A Chinese heart in philanthropy
October-December 2017
By: Li Xiaolin

In a post-Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) era, it is our shared aspiration and mission to create a harmonious world of lasting peace and common prosperity, in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. However, with complex development challenges, the large gap between the poor and rich, the South and the North, still exists. While there has been tremendous progress in recent years, many developing countries are beset with hunger, disease and social conflicts that threaten the well-being of their populations and the growth of their markets. Indeed, global economic recovery remains weighted down by a lack of growth drivers.

Philanthropy, as an important part of social governance, committed to promoting social harmony and common development, is a key driving force for the building of a better world. China’s charity culture has a long history, and its modern philanthropy has developed rapidly in recent years. Through modern practices, China’s traditional charity culture has gained broader opportunity to build on progress under the MDGs and advance the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), endorsed by the 194 member states of the United Nations in 2015. China’s philanthropic efforts also push forward Chinese initiatives such as the Building the Community of Common Destiny of Mankind and the One Belt, One Road initiatives, and promoting South-South cooperation. This modern view of philanthropy will play a greater role in promoting the further development of the philanthropy sector in China, as well as around the world, and in the achievement of a global vision for win-win cooperation and common development.

Philanthropy in culture and development 

Since ancient times, charitable ideas grew in the minds and hearts of the Chinese. As a country, China boasts the most books and records about philanthropy in the world. Chinese traditional culture advocated benevolence, righteousness, loyalty and fidelity, and the Chinese believe that one must have an unswerving joy in these good virtues. The ancient Chinese text “Book of Changes” pronounced that “families doing good are blessed.” More than 2,000 years ago, the ancient Chinese thinker Confucius proposed that “to achieve success, one should let others succeed as well.” These ideas have been passed down for thousands of years and have been deeply embedded in the minds of the Chinese people.

For various historical reasons, China’s modern philanthropy has had a rather late start. However, based on its profound charity culture, with the support of the government and the development of China’s social and economic system, China’s philanthropic efforts have made much progress in recent years. At present, China has nearly 700,000 nonprofit organizations, all within the broader sphere of charity. The number of Chinese volunteers is growing quickly. According to research done by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the number of registered volunteers in the country has reached more than 100 million. The number of volunteers and the donation rate are generally increasing year by year, while the amount of time volunteers are donating and its value are increasing more significantly each year.

As philanthropic efforts and interest in philanthropy have grown, research institutions have also become more active in the area and relevant disciplines have been set up in colleges and universities. These have given fresh impetus to the development of research on Chinese philanthropy and personnel training. In 2016, through the joint efforts of the state and society, the Charity Law of the People’s Republic of China was formally implemented, and Sept. 5 was officially designated as Charity Day in China. Together, these have helped Chinese charity gain extensive attention from society and created new opportunities for development. With the steady growth of China’s economy and of Chinese enterprises, philanthropy has become a criterion for corporate citizens. More and more Chinese enterprises, entrepreneurs and members of the private sector are engaging in corporate social responsibility, participating in China’s poverty alleviation efforts and international philanthropy work. China is actively implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, working to achieve its SDGs, bringing more than 600 million people out of poverty in China and striving to help more than 70 million people shake off poverty by 2020. China became the world’s first developing nation to achieve the poverty reduction goal of the MDGs and has made a significant contribution to global poverty alleviation. Through the implementation of precision poverty alleviation, China has gained valuable experience in poverty relief and philanthropy.

Only common and sustainable development in all countries brings real development to human society. China hopes other developing nations can also develop with it to achieve win-win cooperation. Chinese philanthropy actively participates in international cooperation, learning from the experiences, concepts and resources of others to foster the expansion of philanthropy in China and other countries for the world’s common development. International cooperation promotes the development of Chinese philanthropy. International exchanges also enable Chinese organizations to spread to other countries their ideas, traditions, successful models and technology, such as China’s poverty alleviation model, its poverty reduction through education model (China’s Hope Project has been extended to Africa), its poverty reduction through medical support model and so forth. Groups of Chinese organizations and companies go abroad to join in high-level forums on global issues, set up overseas platforms, make donations to other countries and participate in international rescue, disaster relief and poverty reduction efforts, and take part in international authentication and award presentation events, to make their contribution to global philanthropy.

There are also many opportunities for China to learn from other countries that have been engaged in modern philanthropy for much longer. Through experience sharing and international cooperation, China and the rest of the world are learning from each other and exploring how to ensure philanthropy fulfills its obligations in a better way, achieves more practical results and builds more effective cooperation mechanisms and platforms, and motivates more people to participate, as well as exploring how to finance philanthropy. All of this will lead to further innovation and the development of philanthropy.  

Exploring a new path

My organization, the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC), is one of the first national people’s organizations to engage in people-to-people diplomacy. We were also one of the first nongovernmental organizations in China to participate in philanthropic work. In recent years, CPAFFC has given full play to its advantages and used its high-quality cooperation platform at home and abroad. With strong support from all sectors of society, we have created a number of brand projects and have actively promoted international exchanges in the field of philanthropy.

