Donations to the Sichuan earthquake, more or less will be appreciated just the same


The China commerce minister on 22nd May took an unusual step to thank foreign agencies and companies on national television for donating to the the Sichuan earthquake aids. The donations were said to amount to 1.7 billion Yuan in cash and 200 million Yuan in supplies. It was in response to some China’s web surfers accusing foreign corporations for not doing enough comparing to their Chinese counterparts and called them “international misers”. One of the surfers put up a blog entitled “Foreign Companies Act Up now…” in the China Daily setting out the substantial sums allegedly given out by China corporations, but at the same time noting the conspicuous absence of some of the big names such as Nokia, HSBC, McDonald’s, KFC and etc.. or the sums they were donating were disproportionate to their substantial profits from their businesses with China. China’s ministry in the announcement said that such accusations were totally unfounded.

Most people would have paid little attention to such unconstructive comments from these irresponsible web surfers, whose motives, I believe, were none other than to draw readers to their blogs. However, they had almost killed the goodwill that the leaders of the country had built and the respect they gained from overseas in respect of their handling of the Sichuan disaster.  Credits must, once again, be given to the China authority in making the above announcement, which lessened the damages that those web surfers have done and in so doing it salvaged the already fragile relationship between foreign corporations and  Chinese citizens, as a result of the recent Carrefour’s incident and similar incidents with Japanese companies last years.

Nonetheless, foreign corporations should not feel embarrassed for being criticised as “misers”. The reason is that China’s own favourite son, Yao Ming, the famous National Basketball Association player, was likewise criticised for donating a paltry sum of US$50,000. This sum certainly is dwarfed by the huge sums of money donated by some of the celebrities and tycoons in Hong Kong, who have their own agendas

What these surfers have done, I believe, stems from an ugly tradition of the Chinese of judging one’s characters or wealth by the size of 人情 (gift money) he gives at dinner parties on big occasions. Unlike the western traditions of giving physical gifts, Chinese like to give moneys to marrying couples at their wedding parties or to the hosts at birthday dinner parties on the spot. A host often times uses the size of the gift money of a guest as a yardstick of his guest’s sincerity or actually the wealth. It is also good for gossiping. Those who are generous as well those who are mean are on the top of the lists of gossips.

I would like to cite a personal experience. At one time I gave a HK$200 gift money to one of my causal friends for his wedding, which I considered was a fair sum in light of my relationship with him. However, it came back to haunt me when later I asked him for a small favour, he turned me down, I did not know the reason why. Later, I found out from another friend, who heard it from another friend,that the friend in question was mad at me because of the HK$200 gift money, which he thought I was being a miser.

This tradition went away during the great Chairman Mao’s era, as everyone was considered equal at that time. Now in China it is said “to be rich is a glory”. The tradition is coming back, at least, to big cities. I was told by a friend in Guangzhou that it is now a common practice that the amount of the gift money one gives to the hosts at a dinner party is announced openly at the party. My poor friend who is a worker and is not making a lot of money is so afraid for being invited to these kinds of parties.

Returning to the earthquake donations, I cannot help but remind people that it is not the moneys that count, it is the heart. Also, I call upon those web surfers in question to learn the famous Chinese sayings or proverbs that “多多益善小小无俱 (more or less is welcome just the same”), which is often used when inviting others to make donations.

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