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Charity does not translate well into Chinese Part I

The government announced this week that it was drafting a new government initiative to enable the public to see how their donations to charity are being used. This was brought on, in part, because donations to charity, meant to help Sichuan earthquake victims, are being questioned more frequently and with good reason: Only 12 of the 28 authorized recipients of aid funds have published how the donations received by their groups have been spent.
China rural poor

Part of the problem, according to one foreign based charity director is that when enormous sums of money pour into China’s poorest regions it is more a cause for alarm for local officials than jubilation. Local agencies are ill-equipped to handle hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and fearful of punishment when retrospectively analyzed for spending money, even on much needed sanitation, cooking and lodging. Beijing, prone to over-react and over-control  (find a way to add “euphemism” here), has effectively paralyzed local, regional and global support agencies.  One Chinese charity group to which I donate time spent a year obtaining tax exempt status in Hong Kong while negotiating with local Sichuan governments over the best way to supply volunteer teachers to handicapped survivors of the disaster. Functional assistance took months of red-tape and guanxi (relationship) building with officials before needy students actually received any help.

Another charity that I advise sought to build, with its own discretionary funds, community centers and dormitories in remote villages. The U.S. based organization was quickly asked to dole out a large sum in “deposit money” and commit to a healthy percentage of future monies raised (20%)  to even begin an authorized partnership with a local government. The contract  to be signed contained no real guarantee it could begin work on rebuilding small village infra-structure and contained a forfeiture clause if a specified sum was not routinely spent by the charity,

Fear and frustration have altered more than one organizational mandate in China and deterred companies and individuals from lending further help in devastated areas: According to a report last week, Beijing has started a inquiries into many foreign representative offices  for charities and nonprofit organizations doing business in China. Some of them are being scrutinized for infractions as picayune as failing to report a change of address.

It is felt by many that the recent censoring of Twitter, Facebook and internal social networking sites were in part effected because they provided a platform for easy communication between human rights activists, charities and other groups that could well give Beijing a black eye (insert “euphemism” again and add “platitude” somewhere) for its sloth in providing adequate help with now long dormant donations. An the recent detentions, and arrests of human rights lawyers, the forced closing of the Open Constitution Initiative that fought for citizens’ civil rights has not helped to quell fears by would-be humanitarians in impoverished areas that good deeds will not go unpunished.

Beijing was riding a wave of popularity and respect following the Olympics that even Obama could not match. Bureaucratic hurdles, information blocks (Dear Beijing:  Contrary to party opinion, people are not stupid and head straight for the Internet when a commercial abruptly replaces a report on TV: They know something is being hidden from them)  have all weakened the resolve of many who wanted to contribute to building a new international identity of which they can be proud.  Now, many young people, ones who became rabid nationalists during and after the Beijing Olympics, have retreated back into quiet desperation and seeming indifference because of  the recent crackdowns on expression. “Disappointment” occurs often in regular discourse about the government.

Add to all of this the generally accepted culture of corruption that pervades many business dealings in municipal governments–one charity was asked to build a free home for government officials as a part of a “partnership” deal to build homes for the elderly–a long-standing distrust of charity in general (see culture of corruption above) and a western media that has demonized China and made it appear to be much wealthier than 800 million of its poverty stricken can tell you with authority that it is not And this mix is a lethal one for the most needy of Chinese: Westerners somehow cannot separate the millions dead or left homeless because of floods, tsunamis, earthquakes and environmental poisoning with lost jobs, and factory closings.

Even on Twitter and Facebook re-postings/re-tweets of disasters, calls to action and news of tragedies like the arrest–after six months of detention–of a civil rights lawyer do not seem to move us. There is little chance that anything will change in China as long as the rest of the world remains idle and bound more to economic, rather than charitable/humanitarian concerns.

“Locked in, Locked out and Locked up” seems to be the current definition of charity in China….

Part II: Charities that are succeeding and why (the west) should help….



One response so far

One Response to “Charity does not translate well into Chinese Part I”

  1. SASmython Oct 16th 2009 at 11:11 pm

    Thank you for a very accurate telling of the situation in China.

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