RG: A course in giving back

Editorial Note: This article first appeared in the Register Guard on Sunday, November 23.

Business students from China studying at the University of Oregon are transplanting old-fashioned Eugene do-gooderism back to the motherland.

For a fifth year, the UO-based Chinese Philanthropic Leadership Association is doing fundraising events — bake sales, flea markets, an annual “The Voice”-style singing contest — to pay for a summer project in China.

One year the association brought cheer to children in a remote village in Hunan province who are growing up without mothers or fathers because their parents live year-round in big cities working to support the family.

Another year, the fledgling philanthropists took four UO environmental studies graduate students to examine pollution in the Xiangjiang River.

The association, made up of 36 Chinese students, says it is seeking “the spirit of doing philanthropy.”

Their mission: “In our minds, we can see a better future, and that friction between what is and what could be burns us, stirs us up, and propels us.” This philanthropic impulse puts them in the forefront of change in China, a country that lost its centuries-old traditions of individual charity in the upheaval of Mao Zedong’s cultural revolution from the mid-1960s through the mid-1970s, followed by the business explosion of the past couple of decades guided by the Communist Party.

“There was no room for philanthropy because there was an imposed Communist structure on people,” said Eileen Heisman, CEO of Philadelphia-based National Philanthropic Trust.

“The haves and have nots got greatly equalized. Private philanthropy didn’t exist because government was trying to make everything equal,” Heisman said.

Today, Chinese humanitarians have a population of 1.35 billion to worry about, compared with the U.S. population of 320 million.

Charitable donations in China totalled $13 billion in 2012; that’s 4 percent of U.S. donations that year, according to Forbes. China had 2,961 private foundations — or less than 3 percent of the U.S. total.

“They’re restarting their whole society under all these different economic structures. They had this big interruption,” Heisman said.

Plus, in the United States, donors can deduct charitable giving from their taxable income on federal and state income-tax returns. These tax incentives stoke America’s huge philanthropic furnace. By contrast, the Chinese government has designated only a small number of charities as eligible to receive tax-deductible donations.


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