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Inspiring awe and admiration.

How the ice bucket challenge can boost Chinese philanthropy

This morning, Chinese billionaire and internet entrepreneur Zhou Hongyi, the founder of search portal Qihoo, stood in front of a group of his employees and dumped a bucket of ice water over his head—all in the name of eradicating the disease Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Zhou’s participation in the ice bucket challenge, a campaign to raise money for the ALS Association, has a broader benefit: raising the profile of charitable giving in China, where donations to non-profits, especially by individuals, are relatively low. Before dumping the bucket over his head, Zhou said, “I hope that next time, we can start a similar campaign here in China, encouraging our citizens to donate to a cause. For now we’ll participate in someone else’s.”

Charity work doesn’t have a great reputation in China, where as many as a third of registered charities don’t meet international standards for transparency. Restrictive fundraising rules and a general suspicion of government-backed foundations, following a number of scandals, has kept donors away. Last year, around 80% of donations in China came from companies; in the US, almost 80% of donations typically come from individuals.

China’s internet entrepreneurs, many of whom are admired for their rags-to-riches stories, could give the movement a boost. Lei Jun, the founder of the Chinese mobile-phone maker Xiaomi, who is sometimes dubbed China’s Steve Jobs, Victor Koo of video site Youku and Pete Lau, founder of a new Chinese smartphone maker OnePlus, have all filmed themselves doing the ice bucket challenge. Some internet companies, like Tencent, Sina, and the Alibaba-affiliated Alipay, have launched their own charitable giving platforms to streamline the giving process.

Youku
OnePlus founder Pete Lau.
Youku
Xiaomi founder Lei Jun.
Youku
Youku CEO Victor Koo.

Alibaba’s Jack Ma, Tencent’s Pony Ma, Baidu’s Robin Li, and Foxconn’s Terry Gou, as well as Taiwan-based entertainers Jolin Tsai, Wang Leehom, and Hong Kong pop star Eason Chan have all been named to undertake the challenge. (Those who complete the challenge name three other people who then have a day to dump a bucket of ice water over their head or donate $100 to the ALS Association.)

The “ice bucket challenge” (registration required) is currently one of the three most-discussed topics on China’s popular microblog platform Weibo, with over 56 million comments or shares. One blogger wrote (registration required), “Zhou said it well. We should stand up for social causes.”