Cut the super-rich some slack on charity

Updated: 2015-12-10 15:15

By William Daniel Garst(China Daily)

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These philanthropic superstars include Wang Jianlin, who donated more than $100 million to help restore a historic temple in Nanjing, Jiangsu province.

Wealthy Chinese are becoming more philanthropic despite the absence of the tax incentives that promote charitable donation in the US. Charitable donations are still not generally tax deductible, although this might change when the new charity law being reviewed and finalized is implemented.

Moreover, while Zuckerberg has grabbed the headlines with his generosity, an article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy on a Jan 1, 2015, noted that Americans earning more than $200,000 reduced the share of their incomes given to charity by 4.6 percent from 2006 to 2012. At the same time, middle- and lower-income Americans gave more to charity, despite earning on average less money.

It is worth emphasizing as well that in the past, especially from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) through modern China, philanthropic activity flourished among the Chinese rich. Recent works by historians like Joan Handlin Smith describe in detail the large donations these people made to the victims of famine and other calamities.

Chinese leaders would certainly like to increase such activity by the country’s wealthiest people, just as they are trying to revive other older ideals, notably Confucian thinking. In addition to taking practical measures, such as changing tax rules to incentivize the rich to donate to charity, the authorities should lay more emphasis on the rich history of philanthropy by affluent Chinese.

As China grapples with problems such as socio-economic inequality and shortfalls in education and healthcare, charitable donation by the wealthy is an older ideal that cries out for revival.

The author is a research fellow at the Center for China and Globalization.

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