Residents wade through floodwaters in Zhengzhou, Henan province, China, July 20.

A deluge of giving after China’s floods

Money and volunteers flow into Henan province after historic floods, perhaps setting a high-water mark for Chinese charity.

For years, China ranked near the bottom on a global index of charitable giving and volunteering. But with its rise in wealth and in the number of Christians and Muslims – who perhaps now outnumber Communist Party members – the country’s standing on the giving index has rapidly risen. A good example is the surge of private help for those hurt by historic floods this week in Henan province – where a year’s worth of rain fell in just three days.

Nearly $300 million in donations has flowed into the region from Chinese enterprises, according to Reuters. Big tech companies are some of the biggest donors. News aggregator Jinri Toutiao (“Today’s Headlines”) has allowed users in Henan to ask for help. Local people also sent out calls for assistance on WeChat and other social media. “Thanks to all the companies and individuals who remember the people of Henan. Chinese people are the most powerful when they are faced with a disaster,” said one Weibo user.

A similar outpouring of generosity occurred last year in the city of Wuhan, epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, where party officials were slow to respond to the crisis. An estimated $5.9 billion was given to charity groups.

A big turning point for public magnanimity in China came after the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan. Thousands of volunteers rushed to the disaster scene, shocking party leaders who thought they had control over private charity. In 2016, a new “charity law” was passed to both encourage philanthropy but also tame it to follow party interests. Since then, the number of registered social organizations has more than doubled.

Also expanding are “giving circles,” or informal groups of private givers who pool their money for targeted charities. And since 2015, tech giant Tencent has sponsored a three-day online event called 99 Charity Day to raise money for giving groups.

Home to a fifth of the world’s population, China has steadily become a model for giving, or what Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama recently described as “thinking more of others than yourself.” The images of volunteers helping flood victims in Henan are showing the world a different China, one where the humanitarian response comes from the heart instead of a ruling party trying to stay in power.

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