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China’s Philanthropy in the Age of Social Media

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China’s Philanthropy in the Age of Social Media

By Hanwen Cao

In the stark juxtaposition with the mature and sustainable nonprofit operating environments we observe in many developed countries is the China philanthropic environment: inexperienced, rapidly growing, and heavily regulated.

Not only the businesses are scrambling for new ways to entice the public, following the boom of China’s social media over past years, charitable organizations working in Mainland China tread new paths.

Sina Weibo, the social platform with over 500 million registered accounts, hundreds of thousands verified organizations, is playing a leading role in how netizens communicate, how politics unfold, and how philanthropy evolves with the public.

Adapting to Chinese social media has become one of the most important tasks assigned to China’s philanthropic organizations. Will Weibo become a major platform of in the future?

A Brand New Charity Platform

2011, Sina launched Micro-charity, an internet based charity platform that enables netizens to donate for people who need urgent aids. Although still a freshmen of the nation’s charity sector, Micro-charity has already surprised people with encouraging life- saving miracles:

Lu Chao, who was diagnosed with leukemia, received over 1 million yuan for her stem cell transplantation surgery within three days, with helps and support from the well- known Chinese investor Xue Manzi and many celebrities.

Ma Chunhua, a low-wage worker, was able to afford the bone-marrow transplant and the chemotherapy needed to rescue her new born baby’s life from donations received from Micro-charity.

Investigative reporter Deng Fei, also a leading Weibo blogger, promoted the Free Lunch program for the ‘left-behind’ kids in school on Weibo, and raised over 4 million yuan from nine hundred thousand people as he reported.

Soon after the success of Free Lunch for Children, the government pledged to spend 2.5 billion providing healthy food for millions of primary and secondary students in rural areas. It is believed by many that Free Lunch for Children prodded the officials into actions with such high speed.

However, the Micro-charity also has not been immune to suspicions. Some cases were reported with fraud. Some researchers concern about Weibo philanthropy’s sustainability under a less regulated environment.

“At this point, there are no clear regulations on using Weibo and other social media to raise funds, so I think that is an issue that needs to be addressed,” says Shawn Shieh, the director of China Development Brief at Beijing Civil Society Research and Development Center.

Red Cross Society Credibility Crisis

But another topic seems to attract even more attention: the drama surrounding China Red Cross. Gone are the days when just pasting the Red Cross label onto a donation box was enough to guarantee a steady stream of donations from the innocent masses.

The difference in amounts of donation received by the One Foundation founded by famous actor Jet Li, and China Red Cross within 24 hours after earthquake in Yaan tells everything. It was posted on Weibo with exact figures asking how “China Red Cross received 140 thousand yuan while One Foundation received over 22.4 million?”

Two years after scandal of Guo Meimei, the nation’s largest charitable organization is still suffering badly from a serious lack of credibility. Despite being one of the first charitable organizations dispatched an investigative team in Yaan, China Red Cross was thrown with thousands of thumb-down emoticons and profane comments by Chinese netizens.

Guo Meimei, whose Weibo wealth-flaunting caused months of Beijing blood shortage, and sinking of China Red Cross’s donation, was again involved in another scandal recently. While it has been stated many times that Guo has never worked for the Red Cross Society, people simply ignores the fact.

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