The Catholic University of America




Professor Karla Simon Weighs in on Charitable Giving Trends in China


Catholic University law professor Karla Simon, an acknowledged expert on civil society, non-governmental organizations, and the noticeable emergence of both in China, has been visible in the media recently on the subject.
One hallmark of a civil society is generous philanthropic giving to charitable causes with little or no government intervention in the process.
In September, two of the world’s richest and best known philanthropists, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates (below) hosted a dinner in Beijing that was designed to encourage wealthy Chinese to boost their levels of giving.
One account of the event, “A Good Cause: China's Grapple with Charitable Giving,” was published by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The article quoted Professor Simon a number of times as she discussed a welcome development: the increasing number of Chinese philanthropic organizations that disclose financial information and publish operating guidelines for the first time.
"Self-regulation is always critical for any nonprofit organization sector," Simon is quoted. "It can be hoped that the regulators will look on all of this favorably and work with the self-regulating organizations."
Broadly speaking, a civil society can be defined as one that permits significant opportunities for citizen participation, as well as the unfettered presence of not-for-profit organizations (NPOs). Trends have been quietly moving in this direction in China for 25 years, little reported to the outside world except by knowledgeable scholars.
Yet some bureaucratic and regulatory obstacles remain in Chinese society. They were the subject of an article by Simon,“Fiscal Impediments to Giving in China,” published in the December 2010 issue of Alliance magazine. In it, she cites China’s requirement that all contributions be made in cash, as well as the lack of an estate tax in the country, as continuing disincentives to higher levels of giving.
Simon intends to pursue these and related ideas in February 2011, when she moderates “Opening Space for Civil Society in China: Can the ‘Soft’ Power of the U.S. Help?” which is a part of the Columbus School of Law’s ongoing symposia series at the National Press Club.