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Chinese Business Chief Continues Philanthropy Trend

Tom Burroughes, Group Editor , 7 December 2018

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The trend of Chinese ultra-high net worth individuals making big philanthropy moves continues.

The chairman of a Hong Kong business conglomerate has donated RMB200 million ($29 million) to a Chinese university, a move that highlights how ultra-high net worth individuals there are following a high-sum philanthropy trend seen in countries such as the US.

The money from Lui Che-woo, chairman of K Wah Group and director of Lui Che Woo Charity, will be used for providing better research and teaching facilities, as well as supporting the development of medical, pharmaceutical science and other related disciplines for the university, according to China Daily.

The planned biomedical sciences building will be used mainly by the School of Life Sciences for teaching and scientific research in life sciences, medicine, pharmaceutical sciences and other cross-discipline subjects. Top scientific research institutions will be established in the building, such as the Beijing Advanced Innovation Center for Structural Biology, The IDG McGovern Institute for Brain Research and The National Center for Protein Sciences, the report said.

This is not the first such philanthropic move by Lui Che-woo, who is 89. Last year Lui donated RMB120 million to the School of Life Sciences of Peking University, with most going to fund a new life sciences research building. As early as 2015, Lui established the Lui Che Woo Prize - the Prize for World Civilization - as he believes education is the key to future prospects. 

With China being a hotspot for creating new billionaires, philanthropy is expected to increase. To some degree the country still has some way to catch up with the US in this regard. Recent weeks have seen examples, such as that of media tycoon and former New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, pass on big sums to academic institutions. In Bloomberg’s case, he is giving $1.8 billion to John Hopkins University. The amounts involved in modern philanthropy, even allowing for inflation compared with the era of the Rockefellers, Mellons and Guggenheims, are huge.

In May last year, 14 billionaires said that they had signed the Giving Pledge, formally joining the 154 other billionaires who have pledged to transfer at least half of their vast wealth to philanthropic causes. The Giving Pledge was started in 2010 by Bill and Melinda Gates, and Warren Buffett (source: CNBC, May 31, 2017). At that time, the Gateses were worth a collective $88.5 billion, and Buffett worth $74.2 billion.

In September, Chinese e-commerce tycoon Jack Ma, co-founder of Alibaba and China’s richest man, said that he was retiring from the company to focus on philanthropy. Alibaba is China’s largest corporation and, with a listing on the New York Stock Exchange, is currently valued at $420 billion. (Ma started getting involved with philanthropy several years ago.)

(Editor's note: It will be interesting to see how the philanthropy trend in China plays out. Traditionally, the relatively liberal countries of the West, particularly those with smaller states and more of a voluntarism tradition, have been more active in encouraging philanthropy. A Communist Party-run state such as China might, on the face of it, seem less promising. But there appear to be several drivers for philanthropy in China: The country doesn't have an extensive welfare safety net; its old one-child policy creates succession planning issues, meaning that some wealthy people, who are childless or have only one child, might prefer to give money to a cause; and the current cohort of ultra-high net worth individuals are arguably under pressure to show that they are good citizens. Taken together, this means that philanthropy advice and help is going to be a continuing growth area for private banks and wealth managers.)

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