A Survey of the Major Public Welfare Events of 2010

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This article highlights the major public welfare events of 2010.

The term “public welfare” (gongyi) is commonly used these days alongside “charity” or “philanthropy” (cishan) to refer to individuals and organizations acting in the broader public interest, as opposed to those who act in the interests of a particular individual, group or organization. (Drawing a clear line between “the public interest” and private interests is of course difficult. To take one example, a member of an association that opposes abortion can be viewed as working for a narrow, private interest, but that member may feel her efforts to change the abortion laws are advancing a larger public interest.) The government and official media in China appear to use terms like “public welfare” and “public welfare organization” as a preferred alternative to terms drawn from Western discourse such as “nonprofit organization”, “civil society” or NGO. These Western terms imply an independence from official policy and goals that the government may not want to encourage.

The end of 2010 is almost here. Looking back at this year’s public welfare sector, we see many new developments. On the one hand, new forces and faces have entered the “mainstream” of society, even getting the attention of the mainstream media. On the other, some NGOs in grassroots communities and traditional NGO sectors seem to be losing ground.  Meanwhile, this year, relevant government departments have put forward new regulations concerning the public welfare sector. The government’s role in shaping the development of the public welfare sector is worthy of our attention.At the end of 2010, three public welfare media outlets —China Development Brief (CDB), Social Entrepreneur Magazine, and NGO Development and Exchange (NGOCN) —  reviewed the major public events taking place in 2010. They selected 16 major events and conducted an online poll asking their readers to select the events they felt were important.  The respondents came from 28 provinces and autonomous regions (including Hong Kong), as well as from overseas.  Eighty-four percent of the respondents were 20-40 years old, and 42 percent were from Beijing and Guangdong.  The majority worked in the public welfare sector, but some were students, civil servants, researchers, and others working in manufacturing, services and other industries and sectors.

Many readers also recommended other public welfare events: the mudslide disaster relief of Zhouqu; the Hangzhou Home of the Grassroots becoming the first migrant worker NGO in the nation to join the trade union system; the Second Session of the Private Foundation Forum held in October of 2010; the interruption of NGOCN’s internet site; the death of Mr. Liang Congjie, founder of Friends of Nature; the first Social Innovation Award held in Beijing at the end of December of the and many other recommendations. In addition, some events were not listed here because these events happened after the questionnaire was sent out.

Based on the readers’ feedback, the 16 public welfare events are listed below in order of the percentage of votes cast for that event.

1. The “Suspension” of Jet Li’s One Foundation (60.7% voted for this event)

On September 12, in his interview with CCTV’s Face to Face program, Jet Li mentioned that his One Foundation’s collaboration with the Chinese Red Cross was likely to be suspended and that the problem was “much more serious than expected.” His remarks attracted a great deal attention from the media and general public. On September 21, Wang Rupeng, Secretary-General of China’s Red Cross, responded in his personal blog that “the One Foundation was not in danger of being shut down.” Soon afterward, Jet Li apologized to the Red Cross for his remarks.  As a NGO, the One Foundation encountered difficulties when it tried to become public foundation1. The One Foundation’s difficulties revealed the limits of the philanthropy system in China, and became a flashpoint for major media outlets2.

2. New foreign exchange regulations pose an obstacle for NGOs raising overseas funds (51% voted for this event)

On December 25, 2009, the State Administration of Foreign Exchange issued the “Notice on Issues Relating to the Management of Foreign Exchange Donations to Domestic Organizations” to take effect March 1, 2010. This notice may pose a major obstacle for some grassroots NGOs that depend on international donations.

3. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett’s Charity Dinner in China (46.9% voted for this event)

On September 29, the world’s richest men, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, arrived in Beijing to host a “charity dinner” for China’s richest 50 people.  Because they were successful in persuading 40 U.S. billionaires to make a public pledge to donate at least half of their wealth to charity, Gates and Buffett’s China trip was also seen as a banquet to persuade the wealthy in China to donate to charity.  However, the charity dinner hosted by Gates and Buffett did not contain the “donation appeal” as hyped by the media. Even so, the dinner did call attention to the state of charity in China today.

