Crédit Jackie Ramirez.

Charity, the Chinese Way


Luo Yixiao, a 5-year-old Chinese girl, died this Christmas Eve despite numerous donations to pay for her medical expenses. The matter has been controversial following suspected fraud surrounding the donation collection. Le Journal International had a look into charity in China.

On November 14, 2017, Luo Yixiao was diagnosed with leukemia. Her father, Luo Er, published several posts on his WeChat account [a Chinese call and messaging application] asking for monetary donations to help pay for his daughter’s treatment. One post titled “Hold on, Luo Yixiao!” had a profound effect on its readers. The moving piece, written after Luo Yixiao’s condition worsened, made clear Luo Er’s hope of keeping his daughter alive.

Online Collection

The company XiaoTongRen stepped in on November 25, reposting Luo Er’s messages with the following statement: “every time this post is shared, the author will receive one yuan in donation from the company.” At no point did the company request donations, but numerous people came forward to donate via WeChat’s micropayment service.

10 million clicks later, more than 2 million yuans [around €250,000] had been raised—the limit of the micropayment service. Luo Er’s personal account as well as the official XiaoTongRen account were both prohibited from collecting any more money.

The sum of the medical expenses and the assets owned by the father were then called into question. According to members of the internet community interested in researching the case, the father owns three houses, two cars, and an advertisement agency—assets that all point to the high probability that Luo Er would be capable of paying for his daughter’s medical fees. Suspecting fraud, the Chinese government intervened, and all donors were fully reimbursed.

Traditional Charity

The online collection of donated funds by individuals is becoming more common in China. Only a limited number of charitable organizations are allowed to collect funds from the public. This minority is made up of organizations that are mostly very close to the government. NGOs, often very critical of the Chinese government, don’t have access to the collection of publically donated funds. Rarely receiving the support of charitable organizations, NGOs often seeks help from international associations.

Over the past few years, the state of NGOs has seen some development. The Chinese Red Cross has started organizing open competitive bidding. Still, many large charitable organizations are regularly involved in corruption scandals and are thus steadily losing the trust of the Chinese people. An increasing portion of the population is choosing to make donations directly to recipients. Luo Er’s case demonstrates, nonetheless, that this system is far from foolproof.

Charity Business in China Needs More Time

The concept of the ‘charity business’, conceived in the United States in the 1990s, appeared in China a little over a decade ago and describes the commodification of charitable services. Unlike the majority of countries that have adopted the concept, though, the Chinese government and Chinese companies play a much larger role in the charity businesses than foundations and individual investors.

When initiated by companies, charity business is more akin to a sort of corporate social responsibility model. The cost of advertising often outweighs that of investment. When the charity business is organized by the government, NGOs are technically given more autonomy; however, the government’s excessive interference in turn often strips NGOs of their independence. Both forms are still a far cry from being able to efficiently solve China’s social problems.

Photo Credit: Jackie Ramirez

You may also like