China tycoon pledges fortune to charity
- 29 September 2010
- From the section Asia-Pacific
US billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are hosting a dinner in Beijing for some of China's richest individuals.
They are hoping to learn about philanthropy in China - and perhaps persuade some of their guests to give more to charity. The BBC's Michael Bristow spoke to one of those invited to dine.
Businessman Chen Guangbiao has been inspired by the two US billionaires.
The 42-year-old is a well-known philanthropist, but decided to go one step further when he got a call from Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.
Mr Chen sat down and wrote them a letter declaring that all his money will go to charity after he dies.
Perhaps surprisingly, the news was not greeted with universal approval in China, where giving to charity is not as established as in other countries.
There was particular criticism when people found out that Mr Chen does not even give money to his own siblings.
His sister earns 1,800 yuan ($270, £170) a month washing dishes in a hotel; his brother earns only slightly more working as a security guard.
On that issue, Mr Chen is unrepentant. He said he had helped them in the past, but they had squandered his money.
He said his brother gambled and his sister began a loan business that eventually failed.
"I'm determined never to help them again," he told the BBC in an interview at his plush Beijing apartment.
Chen Guangbiao's story is a classic tale of rags to riches.
He was born into a poor family in Anhui Province, where it was a constant battle to survive. He said two of his siblings died of starvation.
But from an early age Mr Chen began to understand two things that have guided him throughout his adult life: business and charity.
As a schoolboy he soon amassed what was to him a small fortune by selling anything he could - water, ice-cream - and doing odd jobs.
He has worked hard ever since, claiming never to have had a day off since he founded his company, Huangpu Renewable Resources, in 1998.
His firm recycles waste material from the construction industry, and has allowed Mr Chen to amass a fortune estimated at $440m.
Charity was the second idea that the businessman learned about early, mainly from the example set by his mother.
"When other people's kids had no milk, my mother would breastfeed them herself," said the businessman.
She also invited beggars into their home to share their meagre meals.
Mr Chen's first experience of helping others came as a youngster when he handed over his hard-earned money to pay for a neighbour's school fees.
The father of two said giving was a habit he has maintained over the years.
A report on philanthropy in China published by the Shanghai-based Huran Research Institute earlier this year listed Mr Chen as the country's fourth-most-generous giver.
It said he had donated $130m over the last five years to projects involved in health-care, disaster relief and education.
But the Giving Pledge campaign started by Mr Gates and Mr Buffett has pushed Mr Chen to donate even more money.
This campaign urges US billionaires to give away more than half their wealth to charitable causes.
Mr Chen said this inspired him to announce he would give all his money away when he died.
His philosophy can be summed up in a passage from the letter he wrote to the American philanthropists telling them of his intention.
"If you have only a glass of water then one person can drink. If you have a bucket a whole family can benefit."
He added: "If you have a river, then you should share it with everyone."
Mr Chen is not shy about telling people about his charity work.
"Society needs hundreds of hundreds of thousands of Chen Guangbiaos," he wrote in another letter published on his company's website.
He admits that he is brash - but he believes that is the only way to encourage more people to give to charity.