Infamous Chinese Philanthropist Accused of Faking Ice Bucket Challenge

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August 25, 2014; Washington Post

This was all but guaranteed to happen, given who the guy is. Remember Chen Guangbiao, the obnoxious Chinese self-described philanthropist who showed up in New York ostensibly to shower money on New York City’s homeless only to renege on the deal save for the money that went to the city’s Rescue Mission charity?

It was a disgusting, reprehensible stunt for a guy who seems to be constantly starving for publicity, recognition, and praise. Remember, Chen desperately wants to be thought of as the “world’s most prominent philanthropist.” It doesn’t surprise us, therefore, to hear Chen has latched onto the ice bucket challenge for attention—or to find that he’s been charged with having faked his participation in it.

The Washington Post’s Adam Taylor reports that Chen has posted his own ice bucket challenge video, but was not content to simply dump a bucket of ice water on his head. On the Chinese microblogging system Weibo, Chen posted a video of himself purportedly fully submerged in a tub of ice water on top of a slab of ice. Chen announced that for every person who does the same longer than he did, apparently a half-hour, he will donate 1 million yuan.

Reactions on Weibo haven’t been kind to the self-anointed world’s greatest philanthropist, challenging the authenticity of his stunt. The Shanghaiist city web blog gathered a batch of criticisms posted on Weibo. One suggested that because Chen’s ice cubes sank in the water, they must have been acrylic. Another said that Chen’s stunt had to have been faked, explaining, “Human beings can only stay in ice water for a few minutes. At the beginning, they must have poured warm water and fake ice onto Chen.”

Chen’s stunt raises a number of concerns. First, as a viral fundraising gimmick, the ice bucket challenge is open for the good and for the bad—and Chen’s recent history seems to be pretty securely on the bad side of the philanthropic continuum. As is typical for Chen, in his post he claimed to be China’s top donor to ALS charities, though, according to the post as reprinted and translated on Shanghaiist, Chen didn’t identify how much he actually donated, explaining, unbelievably for him and his track record, that he wanted his support for ALS charities to be “low key.”

Second, because Chen’s stunts, like this one, the lunch for the New York City’s homeless in Central Park, and others, have been subjected to so much criticism and doubt, it explains to some extent why many Chinese are suspicious about charity and philanthropy. China has endured more than a few charity scandals, exacerbated by systemic shortcomings in nonprofit transparency. Chen’s antics don’t exactly inspire confidence in the nation’s philanthropic sector.

And finally, there is the government’s position on Chen. We might have missed the Chinese government’s statements on Chen’s prior charity stunts like his humiliation of homeless people in New York City. However, he doesn’t seem to have suffered much for his efforts to turn Chinese philanthropy into something of a circus. Taylor reports that the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs praised the ice bucket challenge on the ministry’s Weibo account, but warned its “Chinese citizens to be wary of the challenge’s ‘entertainment and commercial tendencies.’”—Rick Cohen