How Do Traditions of Philanthropy Begin?

The celebration honored some of the most prominent Chinese and Chinese American influencers in the world of philanthropy, despite the general perception that the Chinese are more thrifty then, say, their American counterparts. However, even a cursory look at some facts challenges that notion.
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It has been a while since I have blogged on here. As some of you may know, on May 29th (a date I will never forget), I was hit by a car that broke both of my legs. After a three week hospitalization, I learned that I did not "qualify" for a rehab program because I was not "weight baring" (and would continue to not be for the rest of the summer). So I literally spent the summer bedridden, often alone with my thoughts. It gave cabin fever a whole new meaning. This may well be my coping mechanism, but I have to believe -- for my own sanity, really -- that this had to have happened for a reason. So I have pondered -- as I have had plenty of alone time -- the ways I can use this experience to help others. Be it to establish a foundation that would provide a support center, of sorts, for those in similar predicaments, or a rehabilitation center that works with those who are unable to bear weight, and aren't fortunate enough to have the alternative of home care, as I did. It is a major gap in the health care system that needs to be addressed in the near future, one way or another.

As I have slowly begun to make my way out again -- well, first I must say how exhilarating it is to finally be amongst people! I have also become more cognizant of my surroundings -- the other day I stopped for what must have been a good two minutes admiring the Halloween decorations on a nearby townhouse. But primarily, I have been curious to learn what really motivates people to give back, whether it is known leaders in philanthropy, or those who immerse themselves in volunteer work. So when my friend Chiu-Ti Jansen, the publisher and co-owner of YUE magazine, invited me to help her celebrate the third anniversary of her magazine this past Monday at The Harmonie Club, I marked it on my calendar immediately. While I have known her for only a few years, I quickly grew to admire her for many reasons: obviously her entrepreneurial spirit and success; her generosity; her genuine friendliness; and her ability to bring together diverse groups of people. This holds true whether she is hosting a benefit table, or a larger undertaking, such as this. And on a slightly more shallow note, even among a sea of well-dressed philanthropists and scenesters, her fashion sense stands out, and for all the right reasons. She doesn't dress outre in an effort to get attention, as so many "street style" stars have done as of late, but rather, it is her painstaking attention to detail, and her obvious love for fine craftsmanship, as well as rare vintage finds, that make her a best dressed staple on pretty much any occasion. On Monday she kept up that record in a strapless Zang Toi.

But most importantly, the celebration honored some of the most prominent Chinese and Chinese American influencers in the world of philanthropy, despite the general perception that the Chinese are more thrifty then, say, their American counterparts. However, even a cursory look at some facts -- which Jansen astutely calls attention to in her Letter to the Publisher -- challenges that notion. It is worth remembering, for instance, that before Bill Gates (under the influence of his wife) started charitable efforts in earnest, he was often criticized for holding onto his money without giving back. Warren Buffet reportedly disbursed merely $18 million -- a small fraction of his massive wealth -- per annum to charitable causes before, at age 75, he made a commitment to gradually give all of his Berkshire Hathaway stock to philanthropic foundations. This was followed by a pledge in 2010 to give away 99 percent of his wealth. Given the short time span within which China discovered its new wealth and the lack of legal and tax structure to support systematic corporate and private sponsorships of philanthropic enterprises, it is not surprising that China's rich are still learning the ropes of generosity.

So this evening, which honored notables the likes of Lang Lang, Yue Sai Kan, MSNBC's Richard Lui, Michelle Kwan, and Shirley Young, hoped to inspire a new paradigm of giving among the Chinese communities in China and the United States. This is important for a culture that has historically placed premiums on heritage and cross-generational learning. The discussion (and festivities) continued at an intimate, elegant dinner for 30 guests at The Lowell Hotel's Pembroke Room. In its short but distinguished history, YUE celebrations have become known as meeting places for people who would not otherwise have met. I had the opportunity to speak with tablemate Richard Lui about his coverage of Hurricane Sandy and his thoughts on how media opportunities have shifted over the past two decades. Daniel Torok, the Patrick McMullan photographer who painstakingly chronicled both portions of the evening, connected with the director of Lang Lang's music foundation, and agreed to shoot a documentary about Lang Lang's UN concert with Sting -- which was this past Friday. As Jansen has noted on more then one occasion: "YUE is about more then a magazine; it is about building a community."

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