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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From China bashing to China praising

 

Wen Jiabao comforts a wounded child <img src=

I had previously written on the Tibet issue and criticised the western medias for China bashing. Nevertheless, I did not say the western medias were entirely to be blamed (read more in my blog of 24/04/08 ). I am happy to see that the western medias have overwhelmingly turned to praising China in its handling of the current Sichuan earthquake.

The Los Angeles Times reported that “Amid Tragedy lies opportunity:”

“Within a few hours after the quake, the Communist Party’s central propaganda department issued an order that Chinese news organizations not send reporters to the scene, but instead only use material from CCTV or from the official New China News Agency. What happened next, however, indicates how much China has changed… And Chinese media broadly ignored the propaganda department’s order. Many newspapers and regional television stations sent reporters to the scene. By Tuesday, the propaganda department appeared to have given up, and simply instructed that journalists “implement the spirit of the central government and use a reporting tone stressing unity, stability and positive publicity,” according to a journalist who had read the order

In The Wall Street Journal, Chinese born, raised and educated reporter, Li Yuan reported that “Sichuan Quake Shows Changing China:”

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao arrived in Sichuan within hours, accompanied by the state press corps. State media, from the Central Television Station to the Xinhua News Agency (my former employer), covered the disaster vigorously. ”

The New York Times reported that “A Rescue in China, Uncensored

Dali Yang, the director of the East Asian Institute in Singapore, said the [Chinese] government might have come to the realization that openness and accountability could bolster its legitimacy and counter growing anger over corruption, rising inflation and the disparity between the urban rich and the rural poor. “I think their response to this disaster shows they can act, and they can care,” he said. “They seem to be aware that a disaster like this can pull the country together and bring them support…

“Mr. Shi [a professor of media studies at Tsinghua University in Beijing] said he was surprised by the government’s candor and the vigor of the state-run Chinese press… like many experts, he said the Olympics were pushing China to experiment with a greater degree of openness. “This is the first time the Chinese media has lived up to international standards,” he said, adding, “I think the government is learning some lessons from the past.””

The Times magazine and the Washington Posts made similar comments in the respective articles entitled “China Quake Damage Control” and “China Expedites Vast Rescue Operation.

At the centre of all these media mania is none other than the people premier, Wen Jiabao. Within 2  hours of the earthquake, Wen was already on the plane flying from Beijing to Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province. Wen then immediately proceeded to the epicenter of the earthquake, Beichuan, overseeing the rescue operation. Wen of course knew the seriousness of a scale 7.9 earthquake as his training was in geology. Wen had promptly mobilised the military forces and medical staff to the scene. If China were to proscrinate (like Mynamar), the casualties would have been more serious than the 50,000 deaths currently estimated.

We could see Wen at various cities around the epicenter of the earthquake directing the rescue units, comforting and lending support to the victims and their relatives. In the photo above, Wen was personally comforting a child wounded in the earthquake. What Wen did not only won the praises of the western medias but also touched the hearts of over 1.4 billion Chinese all over the world. 

What is more important is that China did not blame the disaster on “heaven” (which Chinese (the race) would traditionally do on such occasion). As a matter of fact, the country tries to get to the root of the problem. The state run newspaper, China Daily, said in its Editorials that “we cannot afford not to raise uneasy questions about the structural quality of the school buildings“. A large number of school children died as a result of the collapses of the schools. The central government of China announced that it would launch a full scale investigation into whether some local officials had violated state policies with regard to the construction of schools. It was said that some of the schools were built of shoddy quality and some violated the height restrictios. The government had made it clear that any officials, if found guilty of wrongdoings, would be seriously reprimanded.  

I think the same investigions should be extended to other buildings in the affected cities as well as throughout the nation. Personally, I think, due to the rapid economic growth of the country, China has been laxed in its approval of building constructions, especially at the local level.

On 15 May, China, in a news conference, welcomed assistance in the form of medical aids from other countries, which is quite unusally as China tends to keep things of such nature as its internal affairs. Financially, China should have no diffiulties in meeting the huge expenses to be incurred in this disaster. However, China lacks experience, resources and expertise in dealing with earthquake of this magnitude. As a matter of fact, volunteers from the United States and Japan are giving their helping hands to China. This certainly helps ease the tension between tbe Chinese people and foreigners, which made headlines news recently.

The Sichuan earthquake is a real tradegy. The only good thing comes out of it probably is the apparent change of attitude of the western medias towards China and verse versa.  Let’s hope that this crisis would live up to the true sense of this word in Chinese,  “危机 “, which semantically means “to every danger there is an opportunity”. Let’s make it an opportunity that China would view the western medias and foreigners in a more positive light.