Taobao war vet donation highlights charity transparency

Updated: 2012-10-09 09:42


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BEIJING -- Chinese veterans of the Anti-Japanese War (1937-45) are set to be eased through winter by a donation raised via China's largest online retailer,

The program has raised the profile of this often-overlooked group of heroes and also pointed the way forward for the Internet's role in ensuring the trustworthiness of charitable initiatives.

Related reading: China demands more transparency from charity foundations

A total of 1,154 former members of the China Expeditionary Force, aged around 90 and mostly living in poverty, will be given goods like walking sticks, artificial limbs, radios, socks, shoes and noodles, worth 300,000 yuan ($47,700).

The fund-raising, jointly launched in September by Shenzhen Longyue Charity Foundation, Taobao and Taobao's owner, Alibaba Group, will benefit veterans living in Hunan, Guizhou, Guangxi and Shanxi.

The Anti-Japanese War entered its darkest days in 1941. Japanese forces were bombing China's major cities day and night. Their campaign to cut China off had left only one route of communication open with the West -- the Yunnan-Myanmar Road in China's southwest.

From 1942 to 1945, the China Expeditionary Force, comprising 400,000 soldiers, fought in Myanmar to ensure the security of the home front and the only communication route.

In spite of the great contributions made by the unit, the survivors have long been neglected by the public.

Sun Chunlong, director of Shenzhen Longyue Charity Foundation, said, "It's our responsibility to offer our care and help to the veterans, who need recognition from the public."

Since donations began to be accepted via the Taobao e-commerce platform in early September, more than 42,000 netizens have donated each week.

"Many Internet celebrities gave their support to the activity, attracting more public attention to the veterans," said Sun

"In addition, donors had a more transparent donation experience on Taobao. They know who will benefit from their donations, and they can vote for what is bought with their money. The donors have the final say."

This second point indicates the potential of e-commerce as a sound technical platform for charitable organizations. Such programs can be not only convenient to operate for China's booming number of Internet users but also easier to supervise in an era in which the the country's trust of charities has been hammered by a number of high-profile scams and abuses.

China has witnessed a sharp increase in the number of Internet users in recent years. By the end of June 2012, 538 million Chinese were regularly going online. The medium has gradually become a good choice for small and medium-sized charitable organizations.

As China's largest online retailer, Taobao has 370 million registered users, all of whom are ready targets for public welfare schemes and information.

"We are doing charity affairs through a business model. Taobao covers a wide range of people. Our charity activities usually get wide attention and support by grassroots Internet users in a short time," according to Qi Xiaopei, Taobao's public relations manager.

Last year, a young girl named Guo Meimei, claiming to hold a senior position at the Red Cross Society of China, used a web forum to show off her luxury cars and handbags, causing public speculations that that her income had been embezzled from charity. The scandal underscored public distrust of charities, and the transparency of the sector has since become a major concern.

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