When I noticed yesterday morning that journalist Guo Yukuan (郭宇宽), for whom I have great respect, had written another editorial for Southern Metropolis Daily, I made a mental note to come back to it later in the day, when time allowed. Visiting the newspaper’s main site that evening, however, I found that Guo’s piece had been “deleted” — at least through the link given on the homepage.
For the first time I can remember, I ran up against an apologetic notice at the website of China’s leading professional newspaper. This is what I was given:
“We’re sorry,” it said. “This article has already been deleted!”
Hmm. Had Guo Yukuan written something too provocative? . . . Well, I have not been able to determine yet what exactly the back story is here. For all I know, there could be some sort of technical explanation. But I did manage without much difficulty to track the editorial down with a targeted search of the headline — it’s still buried in the newspaper’s site — and I have an answer to my question. Yes, Guo has written something quite provocative, indeed.
[ABOVE: The homepage of Southern Metropolis Daily on May 6, 2010, with Guo Yukuan’s editorial indicated with a red arrow.]
The editorial begins — and ends, in fact — as an interesting and thoughtful piece about the true meaning of charity and philanthropy. Using the news peg of a recent awards event for philanthropy in China, Guo urges his country, and particularly his government, to be more careful, thoughtful and professional in praising and awarding its supposed charitable givers.
But as he editorializes on the question of whether Niu Gensheng (牛根生), the founder and director of Mengniu Group, one of the companies implicated in the poisoned milk scandal of 2008, really deserves his Lifetime Achievement Award for China Philanthropy, Guo touches some very tender nerves regarding Niu Gensheng’s charitable fund itself.
After raising some simple, and serious, questions about exactly why Niu’s fund is such a “mystery,” Guo treads into the territory of the Shanghai pensions scandal of 2006, China’s biggest corruption scandal in years. Zhang Rongkun (张荣坤), one of the top people implicated in that scandal, was for years celebrated at government galas as a champion of charitable work.
The missing link at Southern Metropolis Daily could have a far more simple explanation. But it is also conceivable that Guo Yukuan’s inferences hit too close to someone’s mark.
Whatever the case, the editorial is delightful, and we reproduce it here.
What is the Lifetime Achievement Award for China Philanthropy?
By Guo Yukuan (郭宇宽)
Southern Metropolis Daily
May 6, 2010
A few days ago, the Announcement Ceremony for the 2010 China Charity Ranking was held, guided by the Ministry of Civil Affairs, sponsored by the China Social Work Association (中国社会工作协会), [a group registered and under the supervision of the MCA], and put on by Community Times (公益时报), [which is published by the aforementioned association]. One thing that really drew people’s attention about this ranking was that Mengniu Dairy Group’s Niu Gensheng (牛根生) was the recipient of the 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award for China Philanthropy (2010中国慈善事业终身成就).
This is truly stunning. It is well known that Chairman Niu’s record in facing responsibility toward the parents of children harmed in the melamine-tainted milk scandal [of 2008] falls far short of what we should expect from a socially responsible entrepreneur. Of course, Niu Gensheng has a rather high profile for his charitable actions. In 2005 he took his equity interest in Mengniu, which was said to have totaled some five billion yuan, and used it to set up the “Old Niu Fund” (老牛基金) with the stated intention of using it for philanthropy. If this is really the case, that is a considerable sum indeed. Considering dividends, that should amount to more than one billion to be applied to charity each year. On the Web I saw a figure that said that “in 2009, Niu Gensheng’s donations surpassed 418 million yuan.” That, for China’s starving private charity sector, is no small number to be sure.
But this fund’s operations have been “played down” in quite a surprising way, or perhaps I should say mysterious. A charitable fund of such enormous scale, and yet it has no Website of its own. How does it operate? What are its funding rules? And how can civil charity organizations apply to them for assistance? Even if you try dialing “114” for information, you cannot obtain any contact information whatsoever concerning this “Old Niu Fund.” And when I spoke to friends in the charity sector, they too were at a loss. Where has all that money “Old Niu Fund” is reputed to have spent in fact gone?
The limited number of references you can find to its charitable giving are things like, the “Old Niu Fund donated 300,000 yuan for the building of 100 cisterns in drought-effected areas” . . . One rather large donation was 6.3 million, which was given “to the office of the National Red Army Primary School Construction Project.” These certainly deserve encouragement. However, it’s surely difficult to see how they merit a Lifetime Achievement Award.
This way of giving prizes somewhat resembles the way the Motion Picture Academy gives out Honorary Awards at the Oscars each year, but no one is quite sure about what classic films this “famous actor” played in. Hasn’t this slid into the ridiculous? It seems that this charity ceremony is a bit phony, and a bit elitist.
I could not help but think of Zhang Rongkun (张荣坤), the number-two character in the Shanghai pensions scandal. In 2001, Zhang Rongkun raised two million yuan at a charity event for the Shanghai Charity Foundation, and he won the “Champions” award among charitable donations by private enterprises in Shanghai. He said stirringly: “As I see it, if you give one million, it just means not buying one car you might have, or one apartment you might have.” After that, Zhang Rongkun won Shanghai’s “Charity Star,” the Ministry of Civil Affairs “Advanced Individual” honor and many other government awards. In May 2002, Zhang Rongkun became Honorary Vice President of Education for the Shanghai Charity Foundation. In July, he served as Vice President of the Shanghai Federation of Industry. In August, he served as Honorary President of Shanghai Public Relations Association, and later became a national delegate to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative
Only when the pensions scandal broke did people begin to realize just how this “Charity Star” had used charity as a stepping stone in his plan of winning the sympathies of official’s wives and ultimately cozying up to power. No one thought to ask where Zhang Rongkun’s charitable donations had been applied, or what they had actually accomplished.
Perhaps Zhang Rongkun is a rather extreme choice as an example. But lately the media has reached high pitch in singing certain charitable tones, and it makes people wonder at how philanthropists are more common than ever, and how charitable giving seems to have become a very fashionable stage to strut upon. If we compile our rankings on the basis of how much money someone claims to have donated, and if we don’t look at what value those donations have actually had before we label this or that person a “philanthropist,” then I’m afraid to say that Zhang Rongkun well deserves a “Lifetime Achievement Award for Charity.”
Another example is America’s Rockefeller, who in 1913 founded the Rockefeller Fund in New York City in his own name. During the first year he made a decision to provide funds to China, which at the time Westerners regarded as a “heathen” nation racked by disease. So the board of directors proposed that “an effective system of medicine be developed in China in a gradual and orderly manner.” And it was this fund that was the origin of the Peking Union Medical College (协和医学院), which is so famous in China. China’s first generation of modern leaders in medicine, such as Lin Qiaozhi (林巧稚) and Wu Jieping (吴阶平), all emerged from Union Medical College. Union Medical College not only taught its students to seek professionalism, but fostered in them a sense of dedication and responsibility toward their own people. Even the model of the “barefoot doctor” (赤脚医生) was created by graduate Chen Zhiqian (陈志潜) after he returned to China
having received his masters in public health from Harvard University.
The meaning of charity lies in how remarkable people use their wealth or their abilities in richly creative ways for the benefit of their fellows. If we do not encourage Rockefeller’s spirit in China, and do not treat serious philanthropists whose charity is real with a professional approach, but rather award these philanthropists who always crop up in the figures but not through their actual work with Lifetime Achievement Awards, this will only draw greater ridicule and spoil the atmosphere of charity in China.