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The Rich Come to Dinner in China

  • Ira Mellman

Two of the wealthiest people in the world, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, set up a dinner Wednesday in Beijing with a select group of Chinese billionaires. The dinner has ignited a fierce debate in China into whether or not China's super rich should do as super wealthy Americans have been asked to do, give huge portions, if not all of their money, to charity.

Dien Yuan, who writes an internet blog called Asian Philanthropy Forum, says American style philanthropy is still an emerging concept in China.

"A lot of people are still getting used to what getting wealthy means. They're still building their wealth and they're not ready at this point to think about philanthropy, especially giving away a large piece of their hard earned wealth. They're also, at this stage, thinking about the next generation and how to take care of their elders and dependents. So the idea of giving away money, just to a general cause is still relatively new."

When invitations for the dinner were received in August, some of the recipients reportedly were wary, asking if they would be asked to contribute money while there. Says Yuan, "There's a little hesitation for so many billionaires to attend because once they attend, it attracts public attention. So the public will ask the billionaire why have you not given. So, there's a lot of public pressure that's involved in China."

In addition, says the blogger, China's tax structure is not yet set up to reward philanthropy. She says "In the US we have a lot of legal incentives, tax deductions and the like that have been put in place to encourage philanthropy. Where as in China, the legal pieces have not caught up to the trend of giving. So there's not a lot of tax or legal incentives that are created to encourage philanthropy to grow."

According to Forbes magazine, China is now home to 64 of the world's 937 wealthiest people.

China's Xinhua news agency reports that country's most famous philanthropists, Chen Guangbao, has announced he would donate 100 percent of his personal wealth to charity and says more than one hundred other Chinese entrepreneurs have decided to do the same.