Third Plenary

China’s Philanthropy: 'Will a new paradigm for philanthropy emerge?'


  • JIN Jingping Professor of Law School, Peking University
  • LEI Yongsheng President, Lao Niu Foundation
  • WANG Ming Dean of Institute for Philanthropy, Tsinghua University
  • XU Yongguang Chairman, Narada Foundation


  • Raymond TAM Executive Director, Corporate Affairs, The Hong Kong Jockey Club

Several of the panellists used their opening remarks to talk about how Chinese philanthropy needed to think about harnessing markets to increase their impact. Mr Xu Yongguang said there was a need to learn how to work more efficiently to increase the impact of the social sector and avoid wastage. He described an experience of visiting a disaster-hit area in China and his observation of the resources being delivering ineffectively because of a lack of co-ordination between NGOs working there. While all panellists agreed there was a role for markets to improve how the social sector worked in China, some expressed concerns about the risks associated with this, citing Professor Michael Sandel’s previous lecture. Professor Wang Ming urged the audience to think carefully about how we used market incentives in philanthropy if we were to avoid crowding out intrinsic motivators for people to do good things, as described by Confucius.

The nature of philanthropy in China today was often difficult to grasp, the speakers agreed. One question from the audience requested the panellists to compare China to other countries in terms of how large the sector was. While Professor Jin Jingping felt that philanthropy as an industry in China had not as advanced as much as in other regions, she and other panellists pointed out that comparing statistics across geographies was challenging. Official figures suggested that corporate giving in China accounted for the bulk of giving in the country, which was the reverse of other countries. However, this might not be the case. Professor Wang cited a study he had conducted which found that if giving to religious entities were accounted for, the supposed shortfall in giving among individuals in China was greatly reduced.

The panel also touched upon a misperception within China about the role of philanthropy today. Many people saw it as a representation of corporate or government interests, rather than a real pathway to impact. There was also a risk that some underestimated the need for philanthropy, as the rate of growth in the economy had been so robust in recent years.

The conversation also focused on how philanthropy in China was governed. This was a source of considerable interest, owing to major re-regulation of the sector in recent years. Some panellists, for example Mr Xu, felt that the government was over-regulating the sector. An example cited was the regulation of online donations, which was considered by some in China to be too restrictive. Mr Lei Yongsheng also raised the issue of how tax policy could be used as an important lever to promote effective philanthropy in China. Others welcomed the policy changes on freedom of information, which had made it easier for people to understand what NGOs and foundations were doing with their money.

Finally, the conversation turned to opportunities that lay ahead of the sector. There were mixed views on the potential of technology to improve philanthropy. Some panellists welcomed the ability of technology to promote public support, accountability and ecosystem learning. Professor Jin, however, pointed out that the public must learn to trust philanthropists and that data-based evidence could only achieve so much on this front. Another opportunity cited related to philanthropists having the freedom to self-regulate and steer the growth direction of the sector by using and leading philanthropy associations.

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