Fan Zhong Yan statue
Photo Credit: VCG

Who Were the Greatest Philanthropists in Chinese History?

These charitable figures from ancient China didn’t forget to give back when they got rich

Last week, after President Xi Jinping encouraged high-earners to give back to society in order for China to achieve “common prosperity,” the country’s biggest companies fell over each other to pledge to charitable causes. Tencent and Alibaba both announced 50 billion RMB donations to various foundations, e-commerce platform Pinduoduo promised to give away 10 billion RMB to charitable causes, and Wang Xing, the founder of Meituan, transferred shares worth nearly 13 billion RMB to philanthropic projects.

But while some of modern China’s super-rich are only now being compelled to give back, it’s been a tradition rooted in Confucian teaching throughout Chinese history for those with wealth to offer charity. As the philosopher Mencius put it: “In poverty, one should still hold himself to a high standard; and when prosperous, one should contribute to the well-being of all (穷则独善其身,达则兼善天下).” Guided by such doctrines, many philanthropists emerged throughout history. Generous with their money, caring for others, and even devoting their lives to charity, some of their stories are still cited today as an example of the embodiment of benevolence.

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author Sun Jiahui (孙佳慧)

Sun Jiahui is a freelance writer and former editor at The World of Chinese. She writes about Chinese language, society and culture, and is especially passionate about sharing stories of China's ancient past with a wider audience. She has been writing for TWOC for over six years, and pens the Choice Chengyu column.

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