The recent earthquake in Sichuan has re-ignited the debate inside China over the misuse of charity donations in the country. Much of that debate has focused on the Red Cross Society of China (RCSC), which was shaken by a scandal in 2011 that has still not subsided.
Chinese on social media have been merciless in their attacks on the RCSC. One of the most frequent criticisms is that the charity uses its official status to force rather than solicit donations [Here, and in comments Here].
But an article on the front page of the Party’s official People’s Daily today emphasizes that “online public opinion” is not real public opinion. What is the evidence for that statement? The fact that despite recent online criticisms, the RCSC still managed to draw in 53 percent of the 10 billion yuan donated for the recent earthquake relief effort.

The People’s Daily article was shared this morning through the official Sina Weibo account of the China Red Cross Society.
Weibo comments under the China Red Cross Society post about the People’s Daily piece were generally not kind.
“I’m a civilized person,” said one user, “but about a report like this I have to say ##$%#$%. Have you no shame?!”
“In this day and age this sort of thing is called forced donation!” another user wrote.
A few other remarks:

“And People’s Daily does not equal the people.”
“Get lost right along with the People’s Daily!”
“We were forced to donate to you, just like feeding a dog!”
“Get lost! No shame at all.”
“We want our money back.”

Obviously, the People’s Daily article fails to take into account a whole range of factors — not least the problem of pressured donations and the relatively weak role of non-government charities owing to restrictions on civil society.
A translation of the People’s Daily article follows:

“Online Public Opinion Doesn’t Entirely Equal Actual Public Opinion” (网络舆情并不完全等同现实民意)
People’s Daily
April 30, 2013, PG 01
By Chen Shu (陈述)
After the Lushan Earthquake (芦山地震) occurred, the China Red Cross Society immediately moved to solicit donations for disaster relief, and online it faced a tide of criticism.
However, according to information from the China Foundation Center, as of April 27 some 115 funds had taken part in the disaster relief donation effort for the Lushan Earthquake, with donations totalling 1.04 billion yuan. Of this, the China Red Cross Society received 566 million yuan, more than 53 percent of the total.
This shows that while the China Red Cross Society continues to face a credibility crisis, it still has a rather strong degree of trust. [We] hope the China Red Cross treats this trust well, rapidly creating open, transparent and honest operating mechanisms — raising credibility and eliminating stains on its reputation.
These facts also show that there is a massive gap between online public opinion and actual public opinion. The reasons for this deserve careful consideration from society.

David Bandurski

CMP Director

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