China, having emerged as premier global producer of billionaires, is nurturing an explosion of institutionalized philanthropy (慈善，ci shan). Private philanthropy is anathema to Mao-era socialist values condemning the accumulation of private wealth, and also seemingly incompatible with the rational pursuit of self-interest presumably driving successful entrepreneurship in post-reform China. However, Xi Jinping has nevertheless proposed the development of “new philanthropy” as one means to “resolve the contradictions of socialism with Chinese characteristics,” addressing the social inequality that has accompanied the staggering growth of GDP over the past four decades. Drawing upon year-long ethnographic research with two philanthropy training organizations based in Beijing (locations where new philanthropists are cultivated) this talk examines the tensions and resonances between notions of philanthropy (ci shan) and of revolution (ge ming) that surfaced in philosophical discussions, published materials, and jokes. Both understood as mechanisms of wealth redistribution, the alternate contrasting and comparing of ‘philanthropy’ and ‘revolution’ were observed to shed light on anxieties about wealth, class, and social stability, to bolster the (newfound) ideological support for charitable giving in China, and to play a role both in defining ‘philanthropy with Chinese characteristics,’ and in shaping philanthropic subjectification.
Elizabeth H. Crane is a doctoral candidate in Cultural Anthropology at Rutgers University. Her dissertation research is focused on the emergence of “new philanthropy” in contemporary China, and she has completed year-long ethnographic dissertation research with two philanthropy training organizations based in Beijing.