BY PROF ZHENYAO, DEAN OF CHINA PHILANTHROPY RESEARCH INSTITUTE, BEIJING NORMAL UNIVERSITY
The response to the Coronavirus situation shows that the human race needs to make a joint effort and engage in collaborative action. In particular, during a time when the global economic development has reached a GDP level of US$10,000 per capita in 2011, followed by China in 2019 with the same, the challenge we all share is to have social values take the lead over economics, in spite of political, economic, cultural and social differences between countries and peoples. Global matters need to be jointly discussed. We need to build on—and share—our different experiences, as well as work together, drawing on each other’s strengths and weaknesses. China’s Belt and Road Initiative advocates China’s commercial and social organisations to follow The Silk Road’s spirit of openness—to use their own initiative and go out to deeply learn and draw lessons from, as well as collaborate with, the international community on an equal footing. The development of China’s philanthropic work has, naturally, been spurred on by this spirit. Charities should also work hard towards being part of this historic process and, thereby, contributing towards social collaboration.
I. A Perspective on China’s Philanthropic Work in The Belt and Road Initiative:
Should China’s philanthropic work be further opened up in the grand scheme of The Belt and Road Initiative? The answer is yes, for sure, but how to go about it? How to come up with a positive system for social collaboration? This is an important question that needs further exploration.
What needs to be faced up to is: In China’s modern history from 1840 onwards, her interaction with the West had been dominated by successive invasions and unequal treaties.
One of the most important things to be aware of, with regards to the Chinese national psyche, is to recognise that falling behind triggers fears of getting pummelled. Hence, they need to leave tradition behind and learn from developed nations in all things, and even referencing that “The USSR of today could be our tomorrow”. A similar awareness was also behind the subsequent Reform and Opening Up campaign. It is the same lack of balance in philanthropy, where there is often an over-emphasis on modern philanthropy, whilst abandoning the traditions from
ancient Chinese civilisation.
The practical experience from responding to the Covid-19 situation has made the Chinese society rediscover the value of its own tradition and set off a new line of thinking. People have discovered: the liberalist belief that “government is a necessary evil” does indeed run counter to China’s cultural values, because an important belief in Chinese civilisation is that “government is a necessary good”. People have further recognised that Chinese culture has its own set of values on society and of philanthropy, including:
“Harmony in Diversity”, rather than “Being the same, yet not in harmony ”—the foundation stone for social equality;
“Compassionate, loyal and trustworthy”, rather than “Being mean-spirited and untrustworthy”—the basic ethos underlying philanthropy;
“Everyone must pitch in when the country is in difficulty” —the public moral fibre of philanthropy;
“Democracy, and putting life above all else”—the important basis of philanthropy;
“Nature and humans in unison, Respect for Nature, and Environmental Protection”—the inherent logic of philanthropy.
One can say that China’s philanthropic work in the course of responding to COVID-19 will help the sector plant itself in more ways in the roots of its own civilisation, and conduct extensive exchanges with the international community. It will, of course, respect the traditions of different ethnic groups, different peoples and different countries.
Philanthropy’s Belt and Road Initiative is a greater exchange and collaboration between philanthropists and charity organisations. China needs to learn from the outside world, which will also bring about projects involving a certain level of mutual assistance and support. This form of learning and collaborating will be a win-win for all participants, producing multiple-gain results. China has a cultural legacy of welcoming people from afar (the saying: “Is it not delightful to have friends arriving from distant lands?”), as well as an innate inclination to “go out” and make friends. Therefore, it will want to engage in deeper and multi-layered exchange and collaboration with the nations in The Belt and Road Initiative.
2. The Belt and Road Initiative’s philanthropic exchange and collaboration route
How to go about it? What to do? This is the basic challenge for philanthropic exchange and collaboration. International philanthropic exchange and collaboration in recent years have shown that only exchanges productive that are truly cohesive and sustainable development can be achieved.
Philanthropists would also like exchanges that are small scale, diverse and meaningful. This, therefore, requires setting up a platform for development and collaboration between philanthropists and thought leaders, from all nations. For example: will it be possible to build a platform for collaboration and exchange between certain family clans?
Dialogue and exchange between civilisations are also rather necessary, but must avoid empty discussion. Perhaps we can combine onsite visits of famous cultural sites with a dialogue?
There is plenty of room for collaboration in areas such as projects for disaster emergency response and rescue, poverty alleviation, as well as eldercare, children and the disabled. Also, collaboration on protection of the environment and animals, oceans, as well as mental health and support in cultural and education sectors. The international collaboration mechanisms already in place have gained a lot of experience, achieving results in many areas in China, some of which have become important government policies. The experiences from such collaboration can be summed up, re-designed and upgraded, to form a closer link with the Chinese society.
3. Need to set up many types of social platforms for deep-level exchange
There are currently certain obstacles to international exchange. Political obstacles, as well as clashes and differences between the policies of some countries, affect exchange and collaboration on The Belt and Road Initiative. Social obstacles equally abound, including diversities in culture, language and the written script. The exchange and collaboration among charity organisations should work innovatively on projects to overcome these obstacles.
An important need is a technological support system for overcoming obstacles. At the moment, the internet and information technology is advancing daily, but truly in-depth exchange still needs direct human-to human dialogue and interaction. This is particularly the case with collaboration between charities. To this end, we should set up multiple types of social platforms to support exchange on many fronts.
Firstly, we have to overcome obstacles on the language and written script front. This needs a certain learning mechanism to be set up, to encourage the development of projects for cultural learning and research. The launching of such learning and research should be entrusted to specific schools and research institutions, to promote their close collaboration with the community. Just think: the dissemination of Buddhism in China would have been unimaginable had it not been for the rather advanced translation system they’d set up between India and China.
At the same time, we must certainly have a more advanced network of research institutions: for rational research and expansion and, even more, for developing a vast quantity of case studies for sharing. We can understand the state of charity work in each country via projects that work with real, living people and philanthropic families . It is from this that collaboration and innovation can be carried out in the course of such exchange.
We should also encourage informal exchanges, conduct visits like the Chinese cultural practice of dropping in on relatives and people. This also requires a certain level of liaison services and preparations on some cultural aspects, which equally need platform support.
The Belt and Road Initiative’s charity work exchange and collaboration was initiated by China, but China’s philanthropists and charity organisations should also use their initiative to start projects and collaboration. Singapore is a nation with deep-rooted connections with the Chinese culture. Her philanthropists and charity organisations can absolutely take on the role of being a bridge and a link, thereby becoming a bigger platform for charity collaboration and exchange on The Belt and Road Initiative.
This piece is excerpted from the APC 2019/2020 Annual Report, which you can download here.