Chen Guangbiao, once hailed as China’s top philanthropist, has grabbed major headlines once more.
But unlike in past reports which praised him for his generosity, this time mainland media are calling into question his integrity.
Financial news website Caixin.com (財新網) recently published an investigative report about Chen that raised doubts about the financial soundness of his company.
The report alleged that Chen could have been cooking the books, forging documents and exaggerating the amounts of donations he had made over the years in order to gain fame and win business deals.
The bad press Chen has been receiving recently provides a stark contrast to the nationwide media hype that shot him to stardom several years ago.
No wonder some observers say the same media that built him up are now tearing him down in order to sell more papers.
Chen, a lowly educated Jiangsu peasant who became an entrepreneur specializing in urban renewal projects, was barely known in the mainland until 2008, when he donated more than 20 million yuan (US$3 million) to help victims of the Sichuan earthquake and was publicly praised by then premier Wen Jiabao.
Since then Chen has become widely known as a philanthropist.
He was probably most remembered for offering to donate 110 million yuan to low-income families in Taiwan back in 2011 in exchange for a visa to visit the island. His offer was eventually declined by Taiwanese authorities.
Chen appears to have mastered the art of pulling publicity stunts in order to burnish his reputation and, more importantly, establish connections with top party officials.
He has been associated with Ling Jihua, former director of the general secretariat of the Chinese Communist Party and former president Hu Jintao’s right-hand man, as well as Li Yuanchao, the current vice-president and member of the Politburo.
It is believed that through his connections with these high-ranking party leaders, Chen has made tens of billions of dollars out of government contracts.
However, after Ling was arrested last year on graft charges and expelled from the party, Chen’s connection with him suddenly became a liability.
Some suspect the recent media onslaught against Chen could be politically motivated.
It’s pretty ironic that media, which had turned Chen into a national legend, now appear bent on destroying him.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 23
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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