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Cultural shift in charitable work is needed not just money

HONG KONG (SE): Consternation and concern on the part of many people involved with non-government organisations (NGO) in China over a new draft law controlling their activities has stolen the limelight from another draft governing the operation of charities, which has been described as more workable.

Shawn Shieh, a Hong Kong-based expert on Chinese civil society, said that the draft law on NGOs suggests Beijing wants to try to weaken ties between local organisations and foreign funding.

“My sense is that this is designed to de-link domestic NGOs from foreign funding and push them more toward localised programmes and funding,” he added.

However, Shieh commented that amid all the doom and gloom, a draft of the Charities Law that is surprisingly generous in its wide and vague definition of potential activities has largely gone unnoticed.

To a large degree it simplifies the process of registration and clarifies the taxation situation of not-for-profit entities.

The Shanghai Daily reported on March 10 that the draft law on charities came before the National People’s Congress for its third reading. 

The English-language daily says, “One of its aims is to seek the help of Good Samaritans in realising a 2020 poverty alleviation target.”

It notes that the government is especially concerned about rural poverty and quotes the vice chairperson of the congress standing committee, Li Jianguo, as saying charitable programmes are indispensable in the fight against poverty.

In addition to rural poverty, China has some 83 million people who are classified as having disabilities and it is struggling to cope with providing facilities and infrastructure for their care and development.

Around 15 per cent of those listed as having a disability suffer from visual impairment, 24 per cent a hearing impairment, 1.5 per cent a speaking impediment, 29 per cent physical, 6.7 per cent mental and 16.3 per cent are described as having multiple disabilities.

China still struggles to provide care for orphaned and abandoned children, many of whom are also afflicted with crippling illnesses and disabilities.

Despite the indisputable mess that part of the charitable sector in China has become, the Shanghai Daily notes that charitable activity has boomed in the last few years and local donations have mushroomed from 10 billion yuan ($12.5 billion) to 100 billion ($125 billion).

The new bill seeks to look at transparency in the activities of charities and give them a clean face in order to encourage local moneyed people to loosen their purse strings and support them, as currently the rate of philanthropy among China’s nouveau riche is extremely low by worldwide standards.

However, observers note that the draft law is addressing many limiting factors for charities, especially in the startup stages and in appealing to the public for funding, including the area of tax deductions for corporate donations.

However, money is not the only factor in finding a way to support those with disabilities or raise the living standard of people in poverty. A cultural shift in attitude is also called for.

Steve Bundy notes in the March issue of the China Source Quarterly that disability is more than simply a characteristic of an individual, but must be defined within the relationship between the individual and society.

He also notes this relationship takes on a further significance when cultural stigma is taken into consideration, especially in a society that strongly emphasises conformity with an idealised standard of perfection, as it leaves little space for those who do not measure up.

In the past, some Church-related charities that have sought to serve such people have run up against a government attitude that seems to regard their work as a slight to China’s Communist Party, revealing a shortcoming, as it showed up a lacuna in its care for the forgotten sectors of society.

The Huiling Foundation, one of the few Chinese charities that provides care for adults with disabilities, ran into problems over methodology, as the government seemed to prefer large institutional housing over Huiling’s small community, family-style model of care.

This was also related to stigma, as complaints from neighbours not wanting such people in their area mounted.

However, the draft of the Charities Law seems to reflect a change in this attitude, especially in regard to locally-based and founded organisations.

Representatives of some Church-based Catholic charities said at a gathering sponsored by Caritas held in Manila, The Philippines, from February 1 to 3, that the Chinese government treats some problems either by pretending they do not exist or simply ignoring them.

They specifically pointed to people suffering from AIDS, noting that their own research reveals that there are more than three times the official number that government estimates recognise.

There are also areas concerning drug addiction and alcoholism that government social service structures struggle to cope with without the help of the charitable and volunteer sector.


In all events, Beijing seems set to decide in what waters charities will dip their oars and how far beneath the surface they may delve.

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