The Art of Giving | Why Philanthropy Matters and Why China Matters in Modern Philanthropy

Lurdes de Sousa*

It’s Christmas season and in about a month we will be celebrating the Chinese New Year. Both celebrations are most probably the most exciting times of the year in the West and the East (or wherever overseas Chinese communities are present geographically). It’s a time for families and friends, but it’s also undoubtedly the time of the year when we most spontaneously express an inner sense of solidarity, generosity, and love of humankind.

It’s the time of the year when most of us turn into charitable human beings and philanthropists, be it because we donate a few pennies for causes that are close to our hearts and strengthen our values or because we decide to engage and commit more to our values by giving back to society institutionally.

Giving in the 21st century is different to what it was last century – not just because of globalization, but because of technology and the digital age (the fourth industrial revolution).

Today, 4 billion people, that is 60% of the world’s population, have a cell phone. It just takes a click to donate.

Yes, the fourth industrial revolution has changed our way of living for ever but despite that phenomenal revolution, human beings are still (I would say astonishingly and admirably…) resilient. Culture and values still matter.

When an American gives online for the poor, or a Frenchman gives online for the Telethon, a Chinese person, despite living in one of the most digital societies, will still cherish the tradition of personally giving as they traditionally give a red envelope (laissi) to their loved ones during the Chinese New Year.

China has a long tradition of philanthropy and there is widespread consensus that it will grow and increase in impact over the next decades. Charity is deeply embedded in the ethics of Confucianism and the rise of private wealth brought about by China’s development since the turn of the century will further boost the integration of China in modern philanthropy.

This is happening, but in a way not perceived or understood by the western world. One of the reasons that the level of philanthropy in China is not fully known may be that much giving is done informally or anonymously and therefore not captured in the existing data. What is predominantly known is that Chinese philanthropists tend to give back to the “traditional” sectors (education, poverty alleviation, arts and culture, health, disaster relief), while individual tycoons of philanthropy in the West are contributing to research on Artificial Intelligence, the reshaping of educational systems, and so on.

Another difference is that in China, the redistribution of wealth is more than a question of justice or social equality; it is a philosophical concept about what constitutes a harmonious society. Chinese philanthropists are very keen to learn about philanthropic practices elsewhere and particularly in the US, but there is also an affirmation that philanthropy, in China, must remain true to traditional Chinese values. As much as there is a “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics”, there is a “Philanthropy with Chinese Characteristics” that the West at large must understand.

This can only be done by profoundly mastering the complexities of different cultural values for the ultimate purpose of the common good.

Where better to do that than a place that has, for centuries, accommodated and incorporated Eastern and Western history, traditions and values, a place called Macau…

*President, Associação Internacional
de Filantropia (Macau)

國際꺽愛協會 (걜門)

Macau Daily Times is the official media partner of the
Associação Internacional de Filantropia (Macau).

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