Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, two of the world's richest men, said today they are hopeful in China's growing philanthropy among the country's newly wealthy after hosting a dinner to promote charity for a select band of Chinese billionaires.
The pair confirmed more than 50 of China's richest businesspeople and entrepreneurs attended the Wednesday night event in order to share ideas and experiences about philanthropy's various avenues and obstacles in a country with rapidly growing wealth.
In August, China overtook Japan as the world's second largest economy, and now has the fastest growing number of high net worth individuals, according to a recent report by Merrill Lynch and Capgemini.
While China does have a growing number of non-governmental organizations and charities, many get themselves in trouble for tackling sensitive issues like AIDs, or becoming embroiled in corruption scandals and misuse of funds.
Questions regarding which groups to give to often prevent giving in the first place.
And charity is also being held back by traditional reticence of many rich Chinese to discuss their wealth in public, fearful of exposing fortunes larger than the government or rivals had calculated, inviting unwanted attention from tax collectors and hatred from millions of have-nots.
"Great wealth is much newer in China, reasonably wide spread great wealth is a much newer phenomenon. And the habits of philanthropy are probably being formed here, whereas they are probably settled in more if you go to Europe, where people have, dynasties have passed on wealth for generation after generation. So the ideas, the charitable inclinations, or the mores or the norms of Europe are much more likely to be more solidified and harder to change, than in a new society where people are looking at wealth they didn't have thirty years ago and thinking, 'what do I do about this'?" said Buffett.
The short history of charity suggesting that there are more obstacles to overcome, but the two men were confident in philanthropy's growth in China.
"(The main difference I think is that) because the wealth here is so new, a lot of these non-profit groups have not been developed, and the notion of what is the role of government versus philanthropy is still being developed, and its great to see that like many things in China it's happening faster than it happened in most other places," said Gates.
Both men agreed that the greatest difficulty in the field is choosing a smart philanthropic venture, but they hoped that increased dialogue among philanthropists around the world would improve their efforts.
Private philanthropy became obsolete after the 1949 revolution when the Communist Party introduced a cradle-to-grave welfare system.
But the country's wealth gap widened after it embraced capitalist reforms in the late 1970s.
Natural disasters in recent years have stoked patriotic sentiment and rekindled an interest in charity.