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Chinese Bloggers Pillory Property Tycoon

Posted by: Frederik Balfour on May 27, 2008

I am deeply puzzled by all the vitriol directed at Vanke chairman Wang Shi. Wang has been pilloried by Chinese bloggers and in the official media for not digging deep enough into the company’s pockets to support victims of China’s devastating earthquake. The company’s two million yuan {$286,000}was judged insufficient for China’s biggest property developer.

In March I met for three hours with Mr. Wang, and can tell you he is a far cry from your stereotypical property developer. An avid alpinist who has scaled the highest peaks in all seven continents, Wang is a squeaky clean operator in a notoriously shady industry, and his company’s developments enjoy an unrivaled reputation for their quality of construction. Given the widespread anger and frustration against local developers [Vanke was not one of them] whose shoddily constructed buildings collapsed and claimed so many lives, you might think that Vanke would not be tarred with the same brush. The company’s website, where it gives a blow by blow description of its contributions under the “Vanke Earthquake Relief Column” reports no damage at any of the 9800 households in its Chengdu property development.

Indeed, Wang was a philanthropist long before the tragedy in Sichuan province. He has long supported a school for the blind in Lhasa, and has donated all of his earnings— millions of dollars worth—-he made from acting in television commercials for the likes of Volkswagen, Motorola and Ping An Insurance.

His own blog is also among China’s most popular, and his phenomenal success as a businessman had, until recently, earned him untold respect and admiration from his readers. The speed with which the Chinese blogosphere has turned against him is baffling. The expression “Don’t be too Wang Shi” has become a popular derogatory term as “Don’t be too CNN”, which entered into the internet lexicon over the network’s reporting of the Tibetan unrest.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Vanke has pledged the company will spend another 100 million yuan. In a statement to the Shenzhen stock exchange, where Vanke is listed, the company said the 100 million will be spent on reconstruction on a non-profit, non commercial basis. The company has also issued a written response to media questions regarding its charitable donations.

Reader Comments


May 27, 2008 12:37 PM

@Frederik Balfourm, you can consider my post a warning to you or "vitriol" if you want to call it. If what you wrote was what you knew, fine. Here is the fact for why he was widely "pilloried". He donated 2 million yuan on his company's behalf to the relief, fine, no one was pilloring him for this donation as you wrote. Yet, he ordered his employees to limit their donation to no more than 10 yuan (which is about 1.3 dollar). It was this (his) order that people started crying out loud and felt "despicable"!


May 27, 2008 12:46 PM

Mr. Frederik, honestly do you speak, read and understand Chinese? If not, how you have come up with this story which is factually wrong and inaccurate? And what are you in your mind trying to tell the businessweek readers with this twisted story? There were thousands and thousands touching and moving stories that were happening daily on the ground in Wenchuan and Beichuan (earthquake zone), yet, you came up with a story like this which looked so non-eventual vis-a-vis life and death, truly heroic ones which were available almost at your grab.


May 27, 2008 12:59 PM

While nobody can force others to donate, it is shameful for Mr. Wang to donate 2 million yuan, while he earned billions of yuan every year from China. Even his son's wedding caused more than that. Meanwhile there is a beggar in China that donated his whole earning for the day to the earthquake victims. I don't know why the author wrote this article, after all the Chinese entitle to freedom of speech, aren't they? Or is the reason to court personal favor with Mr. Wang?


May 27, 2008 3:01 PM

Wang Shi in the end, is just a typical rich guy in China, cheap, selfish and materialistic. The only thing that counts form Mr. Wang is how much money he has in his bank account. As the rest, he just couldn't care less.


May 27, 2008 10:55 PM

The reason why you got puzzled is that you don't know why these people are criticizing Wang. They are not criticizing him for his small donation (well, some did, but most are not).

They are criticizing him for his remark that the disaster is "normal" and for his putting a "donation ceiling" of 10 yuan (US$1.3) among Vanke employees.

As for the "another 100 million yuan" you mentioned, well, it's not a donation at all. It's just the budget of a rebuilding project in the affected area, which will eventually be paid back.


May 28, 2008 1:03 AM

I respect Mr. Wang Shi & Vanke more exactly because he put a "donation ceiling of 10 Chinese yuan" for Vanke employees when they donate in the name of the company. Vanke employees are free to donate any amount in their own names to the charity of their own choice to help the Sichuan earthquake victims. My family donate money through our working places (not much choice), community center, Red Cross and church. I don't want my employer to dictate how much money I must donate so the company can get a good reputation. Why should my employer get all the credits when it is my hard-earn money?
I wish more companies and Chinese people as well would learn the true meaning of charity. It is good will, it must be lasting efforts and most of all, it is not a marketing campaign.
Vanke is a public company, the amount of donation is determined by the shareholders, not Mr. Wang Shi. Big corporations are not banks. I appreciate what Vanke has done for the relief effort so far and am sorry to see Mr. Wang attacked so viciously and unjustly. I'd like to say to the attackers, please do your best to help the unfortunate and appreciate the kindness in this world.