We vigorously take part in achieving China’s poverty relief goals. For instance, we carry out the Rainbow Bridge Project to deliver expertise and skill training to local people in my country’s old revolutionary areas. We draw on international practices and resources to help build schools and laboratories, and to offer vocational training, including for English teachers, as well as provide cultural and art training for mentally challenged students. We provide assistance to the earthquake-stricken area of Wenchuan, Sichuan Province, and help build cisterns in rural areas. We have also conducted medical and health welfare activities in Asian and African countries, including Vision Recovery Action, which sent doctors to perform free cataract surgeries in local communities, and Book and Love Action, which cooperated with Chinese enterprises to donate books and stationery to African communities. We have organized programs for children’s health, such as the Vision Eye Alliance, which is a long-term international project aimed at protecting infant eyesight and children from poor areas, established special funds to support international exchanges to help hearing-impaired children and participated in high-level dialogue on the role of Chinese networks to help support the improvement of child health around the world. In April 2016, after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake shook Ecuador, CPAFFC promptly sent rescue teams formed by Chinese nongovernmental organizations to affected areas. Together with the China Poverty Alleviation Foundation, CPAFFC later held a seminar to sum up the experiences and lessons learned from this effort and explore the further development of an overseas rescue model for nongovernmental organizations.

After years of practice, we have realized the significant role that an international cooperation platform and network can play in promoting the innovation and development of philanthropy. We have made some efforts in building such platforms and networks, and have seen good results. For example, we actively participate in the Every Woman Every Child movement, which was personally launched by then-United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in 2010. As the leading partner of the Every Woman Every Child movement in China, CPAFFC has established the United Nations Every Woman Every Child China Partnership Network in order to gather resources across various sectors at home and abroad, to promote the health and well-being of women, children and adolescents as critical drivers for the achievement of the SDGs. Since the founding of the network, many network members, including foundations, companies and institutions, have made commitments to improve the health and well-being of women, children and adolescents through various projects, including providing free medical examinations to 100,000 underprivileged children; offering eye treatments to children from impoverished families; giving aid to infants with birth defects; conducting physical training programs for children; implementing cervical cancer screening and prevention programs for women in Zanzibar; taking action to prevent birth defects in Mekong River countries; giving financial and psychological support to orphans; carrying out actions against violence toward women and children; and making plans for medical and emergency aid for children.

Promoting philanthropy

To promote international exchanges of charity, CPAFFC hosted the first World Philanthropy Forum in 2016, inviting leaders of charity organizations in China and abroad, and scholars, enterprises, organizations and individuals in the field of philanthropy to engage in comprehensive exchanges and discussions. The forum put forward four proposals for the development of philanthropy: total participation, government support, societal tolerance and self-discipline among organizations. During its inaugural meeting, participants agreed to hold the forum annually. The second forum will take place in Beijing in November, with high-level Chinese government and UN officials, senior representatives of nongovernmental organizations, private sector companies, research institutions from China and international guests attending. The topics will include the roles philanthropy can play in today’s world, including within the context of an evolving sustainable development landscape, poverty relief, environmental protection, children and women’s development, education and special initiatives such as the One Belt, One Road initiative. We hope the forum will continue to encourage greater promotion of philanthropy for development, both in China and around the world.

New opportunities for philanthropy

In today’s world, nations are interdependent and interconnected. China has proposed many initiatives to create a global platform for cooperation and integrate the Chinese dream with the world dream. China has vigorously promoted the construction of new institutions such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the BRICS New Development Bank to achieve common growth and prosperity with other countries. These initiatives and ideas are both the inheritance and innovation of the essence of Chinese traditional culture and a representation of China’s aspiration to promote win-win cooperation with the rest of the world.

As a developing country, China sticks to combining its own interests with the benefits of others to jointly achieve common prosperity. At the High-Level Roundtable on South-South Cooperation, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that in order to help other developing countries grow, China would carry out the “Six 100s” initiative. It will in the next five years make available to other developing countries 100 poverty reduction programs; 100 agricultural cooperation projects; 100 trade promotion and aid programs; 100 environmental protection and climate change programs; 100 hospitals and clinics; and 100 schools and vocational training centers. At the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in May, Xi said that in the coming three years, China would provide assistance worth RMB 60 billion ($9.1 billion) to developing countries and international organizations participating in the initiative to launch more projects to improve people's well-being. China will further provide emergency food aid worth RMB 2 billion to developing countries along the Belt and Road and make additional contributions of $1 billion to the Assistance Fund for South-South Cooperation.

All this will provide broad opportunities for international cooperation in Chinese philanthropy. With the advancement of modernization and network technology, the future development of philanthropic organizations will be broader and more diversified, the exchange and cooperation between organizations and the sharing of resources will greatly increase, and collaborative innovation will become the norm. CPAFFC will continue to seize opportunities with relevant parties at home and abroad to promote cooperation between governments and the private sector, across industries and among countries, to build more effective pragmatic cooperation mechanisms and communication channels, and to let China’s traditional charity culture shine with new light in today’s world, and make greater contributions to building a better world for us all.


Li Xiaolin is president of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries and a member of the High-Level Steering Group for Every Woman Every Child.

To read the complete article, please subscribe.
You must be logged in as a Strategic Review subscriber to continue reading. If you are not yet a subscriber, please subscribe to activate your online account to get full online access.

Buy a premium PDF version of this article
Subscribe and get premium access to Strategic Review's content
Please login to leave a comment