Red Cross hit by new claims

Updated: 2011-10-14 07:36

By Li Yao and Zhao Ruixue (China Daily)

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BEIJING / Jinan - The Red Cross Society of China is under new scrutiny after reports that some of its local organizations are collecting mandatory membership fees from primary and middle school students.

A woman surnamed Zhang in Lixia district of Jinan, capital of East China's Shandong province, paid two yuan (30 cents) last week when her 9-year-old son came home with teachers' instructions to make the donation to the China Red Cross.

She was concerned that her son did not know what the donation was for and that a normally voluntary act should be made compulsory. Her concern intensified when she recalled a spate of credibility and corruption scandals that had recently plagued the charity organization.

"Parents always do what teachers ask of them, with no question or doubt raised," she said.

Zhang declined to name the school or provide any teacher's contact information to avoid causing trouble for her son at school.

Hou Xuelin, a teacher at Jinan Experimental Middle School, said students' extracurricular activities related to the China Red Cross, such as making donations and providing community service, are widely understood as an important part of their moral education. Each faculty member must also donate 10 yuan a year, a practice recently made voluntary after being mandatory for several years, according to Hou.

"Very recently we heard it had become voluntary, and some colleagues did stop making the donation," she said.

Hou continued making the payment, but never bothered to ask how and where the money would be used.

"I trust the education authorities' judgment," she said. "And we teachers have little time or energy to follow up on the whereabouts of such tiny donations."

China Red Cross offices at district, Jinan city and Shandong provincial level all declined to reveal the exact amount of donations provided by primary and middle schools, but did confirm that 20 percent goes to the charity group and the rest goes back to the schools.

A woman surnamed Gao at the China Red Cross in Shizhong district of Jinan, said the organization has plans to involve students in community service. She said the charity usually raises less than 10,000 yuan a year from voluntary donations by students.

The participation of students in these activities is considered to be part of their moral education and is included in their overall performance assessment, Gao said.

"We can't rule out the possibility that schools tell students it is a compulsory requirement for their moral performance score. But it is a breach of our principle of voluntary donations," said a woman surnamed Lu at Jinan Red Cross.

Wang Yang from Shandong provincial Red Cross, said orders had been issued on Thursday to stop such violations in certain schools.

Wang said the Red Cross Society of China is in the process of improving its practices and management to provide financial transparency and accountability.

Hu Xingdou, an economics professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology, said that requiring students to donate does not help them pursue charity work on their own initiative. Instead they give the money to complete an assignment for their moral education. The hidden rule is that those students who fail to donate are seen as unkind by their teachers, he said.

Their donations have been directed to a single large organization, the China Red Cross, which has always been evasive and opaque about the sources, amount and uses of the money raised, he added.

The China Red Cross denied collecting mandatory membership fees from students, after parents from Liaoning, Shandong, Shaanxi and Hubei provinces recently complained to China National Radio that their children had been required to join the organization at school and pay annual fees of up to five yuan.

The charity group's troubles began in June with a scandal involving a woman named Guo Meimei. Guo claimed online to have a strong connection to the China Red Cross and bragged about her lavish lifestyle.