Panda power | The Economist

THE feeding frenzy for the pandas comes at nightfall. People furtively approach them, pouring bags of old clothes down their gullets.

By day, the trucks arrive to clean the bears out, leaving them empty for the next big meal. The pandas are plastic. They are large, bear-shaped receptacles, designed to entice people to donate their unwanted garments to those in need.

First deployed in 2012, there are now hundreds around Shanghai, often placed by entrances to apartment buildings. They swallowed about a million items of clothing last year. The procession of donors feeding trousers to pandas is impressive. But they usually do so under cover of darkness. Charitable giving is not yet a middle-class habit. Many people still feel awkward about it, despite their growing prosperity. China’s GDP per person is about one-seventh of America’s.

But in 2014 Chinese gave 104 billion yuan ($16 billion) to charity, about one-hundredth of what Americans donated per person (see chart). This is partly a legacy of attitudes formed during Mao’s rule, when the party liked to present itself as the source of all succour for the poor (to suggest otherwise was deemed counter-revolutionary). Even until more recent years the party was reluctant to encourage charities, worried that they might show up its failings.

The middle classes have worries too—that giving large amounts to charity may draw unwanted attention to their wealth. They do not want to fuel the envy of the have-nots or encourage tax collectors to pay them closer attention.

The top 100 philanthropists in China gave $3.2 billion last year, according to Hurun Report, a wealth-research firm based in Shanghai. That was less than the amount given by the top three in America.

In 2008 when a powerful earthquake hit the south-western province of Sichuan—the deadliest in China in more than 30 years—it seemed that one positive outcome would be a boom in charitable giving. Volunteers poured into the devastated region and donations filled the coffers of aid organisations. Problems soon arose, however. Embarrassed that private relief efforts were proving more effective than official ones, the government reined in citizen-led organisations.

Source: Panda power | The Economist

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