WHEN Warren Buffett and Bill Gates held a banquet for Chinese billionaires in 2010, they hoped to win them over to philanthropy. They got the cold shoulder. Many wealthy industrialists stayed away, and none of those who attended signed their “Giving Pledge”. This meanness was not due to penury: China boasts more dollar billionaires today than does America. Asked why he and his compatriots rebuffed the evangelisers, Jack Ma, boss of Alibaba, an e-commerce giant, insists it is not because they were stingy. At a conference on private-sector philanthropy hosted by his firm this month in Hangzhou, he explained that China’s charitable sector was then still in its infancy.

The outlook has since improved. Charitable giving in China still lags that in America, but it is rising (see chart). Oscar Tang, a Chinese-American billionaire and philanthropist, tells of another banquet for fat cats in Beijing, this one hosted earlier this month by Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the United Nations, and the C100, a group of prominent Chinese-Americans. Unlike at the frosty meeting in 2010 with the “two white men” telling them to give away money, he recounts, the...Continue reading