How can digital technology serve the public good?
By Tao Xing  ·  2023-05-29  ·   Source: NO.22 JUNE 1, 2023
The Eighth Internet Good Summit takes place in Wuhan, capital of Hubei Province, on May 20 (COURTESY PHOTO)

Nobel Prize-winning author Mo Yan's childhood home had an apricot tree in the garden. Whenever the apricots were ripe for the picking, Mo's grandparents would share them with their oldest and youngest neighbors instead of selling them at the market.

"I could not understand, at my young age, why I should be giving the fruits to others," Mo said of this memory. But eventually, he realized it was a process of sharing and sharing is, as they say, caring; it contributes to not only a harmonious village but also to society at large.

Mo shared the story when attending the Eighth Internet Good Summit in Wuhan, capital of Hubei Province, on May 20. Professionals from Internet giants and charities alike gathered there to discuss how digital technology could be used for the greater public good and further society-wide participation in charity.

The evolution of online fundraising has been one of the most important developments of the last few years for China's charity sector. The ubiquity of mobile Internet and the almost universal use of online platforms like Chinese tech giant Tencent's Weixin superapp and shopping sites like e-commerce titan Alibaba's Taobao have created a digital environment in which fundraising for charitable causes has blossomed at a rate unprecedented worldwide.

Online donations increased from 2 billion yuan ($280 million) in 2016 to nearly 10 billion yuan ($1.4 billion) in 2021. In the past eight years, 51 billion donations have been made, exceeding 35 billion yuan ($4.9 billion) in total, Guo Kaitian, Senior Vice President of Tencent Group and Director General of the Tencent Charity Foundation, said at the summit.

China's exploration of charitable undertakings has given birth to a Chinese model of online philanthropy and the coming decade will witness a new stage in its development, Guo added.

This Chinese model is based on technological innovation, mobile Internet and so on, according to a report released at the summit. The Internet offers people more convenient access to and a better understanding of China's charity sector, all the while making the industry more transparent and efficient, the report read.


When it comes to philanthropy, giving money might be the first thing that comes to mind. But as four representatives from Tencent, Alibaba, Douyin (China's TikTok) and Pinduoduo (an online marketplace that promotes group purchases) sat together at the May 20 summit, it became clear China's Internet giants are bringing another option to the table.

The four platforms have all showcased their vigor in promoting the development of agriculture in the country's rural areas and helping them to improve local living conditions in recent years. They've been doing so not by simply handing out cash to farmers, but by offering them new sales channels and technology support.

Pinduoduo, for example, in 2021 launched a 10-billion-yuan ($1.57-billion) agronomic program to address critical needs in the agricultural sector and rural areas, according to Hou Kaidi, Vice President of Pinduoduo, who attended the summit. The company has connected consumers and farmers via its e-commerce platform and brought rural products to consumers nationwide by making the most of China's mature logistics services, which in turn is an industry fueled by e-commerce. The company has also been waiving commissions to attract more vendors of agricultural products, lifting overall sales.

Pinduoduo's zero-commission offer and other marketing strategies are boosting agriculture. For example, the blueberry industry in the southwestern province of Yunnan is now rapidly developing, Hou said.

Alibaba's Taobao and Douyin have long been helping farmers sell their produce through live-streaming on their immensely popular apps—a practice also referred to as "live commerce." Live commerce has evolved rapidly in China, taking less than five years to develop into an innovative sales channel with an estimated penetration of 10 percent, according to a 2021 analysis by global consulting firm McKinsey & Company.

Moreover, since 2019, Alibaba has been dispatching experienced employees to underdeveloped counties as poverty alleviation commissioners, now known as rural revitalization commissioners, who inject Alibaba's digital capabilities into rural areas, according to Yao Yao, Secretary General of the Alibaba Foundation. China's rural revitalization strategy aims to consolidate the country's achievements in poverty alleviation, with absolute poverty in the country eradicated as of late 2020, and promote common prosperity.

Tencent, then, in 2015 launched 99 Giving Day to inspire people to give back to society; over the years, it has become one of the largest annual public philanthropy campaigns in the world. Last September, more than 10,000 philanthropy projects of 2,500 charitable organizations raised fund from the general public through Tencent's digital philanthropy platform.

In 2016, the said platform featured 4,300 registered charitable organizations; today, this number has soared to 17,000. The number of charity projects on the platform, too, has increased from 20,000 to 85,000.

All in all, the emergence of online charity platforms provides the wider public in China with more and new channels to help those in need.


It's the many small deeds combined that will eventually pave the bright and broad way for charity, Mo said at the summit.

China's online philanthropy is based on the development of digital technology and the tech companies behind it. But this is not enough. Upon entering the summit's venue, a big display listing some 200 charitable projects immediately caught the eye. Visitors could then scan a code to learn more about the project of their choice and how they might be of assistance. 

One of the projects on show aimed to teach girls in rural areas about menstruation and provide those from poor families with sanitary napkins; another project offered people the chance to learn about the Great Wall in the cloud and enhance their awareness of cultural relic protection; a third undertaking had created a data visualization platform to better protect the Chinese White Dolphin… Whether through online fundraising and other digital solutions, the numerous projects and their participants are jointly creating a suitable ecosystem for the evolution of China's online philanthropy.

The mushrooming of online donation portals in recent years has generated some disputes and negative public opinion. This is why the government must step up regulation and revise related laws.

Aside from passing the current Charity Law in 2016, China now seeks to make amendments to the law for the first time to adapt to the booming development of online fundraising in response to public calls for stricter online governance of individual charitable activities, according to Zhen Gongcheng, head of the China Association of Social Security. "The revision of the law will provide a better legal environment for the development of online philanthropy," he stated.

China attaches importance to establishing a coordinated income distribution system featuring primary distribution, redistribution and tertiary distribution. Tertiary distribution refers to creating opportunities for high-income groups and enterprises to give back to society, including through voluntary gifts and charitable donations.

Yao Yang, Dean of the National School of Development and Director of the China Center for Economic Research at Peking University, believes charitable undertakings reflect the willingness of givers. People have benevolence and are willing to give, he said at the summit.

(Print Edition Title: Charity—China Style) 

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon 

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