May 28, 2008 2:00 AM

Wang Shi hired a PR consulting firm to handle the current PR crisis. I don't know if Frederik Balfour was influenced by the PR tactics or simply part of the ploy himself.

I just want to quote a couple of lines from the WSJ story Frederik mentioned:
"This time those Chinese Netizens played the role of corporate and social watchdogs... They were voicing their own questions, concerns and opinions. That alone would have been encouraging. And China's moguls, corporations and government listened. That's encouraging too."


May 28, 2008 3:16 AM

Helen, I don't know if you're part of the PR ploy too, but Wang's image has certainly been overshadowed by the generosity of many poor Chinese.

And here's an excerpt from Simon Elegant's report "China: Roused by Disaster" in the Time magazine:
'And the charity isn't coming from just private companies and wealthy citizens; many of those donating are poor Chinese making enormous sacrifices. Waiting patiently in line at the Red Cross Society of China office in Beijing on May 19 was Liang Baoying, a 63-year-old retired teacher. Clutching an envelope containing the equivalent of $287--her monthly pension--Liang tearfully said she could no longer watch news of the quake on TV because it was too sad. "I believe this is a national tragedy, so we have no choice but to give."'

Chittar Kumar

May 28, 2008 8:15 AM

@Frederik Balfour, Can you please respond to the points here? It looks as if you have not done your homework. From what I read in the posts, Wang Shi looks like a greedy capitalist. I still can't get this image off my mind: After Sept 11, I see this CEO(or some high official) on TV of a firm crying for his employees that were killed in the tower. After a few days, I hear that he was refusing to pay insurance money to the kin of his employees who lost their lives.


May 28, 2008 11:19 AM

Andrea, anything that doesn't agree with your views is a PR ploy? China tolerates no criticism from those it wants to invest money in the country. These types of nationalistic, follow-the-party-line postings are why many of us outside China consider it a minefield for businesses, and in the long run will drive investors away.


May 28, 2008 12:02 PM

It's rediculous that we made the whole charity thing turned out to be a market campaign. How much people donate, it's their own call. we don't get to expect them to donate the amount we think they are suppose to donate and we can't judge people by how much they chip in. It's a free choice. Before you guys bash anyone here, Take a little time to think this whole thing through.. China is having a really hard time, but the good thing is that the consecutive disasters got all Chinese people stay shoulder to shoulder, i had never seen we were so united... So, We gotta appreciate those people for their kindness and support no matter how much they donate or what kind of help they have done. Let's save our words, What we should do the most at the moment is to help the unfortunate..


May 28, 2008 12:34 PM

Mr Wang Shi limited the donation ceiling just considering of his employees' profits.The Chinese bloggers were angry about Wang's behavior just because of their sincere care for the victims. So these two emotions above are acceptable and understandable.


May 28, 2008 9:28 PM

Well, please don't misunderstand my argument by looking at a single paragraph.

First, Frederik Balfour failed to find out the real reason for the criticism. It's not about Wang's donation. It's about his remarks on the disaster and on the "donation ceiling" he set for his employees. So Mr. Frederik, you are not supposed to find out the real reason simply by your impressions about Wang or the official Vanke website.

Second, Mr. Frederik failed to tell a real donation from an estimated project budget (the "another 100 million yuan"). Was this caused by Wang's PR ploy or Mr. Frederik's failure to do his own homework? I apololize for my suspicion of PR ploy here.

Again, the point is not about the donation itself. It is about the real reason for the criticism. If you don't know the real reason, you'll fail to present the real story. It seems to me that the PR consulting firm failed to notice the real reason too, so when it simply focused its tactics on donation, the ploy backfired.


May 29, 2008 7:03 AM

Andrea, What's wrong with Wang limiting the donation to no more than 10yuan? If his employees want to do more than 10, there is a plenty of ways to donate in their own names. Wang didn't want the charity to be a pressure on his employees.This makes sense too.
You keep saying you attacked Wang is only because he limited the donation to no more than 10yuan, But, many of us, We have a tendency to expect some big corporations or celebrities to donate a certain amount as we expected. This charity thing always turns out to be a market campaign in China. people talked about the donation all the time, We even put the donation amount on a list to see which company rank first and which one ranks the second. Don't you see? We all expect, or in some way, force others to donate. One person even said, All the wealth Wang got is from public, Now we expect him to return some to the public. He should just have done that. He was stupid that he didn't go with the crowd and failed our expectation.
A typical Chinese mentality. We should not call charity "charity", We might call it Must-rity.


May 29, 2008 11:46 AM

@Eellena, what's wrong with you? WHO told you I attacked Wang? As a business researcher myself, I DON'T care about his donation at all.

I just tried to point out some important issues for THIS ARTICLE. As a regular reader of Business Week, I just wanted to read some unbiased reporting, not some personal impressions about a business tycoon or the official website statements.

I mentioned the "donation ceiling" because I want to inform the author of the real reason for the criticism. And I DO hope he wasn't influenced by any PR ploy.

So, PLEASE stop attacking me! I talked about the reason and the PR stuffs just because I'm a business researcher and PR crisis is part of my research.

