July 3, 2011; Source: The New York Times | The New York Times reports that a recent online scandal in China is producing new debate about the role of charitable organizations and philanthropy in that country. According to the Times, the controversy surrounding online photos of a woman, who claimed to be a senior staff member at the Red Cross Society of China, showing-off an expensive lifestyle, have made her and the Red Cross “the most talked-about subjects on the Chinese internet” since late June.

As an explanation for why many Chinese are skeptical of the Red Cross, the Times explains that the organization holds a special legal status that requires it to register with both the Communist Party and the State Council, China’s cabinet. Jia Xijin, director of the Nongovernmental Organization Research Center at Tsinghua University in Beijing told the Times, “They get public financial support, their staff is paid by the government and their function is to serve as an agency of the government.” Allowing for some deviations that occurred with the recent Sichuan and Yushu earthquakes, Ms. Jia added that as a general rule, “Only the Red Cross and a smaller government organization, the Chinese Charity Federation, can ask for public donations.”

Although the Red Cross reported Guo Meimei, the source of the online scandal, to the police on June 24 claiming that it had nothing to do with her, the Times notes that the “Guo Meimei scandal” continues to be a topic of interest for bloggers and editorialists. As an indication that the issue is not likely to fade away any time soon, the Times again cites Ms. Jia, who explained that this cautious outlook about charitable organizations and the growing field of philanthropy is not a new phenomenon in her country. “People have had doubts for a very long time,” she explained. “The issue is public trust or accountability of charities, the accountability of philanthropy organizations in China.”—Anne Eigeman