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To Donate or Not To Donate: American vs. Chinese Views

It’s quite a routine for North Americans to donate to charities, but not for Chinese. According to “30 Years of Giving in Canada” published in 2018, levels giving to charities as a percentage to GDP are: US (1.44%) ranked 1st, Canada (0.77%) ranked 3rd, and China (0.03%) ranked 23rd out of 24 countries.1 Living in China and later in Canada for my entire life and contributing to raising funds for US ROS1+ Lung Cancer research, I noticed that Chinese and North Americans have totally different viewpoints on donation.

Why do North Americans donate?

I watched a TV show hosted by a Chinese economist, Mr. Weiping Lang.2 According to Mr. Lang, 98.4% of the high-income families living in the USA donate to charities. Amongst them, 63% believe that donation is a way to give back to society. This is because 75% of Americans enjoy government benefits. In 2017, 99% of Americans enjoyed at least one government benefit. For example, from kindergarten to Grade 12, public education is free and lunch is $1. The rest is subsidized by the government. When the students go to university, they can get student loans and return the loan after they graduate and secure a job. Mr. Lang concluded that American children are brought up by society and, naturally, want to give back to society.

Why don’t Chinese donate?

The Chinese donation to charities was 4.7% compared to American in 2018. According to the studies by Chinese HuiFeng Bank (汇丰银行), 37% of Chinese families’ income is used towards education. 50% of start-up funds for business in China come from families themselves, while only 37% of start-up funds are self-funded in China. In the USA, 80% of donations to charities come from individual and 14% from corporations. While in China, the opposite is true: 80% of donations are from the corporation sector 3. Mr. Lang concluded that Chinese kids were brought up by their families, so the Chinese naturally give back to their own families.

Mr. Lang emphasized at the end of his talk that both philosophies of Chinese (not to donate) and American (to donate) are equally justified because the cultures and the societies are different. There is nothing wrong that Chinese individuals don’t donate.2

Is anything wrong with not donating?

Yes, donations are imperative. I don’t agree with Mr. Lang.

Firstly, as society evolves, Chinese children are no longer brought up solely by their families anymore. They are being raised more and more by society. For example, the health care and education reforms, although still in infant stages in China, are gradually becoming the trend. Especially public education has already been free for years.

Secondly, for people with a terminal illness, charitable donations are extremely important for research. In the ROS1der (ROS1+ Lung Cancer Group), we have donated $329,187 USD towards research so far although we only have 2% lung cancer patients with the ROS1+ mutation. Not long ago on Twitter, the American Cancer Society announced $1M new donation for cancer research. Although the government allocates funds to cancer research, it’s far from adequate. This is equally applicable to other charity organizations to fight for the cancer and other diseases. Thirdly, although business and government will move humanity forward, they always leave behind those 10 percent of Americans that are disadvantaged.4 If we want the world working for everyone, without anybody left behind, we have to donate.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. David Lasby and Cathy Barr, 30 Year of Giving in Canada, The Giving Behaviour of Canadian: Who gives, how, and why? Rideau Hall Foundation and Imagine Canada, 2018.
  2. WeiPing Lang (郎威平), Why Do American Donate to Charity? 西瓜视频.
  3. Fast Facts about Philanthropy in China, GlobalGiving Team, Washington DC, 2018
  4. Dan Pallotta, The way we think about charity is dead wrong, Ted Talk, 2013 From:


  • Christine Qiong Wu moderator author
    6 months ago

    Dear Cameron,

    First of all, congratulations on the cure of your cancer and I agree that research funding is stretched so thin. What is cancer Manhattan Project? I currently concerned too many orgornitations to raise fund, and each organizatuon will have overhead… How effective the donors’ money spend?

  • Cameron
    6 months ago

    everybody and their brother or sister has a cancer research charity. Research spending is spread so far around and so thinly that its hard to produce big breakthroughs . yes I realize that there are many many types of cancer, but If they really wanted to end cancer there would be one place to put the money it would be a cancer Manhattan Project. but that won’t happen because cancer is big business. I’ve been lucky, it looks like I’m cured, but unfortunately? I’m very cynical and skeptical.

  • Christine Qiong Wu moderator author
    6 months ago

    Dear Yolanda, thank you for your comments.

    First of all, in term of donation, Chinese is behind as compared to Americans and Canadians. The culture for donation in China is not there. I noticed that Chinese in north America are quite good at donation. The infrastucture for donation in China should be there.

    Secondly, here we are not worry free in term of donation, like you mentioned. The donation in US is always less than 2% GDP, and some misconcepts in charity-based indurties is very diffucult to overcome for hundreds years. It’s not easy.

    Where did you do the presentation on racial disparity? Online?

  • Yolanda Brunson-Sarrabo moderator
    6 months ago

    Hi @cqwu Christine, I totally understand the process is not an easy one at all. Sadly…
    I did my presentation in New York at Mt Sinai Hospital.

  • Yolanda Brunson-Sarrabo moderator
    6 months ago

    What an interesting perspective! I just completed a presentation on racial disparity, and this is similar to the conversation. Culture and customs tend to hold a close hand on how people perceive a diagnosis and disease. Though we’re in 2019 some of the thinking is still puzzling. I agree donations holds a huge part in so many areas of research and other assistance for a patient. However, it’s also interesting how money isn’t automatically implemented for these types of researches in general by government, where now the public has to hold hands together in support by donations.

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