4. The Establishment of the One Foundation’s Public Welfare Research Institute at Beijing Normal University (44.8% voted for this event)

On June 21, the One Foundation’s Public Welfare Research Institute at Beijing Normal University was officially launched. This is the first research institute in China jointly initiated by a university and a nonprofit public welfare organization with the mission of engaging in research, personnel training and advisory services for the public welfare sector. The Institute hired Wang Zhenyao to serve as its president. Mr. Wang was the former director of the Ministry of Civil Affairs’ Social Welfare and Charity Promotion Bureau, and a long-time government official in charge of China’s charity work.

5. The Controversy over Donations to the Yushu Earthquake Relief in Qinghai (42.8% voted for this event)

On July 7, in conjunction with five ministries, the Ministry of Civil Affairs issued a “Notice on Qinghai Yushu Earthquake Relief Donation Management and Implementation Method.” The notice instructed 15 public foundations to return their donations to a special fund supervised by the Qinghai provincial government, the Qinghai branches of the Chinese Red Cross and China Charity Federation. This policy on “returning funds” caused concerns, confusion, and even outright opposition among more than ten national charitable foundations. This incident touches on the regulation of rights and interests in the charity field.

6. Nearly 60 Chinese Civil Society Organizations Issued a Joint Statement at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Tianjin (40% voted for this event)

On October 6, Chinese NGOs organized a panel at the conference calling for every country to face the challenge of climate change and negotiate a fair and effective consensus as soon as possible. They also pointed out that the challenge of climate change is a historical opportunity for change, and urged every country to immediately join a global low-carbon competition. Chinese NGOs also organized more than twenty joint activities at the conference. This was the largest collaboration of Chinese NGOs in the field of climate change. With China as the host country for the conference, the Chinese NGOs showed the world real grassroots action on climate change.

7. The Drought Relief in China’s Southwest Did Not Reproduce the Collective NGO Response Shown in the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake, Leading to a Discussion of What NGOs Can Achieve. (35.2% voted for this event)

The drought in China’s five southwest provinces first emerged in September of 2009, but it did not arouse public concern until March of 2010. At the time, the media was questioning NGOs about their lack of response to the drought.  But starting in March, the national media and some NGOs and volunteers did go to the drought-stricken areas. Soon after, NGOs turned to the April earthquake in Yushu.  In comparison to the prompt response to the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake, there was no collective action among NGOs in responding to the Southwest drought disaster. This contrast led to a discussion in the NGO sector regarding the limits of NGO actions.

8. The China Foundation Center’s Website Opens (33.1% voted for this event)

On July 8, the China Foundation Center (CFC)’s website, www.foundationcenter.org.cn) was formally launched. The CFC provides basic information, annual reports, and the financial status for 1,858 foundations. The CFC website offers a national platform for information about the financial accounts, project funding, and donations of foundations, and serves as a window through which the public and donors can oversee foundations. The launch of the CFC website signaled a giant step forward in information transparency for China’s charity system.

9. Thirty-four Environmental NGOs Issued Reports on Heavy Metal Pollution by the “IT Brand Supply Chain”, Signaling a Change in NGO Cooperation (32.4% voted for this event)

In April and June, 34 environmental NGOs, including Friends of Nature, Global Village, the Institute for Public Environmental Research, the Darwin Institute for Environmental Studies, issued two research reports in 2010 on “Heavy Metal Pollution in the IT brand Supply Chain”.  Environmental organizations and enterprises went through two rounds of discussion, with a growing number of enterprises responding to questions about heavy metal pollution. This was a successful collaborative effort by grassroots environmental NGOs.

10. Yushu’s Gesang Hua Using the Internet for Fundraising (32.4% voted for this event)

Qinghai’s Gesang Hua Education Assistance Association (青海格桑花教育救助会) raised funds for the Yushu earthquake relief through its website. As of May 31, Gesang Hua received a total of 2.59 million yuan for the relief effort. Of that amount, 860,000 yuan was received through Alipay. The White Paper on “The Status of China’s Internet” issued by the State Council Information Office in early June mentioned:  in the past two years, emerging network services such as blogs, microblogs, and social networking sites have developed rapidly, providing fast and convenient conditions for people to network.  Gesang Hua is one of the many NGOs which use new media technologies for their work platform. Back in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake relief, many NGOs were already using new media tools to raise funds and coordinate relief efforts.  These emerging technologies in the public welfare areas are proving to be conducive to improving work efficiency and transparency.

