Aileen McCabe's piece last week in the Vancouver Sun reminds us of the uniqueness of the American philanthropic tradition. America has a distinctive experience of philanthropic freedom that has helped to foster a robust and independent civil society.
In China, as McCabe points out, charities are controlled by the state and, among other differences, have very little transparency. Moreover, in China the state does not provide for tax incentives for charitable donations.
Public philanthropy died a quick death when Chairman Mao Zedong founded the People's Republic of China in 1949. It was deemed the new state could look after its own people and didn't need help from the rich, if any were left and dared show themselves. But it has slowly re-emerged since China's "opening up," and last year charity donations peaked at $4.89 billon, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, largely from businesses.
The problem, according to even the experts quoted by the official media over the past week, is the lack of transparency in charitable spending, state control of charities and the lack of tax incentives for donations.
Soo Ewe Jin of the Malaysia Star makes a similar point when he reminds readers that America-style philanthropy does not cut across all cultures:
For two of the wealthiest men in the world, there is the realisation that philanthropy does not necessarily cut across all cultures, and that what works in a western developed society may not necessarily be embraced in the East.
McCabe and Jin's articles are poignant reminders of America's unique philanthropic tradition.
They also suggest another uniquely American theme: The naive American abroad.
McCabe's entire article is worth reading.