Caixin
Feb 07, 2018 06:29 PM
SOCIETY & CULTURE

Midea Founder Finds Golden Touch in China Philanthropy

Midea Group founder He Xiangjian led the list of China 100 biggest philanthropists in 2017. The individuals on the list gave away 23.3 billion yuan ($3.7 billion) last year, a drop of over one-third year-on-year. Photo: VCG
Midea Group founder He Xiangjian led the list of China 100 biggest philanthropists in 2017. The individuals on the list gave away 23.3 billion yuan ($3.7 billion) last year, a drop of over one-third year-on-year. Photo: VCG

Founder of home appliance-maker Midea Group Co. Ltd. He Xiangjian donated 6.8 billion yuan ($1.09 billon) to charity last year, leading the list of China’s top 100 philanthropists for the first time.

The top 100 givers on the Chinese mainland donated 23.3 billion yuan in total last year, according to a report published Tuesday by Beijing Normal University’s China Philanthropy Research Institute.

That represented a drop of over one-third from the previous year due to the absence of big-name philanthropists including Pony Ma, founder of Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings Ltd.

Pony Ma topped the 2016 list after giving 16.97 billion yuan worth of equity to a nonprofit foundation affiliated to his company. Ma broke the record for the biggest donation held by Jack Ma — founder of e-commerce behemoth Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. — who gave away 16.9 billion yuan worth of shares in 2014.

Jack Ma preferred to keep a low-profile about his charity work. He gave 100 million yuan last year to a medical foundation linked to a hospital affiliated to Zhejiang University’s School of Medicine.

In comparison, the top 50 givers in the United States donated $12.2 billion to charity in 2016, up from $11.1 billion from the previous year, according to Forbes Magazine.

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. chairman Warren Buffett topped the list by giving away $2.86 billion in 2016.

35 of the 100 most generous people in China last year have been regular names in the annual list. This includes Wang Jianlin, chairman of Dalian Wanda Group Co. Ltd., and Xu Jiayin, chairman of Evergrande Real Estate Group, who have been on the list for seven years in a row.

Many Chinese donors chose to fund poverty alleviation operations and education projects, according to the report.

Xu, second on the list, pledged 3.4 billion yuan to fight poverty in the southern province of Guangdong and in Bijie, an impoverished city in the southwestern province of Guizhou.

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But, the country’s tax laws still dampen donor enthusiasm, particularly when it comes to giving away company shares. Midea founder He was forced in July to cancel a plan to donate 100 million shares of his company to set up a charitable trust. Instead, he opted to divert dividends from the shares into a foundation under his name to avoid huge taxes.

China’s tax law came under scrutiny after Cao Dewang, chairman of automotive glass giant Fuyao Glass Industry Group Co. Ltd., disclosed he had to pay an additional 500 million yuan in taxes to donate 300 million company shares worth 3.75 billion yuan in 2011.

Authorities have since overhauled the tax code, exempting stock donations to foundations and charitable organizations registered in China.

Contact reporter Li Rongde (rongdeli@caixin.com)

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