long string of titles, including "Most Charismatic Philanthropist of China".
And now recycling entrepreneur and tycoon Chen Guangbiao has made international headlines by scheduling a luncheon for 1,000 "underprivileged" people to dine with him at the Loeb Central Park Boathouse Restaurant in New York's Central Park on June 25, when he also said he will hand out $300 in cash to each participant.
In an interview with the South China Morning Post published on Tuesday, Chen said more than 250 people had responded to his offer for lunch and to be given the money, and that he expected 1,000 places to be filled in a few days. He estimated that the event would cost him at least $1 million.
Chen has rented out the restaurant for lunch that day, Olivia Vicioso, a hostess at the restaurant told China Daily on Wednesday. But it can only seat 250 people, she said.
What about the 750 other invitees?
Efforts by China Daily to reach Chen for comment were unsuccessful.
Chen made the luncheon invitation in a full-page bilingual ad in The New York Times on Monday.
In 2013, Chen said he wanted to buy the Times as part of his ongoing campaign to develop closer ties between the United States and China. After traveling to New York City to pursue the deal, the newspaper's management declined to meet with him.
In the newspaper ad, Chen explained that his goal was to change Americans' negative perception of members of China's elite as "crazy'' and obsessed with material goods.
"I want to spread the message in the US that there are good philanthropists in China and not all are crazy spenders on luxury goods," Chen told the South China Morning Post.
As for those who will be given cash at the Central Park event, Chen said, "I hope they can spend the money on occupational training and know there are no religious or ethnic boundaries when it comes to charity.''
In response to criticism that he should help the poor in his own country first, Chen told the newspaper that doing the right thing was most important. "I believe [people's perceptions] will change. Many of my friends in the US responded very positively after the ad was published," he said. "US philanthropists donated to China's disasters; why can't we help the poor in the US? It will also improve Sino-US ties."
Chen is the chairman and sole owner of Jiangsu Huangpu Renewable Resources Limited, an unlisted company in China that recycles domestic waste and construction materials.
His wealth has been estimated at $400 million, by Forbes Asia, though wealth research firm Hurun Report puts it at $810 million. Forbes Asia chose him as one of the Asia-Pacific region's 48 leading philanthropists in both 2008 and 2009.
But CNN reported on Wednesday in a story that "not everyone is taken with Chen's flashy generosity."
"Chen is a clown whose so-called philanthropy appears to consist entirely of self-promotional stunts like giving handouts of cash in Taipei and New York, and cans of air to people in China," Jeremy Goldkorn, director of Chinese media research firm Danwei, told CNN.
The full-page ad in English and Chinese in Monday's Times was designed by Chen himself. There is a photo of Chen in the ad placed beside a picture of Lei Feng, a Chinese soldier from the Mao era, who is celebrated as a selfless model citizen. The title above the images says "China's ‘Lei Feng' for a new era".
"It's wonderful," said Aquoomleyah Wilburn, 35, a New York subway performance artist who goes by the name ‘Q dot'. "I do street performance; it's how I eat every day," said Wilburn.
Juan Maldonado, a student volunteer at the Bowery Mission Soup Kitchen, said: "It sounds great, opportunistic, but very helpful to the community."
"I think it's great that Chen Guangbiao is inviting 1,000 underprivileged Americans," said Naomi Sedgwick, who lives in New York. "Whether or not he has a motive, I think that it is great that he is providing food for people."
Chinatown street artist Cheng Yisheng, 58, said: "He's using his own way to make a trend."
During the planned luncheon, media reports said Chen is expected to entertain his American guests with his rendition of We Are the World, performed in English.
As for owning the Times, Chen said that when he is in New York this week he would discuss a new deal to buy the newspaper's opinion section and make it bilingual page dedicated to charity and the environment.