Chen Guangbiao's charity event provides lunch, no cash

Updated: 2014-06-26 05:02

By ELIZABETH WU and LI ANG in New York (China Daily USA)

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The full-page advertisement in the New York Times on May 16 said Chinese tycoon Chen Guangbiao was inviting 1,000 "underprivileged" New Yorkers to have lunch with him and he would give each $300 in cash.

Lunch of steak tartare was served to 300 people at the Loeb Boathouse in Central Park on Wednesday, but the money wasn't.

The 1,000 invitees had to be reduced to 300 because the Boathouse couldn't handle that many people, and as for the $300 in cash, instead of handing out the money — a total of $90,000 — Chen gave it to the New York City Rescue Mission. The shelter coordinated the event for him and chose many of the guests.

Chen, a 45-year-old recycling entrepreneur whose wealth has been estimated at $400 million by Forbes Asia, said in the ad that his goal was to change Americans' negative perception of members of China's elite as "crazy" and obsessed with material goods.

The 300 pre-selected guests arrived in four buses driven from the mission, and were greeted at the entrance by waiters in white gloves and bowties serving them glasses of ice water on silver trays.

Chen told those at the Boathouse that he was not giving them the cash directly to spend it, but to help as "seed money" for job education and training so they could help themselves.

The event started with Chen singing Good Model Lei Feng in Chinese, assisted by Chinese volunteers, some of them students studying in the United States, who were dressed in Chinese military uniforms. The song is named after a People's Liberation Army soldier who was hailed for his selfless service by the late Chairman Mao Zedong.

Xu Jiang, one of the volunteers and a recent graduate of George Washington University, said of Chen: "He is kind of crazy, but I'm on his side. At least he's doing the good thing."

Another volunteer, Jeff Chen, who said he works in the information technology industry, said he heard about the event from a friend and was interested in becoming a volunteer.

Chen followed singing the song by entertaining his guests with magic tricks.

Chen then brought five of the guests, all chosen by the mission, to the stage where he gave them each three $100 bills.

One angry luncheon guest was Jay Winston. "We are being abused," he told media covering the event. Winston said he felt that Chen and the mission were using him and other guests as tools for a publicity stunt.

Craig Mayes, director of the Rescue Mission, said that Chen became familiar with the shelter through a video the mission had made and Chen had seen on Youtube. Mayes estimated that Chen spent $40,000 on the lunch. He said his own organization feeds 500 people a day and spends $2 on each.

Mayes said he met with Chen when he arrived from China on Sunday, and they had dinner at the Boathouse. He said Chen originally wanted to hold four lunches at the restaurant to accommodate 1,000 people.

The mission and Chen have been in talks to form a charity or other philanthropic endeavor in the future, Mayes said.

"Chen is using the poor to elevate conscience for a good purpose to make people more aware of poverty," he said.

Chen Guangbiao's charity event provides lunch, no cash

Chen Guangbiao (center) gives money to two representatives of the "underprivileged" New Yorkers from the 300 invitees during the luncheon at the Loeb Boathouse in Central Park in New York on Wednesday. Li Ang for China Daily