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China marks its first Charity Day

HONG KONG (SE): China celebrated its newly-proclaimed Charity Law on September 5 with a three-day Charity Fair in Beijing attracting charitable organisations from the capital, as well as neighbouring Tianjin and Hebei.

An official from the Beijing Civil Affairs Bureau, Yang Liping, was quoted by Xinhua as saying, “The fair is an exchange and cooperation platform for charity groups to share and pool their information and resources.”

The government claims that its new legislation is designed to channel existing charitable organisations into supporting the nation-wide poverty alleviation programme, which it sees as being a priority, as at the end of last year, it was estimated that 55.75 million rural people were still classified as impoverished.

The poverty line is set at an annual income of 2,800 yuan ($3,247) or less.

Beijing describes the purpose of the Charity Law as being to ease restrictions on fund-raising for operational activities. It also carries the promise of tax deductibility for donors.

However, the sticking point for many people is the promise of more government supervision, although most admit that the sector is in a mess and is in bad need of greater transparency.

While the new law could well encourage a greater support for charitable outreach and make it a more mainstream activity, it could also open a Pandora’s Box of development in civic society, which is probably the rationale for the up in government supervision.

The law has also been criticised for not limiting the number of organisations that can operate in the same sector in one area, which may be an indication that Beijing wants to splinter groups to make them easier to control.

China does not have a great record of charitable outreach to the needy or to supplementing government livelihood programmes with support from the private sector.

 Its average donation per head of population fall far behind other developed countries in the world.

From this perspective, the law comes at a good time, because as the economy begins to slow, there are going to be more and more people in need of a hand up.

The Ministry for Civil Affairs says that there are 670,000 registered social organisations in China, but the new legislation allows for non-registered groups to operate as well.

But Zhang Zhixiong, from the Yunnan Civil Affairs Department, pointed out, “We must better define the allocation of resources, so that the recipients of charity receive the support they need.”

To give the new push for more development in the charitable sector, a Charity Village was opened in Zengcheng District in Guangzhou on September 5 and charitable organisations are being encouraged to extend their activities into rural areas where needs are often greatest.

Xinhua reported that to mark the law coming into effect, the Chinese Philanthropy Museum in Nantong, Jiangsu province, was opened to the public. It is situated on the site of an old cotton mill founded by Zhang Jian, a businessperson with a philanthropic bent at the beginning of the 20th century.

It was hoped that the celebrations marking the introduction of the law would give the charitable sector a boost with wider exposure to the general public.

Sun Zhiqiang, from a charitable alliance in Shandong province, commented, “We find pleasure in helping others,” adding that he hopes the whole of society will learn to value the work that charities do.

A National Charity Day will be celebrated each year on September 5.

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