11. The Yunnan Provincial Government Piloted New Management Regulations for Foreign NGOs (31% voted for this event)

On December 29, 2009, Yunnan province issued “Yunnan Province’s Interim Provisions Regulating Foreign NGO Activities”, effective January 1, 2010. According to the regulations, foreign NGO projects and activities carried out in Yunnan Province must be reported to and registered by the Yunnan Provincial Civil Affairs Department, otherwise these projects shall be deemed illegal. As of August 10, a total of 13 foreign NGO agencies in Yunnan obtained approval and official registration.  There are currently more than 140 foreign NGOs in Yunnan.

12. The 2010 Social Innovation Carnival (30.3% voted for this event)

From August 1 to September 10, the first Social Innovation Fair (SIF) was held in Shanghai. The SIF is both a platform for promoting social innovation and a multi-sectoral networking platform for China’s public welfare undertakings. The main participants were prominent domestic and foreign social entrepreneurs, government departments, academic institutions, civil society organizations and media outlets. It took the form of a fair to create an exciting atmosphere for social innovation and to inspire public interest and participation in the public welfare sector. The SIF also promoted networking and collaboration among public welfare organizations, the government, businesses, and the general public, encouraging new methods, thinking, and experimentations in social innovation.

13. Peking University Issued a Notice Revoking Its Association with the Women’s Law Studies and Services Center (29.7%)

On March 25, Peking University‘s official website issued a revocation notice of the Social Sciences Division. The Peking University School of Law’s Women’s Law Studies and Services Center was one of four research centers revoked3.

14. Strikes at 3 Honda Factories in China (29.7% voted for this event)

Workers at three of Japan’s Honda Motor Company’s factories in China staged a series of strikes starting in May, temporarily stopping production.  The strikers succeeded in winning concessions from the factory in their demand for higher wages. Compared to the previous generation of migrant workers, the new generation have more bargaining power.  Moreover, their organizing occurred without the support of the official All-China Federation of Trade Unions which have not played an active role in Chinese enterprises. When commenting on the Honda strikes, a Guangdong official commented that he would like to see the trade unions play a role in labor-management conflicts. This would not only increase the power of the workers, but also be conducive to resolving conflicts in a more orderly manner and avoiding losses.

15. Cao Dewang, and His Son Cao Hui Donated 200 million RMB to Farmers in Drought-stricken Provinces of Southwest China (28.3% voted for this event)

On May 20, Cao Dewang, Fuyao Group Chairman, and Cao Hui, President of Fuyao Group donated 200 million RMB to drought-stricken farmers in five provinces of Southwest China through the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation (CFPA).  This is by far the largest one-time personal donation to the public welfare. Cao Dewang made an innovative and demanding arrangement with the CFPA. Each of the 100,000 farming households would receive a 2000 RMB relief fund. Cao Dewang would be in charge of organizing a monitoring committee and the media to monitor the entire process. The committee would randomly sample and survey 10 percent of the households qualified to receive the relief fund. If 1 percent of the randomly surveyed households did not get the promised fund, the CFPA would pay the compensation 30 times of the figure over the stated 1% margin from the randomly surveyed.

16. The Journal “Friends” Stopped Publication (21.4% voted for this event)

Founded in February 1998, the bi-monthly journal “Friends” had a circulation of 15,000, mainly for gay men, AIDS patients, and people in the health, academic research, and media sectors. Beginning this year, the Ford Foundation, which funded “Friends” shifted its focus of work in China to youth sex education, and stopped funding “Friends.” By the end of June, “Friend” had ceased publication. Currently, China has approximately 30 million homosexuals, and yet no policy or law recognizes them. “Friends” was the only journal devoted to the issue of homosexuality.


  1. Editor’s Note: Almost all public foundations in China have some government background. The implication here is that the One Foundation, as a grassroots NGO established by a private citizen, was not able to register as a public foundation because it lacked connections with the government. 

  2. Editor’s Note: For more on this story, see the article “One Foundation and SEE as ‘shell’ foundations” in our special issue. 

  3. Editor’s Note: The Women’s Law Studies and Services Center, one of China’s first legal aid NGOs, was affiliated with the Peking University School of Law since its founding in 1995. That affiliation was largely in name only because the Center was for the most part independent of the School of Law, but it did provide the Center with legal status. After the revocation notice was issued, the Center registered under two names: the Qianqian Law Firm, and the Beijing Zhongze Women’s Legal Consulting Services Center. 

In Brief

This article highlights the major public welfare events of 2010.
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