Although China has the second highest number of billionaires in the world, only 20 percent of the country's annual charitable giving — compared to 70 percent in the United States — comes from individuals, TIME magazine reports.
According to TIME, for most Chinese the idea of charitable giving is detached from daily life, and the rapid accumulation of wealth by many Chinese over the last decade or two has failed to translate into higher rates of giving. Moreover, while the country has a culture of giving that can be traced back to Confucian teachings and Taoist and Buddhist principles, the practice was eclipsed by war and the political upheaval that dominated the country's more recent past. Indeed, with the exception of 2008, when the Sichuan earthquake briefly increased charitable giving in China to some $15 billion, awareness of philanthropic giving has remained relatively low.
While there is a national tax-deduction policy for charitable contributions, local governments often overlook it for their own benefit. The policy's impact is further weakened by the fact it only applies to gifts made to a group of government-sanctioned organizations that many Chinese accuse of corruption and lack of transparency.
Still, total charitable giving in China rose from $1.5 billion in 2006 to more than $7.5 billion in 2009. And while the country's giving pales in comparison to that of the United States, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, hosts of a recent private event in China to promote philanthropy among the country's wealthiest citizens, are optimistic about the outlook for philanthropy in the country.
"I think the obstacles [to developing philanthropy in China] are similar to what everybody sees in the U.S., which is you want to make sure your gift can have the impact," Gates said at a press conference last month. "Because the wealth here is so new...the notion of what is the role of the government versus philanthropy is still being developed."