Lifestyle Business

Jackie Chan & the business of philanthropy

BULL MARKET, BULL SHEET - Wilson Lee Flores -
He believed that he was born, not for himself, but for the whole world. –Latin poet Marcus Annaeus Lucanus

Among East Asian showbiz stars, I used to be a fan only of Chinese actresses Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi, martial arts actor Jet Li, and director Zhang Yimou. Now I’m a big fan of Jackie Chan for his having recently announced that he will donate half his fortune (estimated at HK$1 billion) to philanthropy. Indeed, Forbes magazine cited him as one of the world’s top 10 most generous celebrities this year. Chan made the announcement at a press conference promoting conservation of the endangered South China tiger, now numbering only 100 and more rare than pandas.

Jackie Chan said he looks up to philanthropists Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, the world’s No. 2 and No. 1 wealthiest billionaires, respectively. Buffett recently awed the world with the biggest-ever philanthropic donation in history, worth US$37 billion, through Berkshire Hathaway Inc. stockholdings. Five-sixths of this huge largesse will be donated to the civic endeavors of his friend Gates’ Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

It is fascinating that the two wealthiest people on earth – leaders in capitalism, business and technological innovations – have radically opted to bequeath the bulk of their material wealth to civic causes instead of passing them on to their kids and grandchildren.

Jackie Chan may have publicly cited Warren Buffett as his philanthropic inspiration, but he is actually continuing a long Asian tradition of civic generosity exemplified by people like early 20th-century "Rubber King" Tan Kah Kee of Singapore and Malaysia, who donated his wealth to create Xiamen University and the Jimei schools in his ancestral home of Fujian province, south China. Tan Kah Kee was an activist who also led Southeast Asia’s ethnic Chinese communities in resisting Japanese militarism in World War II. Tan also visited and admired revolutionaries Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai even while Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek was still in power in China.

Various taipans have since followed the magnanimous Tan Kah Kee example, such as Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka Shing, who donated HK$1 billion in 2005 to Hong Kong University. He also established Shantou University near his hometown of Chaozhou in south China. The late Hong Kong shipping mogul Y. K. Pao left his largesse to his native city of Ningbo in eastern China. Top Southeast Asian business leaders from Thailand, Singapore, etc., have already donated schools to their ancestral towns, similar to the Jewish tycoons of the West who have donated schools to Israel.

Although Jackie Chan knows how to work and play hard, enjoying life to the fullest, his act of selflessness will hopefully be an eloquent reminder to all the rich people of Asia who are now already bypassing Americans and Europeans in affluence and global financial clout. In "economic miracle" China, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and even once-recession-hit Japan, the wave of economic affluence has led to some super-rich people indulging in the most amazing examples of conspicuous consumption. Global luxury brands of liquor, cars, watches, jewelry, private jets, yachts, and other luxe goods and services are enjoying unprecedented sales growths all over China and East Asia.

Since Jackie Chan is not an entrepreneur who could otherwise keep on reinvesting his money for business expansion beneficial to economic progress, I heartily applaud his civic gesture of donating half his fortune. It’s a powerful example to all the people of Asia and the world who idolize him. His philanthropy also upholds the ancient Confucian teachings on humanity, civic spirit, high culture and a frugal lifestyle, which are the opposite of the morally corrosive trends among not a few Asians across the region who embrace conspicuous consumption, extravagance and hedonism.

A hundred years ago, the common Li (Lee/Dee/Dy) forebears of my late father, sawmill entrepreneur Lee Tek Hong; Ambassador Howard Q. Dee; China Bank chairman Gilbert Dee and president Peter SyCip Dee; Unilab/Southeast Asia Foods bosses Jocelyn Campos Hess and Joselito "Butch" Dee Campos Jr.; Ateneo math whiz Dr. Queena Lee-Chua; cardiologist Dr. Dy Bun Yok and others, donated to a school in our ancestral Chio-Chun Village ("Shi-jun" in Mandarin) of Fujian province. Due to the political tumult of that era, the Chinese government had issued an order to protect the school and a nearby fishpond with incomes to sustain the school. I donated an original copy of this large document with government seal to Teresita Ang See and Melanio Cua Fernando for the Bahay Tsinoy Museum in Intramuros, Manila. That school was one of the early examples of business philanthropy among Southeast Asian entrepreneurs in the colonial era.

It confers immense social prestige among the overseas Chinese diaspora worldwide to donate towards education. For years, ethnic Chinese entrepreneurs of the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Inc. (FFCCCII) have built and donated over 3,000 public schoolhouses for the poorest rural barrios in all provinces of the Philippines. In 2003, Senate President Franklin Drilon coursed P100 million of his pork barrel to the FFCCCII for the construction of public schoolhouses after he discovered that this group could construct public school buildings at only half the price compared to those built by government contractors.

I urge the Philippine government to encourage the rich people among the eight million overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to never forget their ancestral roots and to each donate public schools, classrooms, or public libraries to their hometowns in the rural provinces. If individuals can’t afford a public school, perhaps a group of compatriot OFWs from the same barrio can pool their money together for school donations.

If only a small percentage of the elite among our millions of OFWs donate schools or classrooms to their rural barrios, similar to the overseas Chinese or western Jews, the Philippines will no longer suffer a chronic shortage of public school classrooms. Our corrupt politicians will hopefully also be shamed into not stealing public school funds and this generosity will help social progress and the eradication of massive rural poverty.

Although we should derive inspiration from Jackie Chan and Warren Buffett to strive for world-class success, what I admire more is how they have wisely chosen to use their wealth for noble causes and how they have made themselves positive role models in this era of consumerism, cynicism, and eroding moral values.

We don’t have to be billionaire tycoons or showbiz stars to be generous, selfless men and women of social idealism. If Jackie Chan can do it, why can’t we, in our small yet no less unique ways, help change this world for the better?
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