Charity Begins at Home

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Since the spontaneous outpouring of charity and volunteering after the May earthquake in Sichuan, we have all wondered whether the event marked a new beginning for such grassroots civil society work in China. Lin Yang finds where small corner of the country where that spirit is continuing:

 

The mention of charity in China usually brings to mind auctions attended by celebrities, huge donations announced with much fanfare in the press and heaps of old clothes ready to be shipped to disaster stricken areas. But the case of the Wenzhou soup kitchen (here, in Chinese) is something different.

Poor people in the city, many of them migrant workers and farmers, quietly queue at the food stand every day waiting for their share of porridge and simple dishes. Nothing as fancy and dramatic as those events we see on TV (nor did the organizers try to get it on TV), but more efficient. 

It strikes me as a more “real” and spontaneous kind of charity than you see in the usual mass-media stage-managed events, the kind you would expect to see in a civil society.

And it seems like many share that feeling. Photos of the soup kitchen were first put on the internet by someone who happened to walk by, followed by newspaper reports and thousands of comments. Warmth fills my heart when I see those people, in rags, obviously migrants and beggars, peacefully enjoying a hot meal on a cold day,” wrote one poster.“The old tradition of helping those in need seems to have disappeared”, another said, “but I know if I look closely, there is still true love and compassion.”
 
It turns out the kitchen is run by a group of retired citizens with their own savings and pensions. They also set up a free tea stand for the thirsty. Even staff at the Wenzhou city government told reporters that although these charity group “are not registered with the government, they are much more influential than registered NGOs.”
 

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