China's Rich Are Becoming More Generous

A growing number of China's newly rich are giving away some of their wealth to the less fortunate.

Yu Pengnian has donated 250 million dollars to charity in the past few years. The 84-year-old entrepreneur, who made a fortune in the real estate and hotel business in the southern province of Guangdong, is not only the oldest but also the most generous among China's growing number of philanthropists.

Private charity was put on hold in China for several decades after the Communist Party came to power in 1949. The party wiped out private wealth and became the sole provider of social services for more than 30 years.

After China opened to the outside world in 1978, wealthy Overseas Chinese in Hong Kong and elsewhere began sponsoring projects on the mainland, often in the towns and villages where they were born.

Now the government is actively encouraging Chinese citizens who have become wealthy during more than two decades of rapid economic growth to open their wallets for the needy. Tens of millions of Chinese still live on less than a dollar a day.

Shanghai-based Rupert Hoogewerf is the founder of Hurun Report, a publication that releases an annual list of China's major philanthropists, most of who live in the Shanghai region.

He says China's rich gave about 600 million dollars to official charities last year and estimates that donations outside those organizations were as least as big. While the figure is relatively small compared to the more-developed countries, the rich in China are giving more generously every year.

Hoogewerf says most philanthropists support health and education projects. Many make donations because they suffered in the past.

"25 years ago in China, a lot of these entrepreneurs were very poor. They had very bad health facilities, very, very bad education, and they feel they want to change that for the better."

Gaining face also plays an important role.

And Hoogewerf says some donors - especially real estate developers, who make up almost half of China's philanthropists - show generosity in order to boost their business.

He says when they help build public parks, schools and hospitals, for example, they often do so to ingratiate themselves with local governments in the hope of winning more business contracts in the future