Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan donated $120 million to San Francisco schools in 2014. (Photo: AP)

Charitable giving by Chinese and Chinese-American philanthropists has grown dramatically in recent years, driven by a huge increase in the number of private foundations from individuals and families in both countries, according to a new report from the Global Chinese Philanthropy Initiative.

Large gifts by Chinese-Americans increased nearly fivefold, to $492 million, from 2008 to 2014, as the number of foundations they established in the U.S. rose to nearly 1,300, a 418% increase from 2000 to 2014. This compared with 195% for all American foundations during that period.

In Greater China (the mainland, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan), philanthropic giving increased from $10.1 billion in 2010 to $16.7 billion in 2014.

The number of registered charitable foundations totaled 5,545, a 430% increase from 2006 to 2016, the report said, citing China Foundation Center data.

“Major contributions by Chinese and Chinese-American philanthropists are having a dramatic and positive effect — widening access to higher education, advancing innovations in health research and science and supporting the arts and culture,” Stewart Kwoh, head of the Global Chinese Philanthropy Initiative’s executive committee, said in a statement.

The initiative is a partnership of UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs, the UCI Long U.S.-China Institute and Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles.

The study examines the giving patterns of Americans of Chinese descent and of those in Greater China. It identifies giving trends, motivations and the effect of those gifts of 35 Chinese and 29 Chinese-American philanthropists who gave an average of at least $1 million in three individual years between 2008 and 2014.

Major Contributions

According to the study, major gifts from Chinese-American philanthropists accounted for 1.17% of all major philanthropic giving in the U.S. between 2008 and 2014, proportional to their representation of the U.S. population, 1.23%.

Two major gifts contributed to the surge in 2014: Gerald and Ronnie Chan’s Morningside Foundation pledged $350 million to Harvard University’s School of Public Health, and Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan donated $120 million to San Francisco area public schools.

Sixty-six percent of gifts of $1 million or more from Chinese-Americans went to higher education, the study found. Other causes trailed: overseas 15%, health 9.3%, education 4.2% and human services 1.1%.

Some 80% of Chinese-American foundations were established after 2000, though eight of the 15 biggest ones started earlier, according to the findings.

Here are the four largest U.S. foundations with more than $100 million in assets:

  • Cyrus Tang Foundation (Nevada), est. 1997, $346 million
  • J.T. Tai and Company Foundation Inc. (New York), est. 1983, $168 million
  • Chan Soon-Shiong Family Foundation (California), est. 2010, $144 million
  • Clarence T.C. Ching Foundation (Hawaii), est. 1968, $112 million

Tax policies and other regulations that govern philanthropy in China are evolving, and passage of the 2016 Charity Law by China’s National People’s Congress may have contributed to a significant increase in giving last year, according to the report.

The new law eases the registration of foundations, incentivizes giving and facilitates the establishment of charitable trusts. Implementation and local interpretation of the law will determine its effect, the report said.

Over the past decade, major contributions by Chinese philanthropists have focused on improving access to education. The report, citing the China Foundation Center, said some 62% of gifts made in 2014 went to the education sector.

And a 2016 Hurun Research Institute analysis of China’s top 100 philanthropists showed that 46% of their donations were made to education.

Chinese philanthropists also focus on disaster relief. For example, in the wake of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, numerous Chinese philanthropists organized rapidly in an effort to bring attention to and aid victims of disaster.

The Heren Charitable Foundation, established by Cao Dewang, is the largest private foundation in China unaffiliated with a university in terms of net assets, $464 million in 2015.

The report noted that differences exist in how philanthropists engage government agencies in China and the U.S. Among Chinese philanthropists, collaborative efforts with government agencies are common, especially to provide disaster relief, alleviate poverty, and advance education.

In the U.S., partnerships with government entities occur less frequently, with only a few philanthropists engaging in policy education activities.

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