Chinese philanthropy and a child's death in Philadelphia

In the morning, Richard Gelles, dean of the University of Pennsylvania's School of Social Policy and Practice, spent an hour on WHYY's Radio Times talking about child abuse in Philadelphia. In the afternoon, he talked to me about Chinese philanthropy for a story now planned for Friday's Inquirer. The two topics are connected -- one the story of a long-established institution and the other the possibility of creating a new institution.

His radio interview focused on some of the child welfare system issues raised by the tragic death of Khalil Wimes, 6, reported by my colleague Mike Newall. Click here to read the Inquirer story.

His radio conversation came up during our interview about China. "When you go to China, it's a clean palette," he said. "They have no institutions in place. They don't have child welfare laws. They don't have child reporting laws. They don't have unions." In China, he said, it's almost possible to create a safety net from scratch, without having to work around programs and policies and their legacies."

The same, he said, applies to Chinese philanthropy. China's market economy is relatively new and the possibility of an individual generating enough wealth to donate is also new. So China now has the opportunity to create its own philanthropic structure, perhaps modeled after the United State's structure, which has been successful, and perhaps not.

The question is, whether, if we could start over, we would build the same system. "If we look at the American experiment, would we build it in 2012?" he asked.

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