OK. I'll stop voicing my personal opinions here (although this is ridiculous) in case someone else think I want to criticize him.

My last notice to the author is the remark by one of the best-know Hongkong-based economists, Professor Larry H. P. Lang. He talked about this issue a couple of days ago and noticed the "Vanke faced a PR crisis due to Wang's remarks."

So here again. It was Wang's remarks that caused the whole PR mess.


May 29, 2008 11:59 AM

@Ellena, sorry to say this. But your remarks and accusations are groundless. How many times do I need to repeat myself? The whole PR crisis was NOT directly caused by the donated sum. Instead, it was caused by his remarks, which he himself acknowledged as "inappropriate" in an official statement.

And PLEASE don't use some extreme cases to judge all the poeople who criticized him or simply discusses the issue. Many of them (like Professor Larry H. P. Lang) are not attacking Wang at all. Why did you turn a blind eye to these people?

I hope that was just your overreaction. Otherwise, I DO suspect some trace of PR ploy.


May 29, 2008 9:03 PM

Ellena, please read my comments again and stop your groundless accusaion.

First, I just tried to explain the real reason for the criticism because Frederik Balfour said he was "deeply puzzled" by it. I only talked about the reason for the criticism.

Second, my argument --the criticism was caused by Wang's remarks -- can be backed by truths. There are many of them, but I'll just list two of them here. One is Wang's own admission that he had "made inappropriate remarks", which can be found in an official statement. The other is the remark by Professor Larry H. P. Lang, one of the best-known Hongkong-based economists (Frederik Balfour should know him since Frederik is a Hongkong-based Asia correspondent). When talking about the issue, the professor also said the criticism was caused by Wang's remarks.

So, stop your groundless accusastion and don't use the extreme cases to judge all the people who talked about the issue.


May 30, 2008 1:34 AM

You don't have to take Professor Larry to defend yourself. You might be the level-headed one who could have a proper judgement about this whole thing. But, You can't deny there are still many among us who couldn't and made the whole thing seemed to me like our morality is judged by the amount of our donation. This is so wrong.


June 1, 2008 9:18 AM

Frederik Balfour, if you are deeply puzzled, you certainly don't seem make any effort to solve the puzzle, and seems enjoy yourself to spread the puzzle in BusinessWeek, and in the mean time, insulting the intelligent of all those who criticized Wang for his hypocrisy. Make it clear, no one pilloried Wang for his money. It is true that, as the No1. real state company and one of the top rich in China, the whole company donated the amount in the value of a one bedroom apartment, but this is not the reason he is criticized . What makes people angry is that he asked his employee to donate within 1.3$ per person with a comment that a disaster like this (8.0 with near 70000 death)is a common thing! Even A beast couldn't be so cruel and shameless! As for newly pledged 100 million, it is not even pledged like that, it is conditional, tricky, and a business lawyer would point out, Wanke really didn't pledge anything -- because of careful wording of that pledge, even if WanKe don't donate a single dollar anymore, it still can't be deemed a violation of that pledge. It is just a word game.
For example, the pledge says, it will, in the next 3 - 5 years, if the conditions in the disaster area requires, donate the amount anywhere below 100 million....

Shame on you Frederik Balfour, for writing this puzzled article to puzzle more people.


June 1, 2008 1:44 PM

May 29, 2008 07:03 AM

wow. are you a self hating asian or are you some ignorant white. it was incredible for you to say that this is a

"A typical Chinese mentality. We should not call charity "charity", We might call it Must-rity."

it seems like if the topic has anything to do with non-whites and specifically asians then all the racists come out

Richard L.

June 2, 2008 10:38 PM

Power to the freedom of the press. It is exactly because how this small event is being written up that we have received diverse reactions. Everyone is entitled to make donations in whatever amount they feel they should and they can afford. There is nothing worse than being dictated by the company where you work, by your boss, etc. on how much to give. Children in Chinese schools are also the victims because teachers ask the students to tell their parents to make donations. I fully support children who understand the quake event and the serious damages that it caused to donate to the homeless people and to help them to restore their living. To those millions of kids and teenagers who donate their own funds for this worthy cause, we salute you. To those teachers at schools who simply asked the students to ask their parents to bring their donations into schools without further explaning why they should come from the students themselves, we denounce those teachers.


June 3, 2008 11:47 AM

The one should be shamed is you, Eric, take your words back, you are entitled to make your own comments here but watch your tongue and be polite


June 5, 2008 12:05 PM

The picture linked below is another reason Mr. Wang is being pilloried. Immediate (!) after the quake, Mr. Wang showed up in the disaster hit area. With tens of thousands still buried under, instead help saving life, Mr. Wang start to inspect the area and planing "how to make new buildings safer" years later. Surrounded by died and wounded, crying and tears, Mr. Wang, standing on top of the ruins where there are still people buried alive, wearing red, smiling with a hand made V sign, seems entranced by this business opportunity given from heaven.
I just don't believe that any human who feels any pain for people buried under his feet could make a pose like that.

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