China’s Shan’erdai: the Formation and Transformation of Philanthropy

In: The China Nonprofit Review

Abstract

China’s economic reform since the late 1970s has inaugurated a societal restructuring, with profound changes taking place in the outlook on wealth and fortune. In recent years, a distinct group of social actors, the shan’erdai, comprised of the children of the super wealthy, has emerged to play a significant role in social welfare and charity projects. Though there has been some discussion about philanthropy in general and its realization in China in particular, the shan’erdai has received little scholarly attention. This paper identifies some of the defining characteristics of the shan’erdai and examines a modern form of Chinese philanthropy that the shan’erdai practice. Drawing on interviews and publication reviews, we specifically address two central questions: What are the motivations, values, and practices of the shan’erdai? How do the motivations, giving patterns, and modes and technologies of the shan’erdai differ from the parental generation? We sketch the contours of the shan’erdai as a social group and explore the ways through which this shan’erdai experiments with new forms of philanthropy, charity, and social entrepreneurship. Shaped by social and historical formations domestically and on the global stage, we argue that the shan’erdai proactively reformulates the logics of social action for the public good and inspires a novel form of philanthropy in China.

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