Xue Manzi: How Chinese social media can be a force for good

Update August 25:

Soon after this was published, Xue Manzi ran into trouble with the police. See this Shanghaiist story: Chinese-American investor Charles Xue arrested in Beijing in ‘prostitution’ sting.

It seems that other social media figures are also being targeted by police. On August 25, Daily Telegraph correspondent Malcom Moore tweeted the following:

Zhou Lubao, the whistleblower who exposed the luxury watch of the mayor of Lanzhou, has also been arrested. Night of the long knives?

Link to original tweet

end update——–

The front page yesterday of the Hainan-based Southern Metropolis Daily featured a headline for a page three story entitled “13-year-old girl collecting bottles to help her grandmother moves whole country’s netizens”.

The girl in question is Wu Xiaodie, from Jiuzhou village within the Haikou metropolis of Hainan province. Her family is very poor, her mother left when she was a baby, her father works as a laborer outside the city, and her paternal grandparents raised her. But Xiaodie’s grandmother needs medical treatment to remove a chest tumour and her father’s meager wages are not enough to afford it. So to try and save enough money, Xiaodie collected discarded bottles to exchange for small change at recycling depots. Her story was first reported on 15 August by the Hainan-focused HiNews website, complete with photos of her sifting through piles of trash searching for bottles.

On the morning of 17 August, the Southern Metropolis Daily, HiNews, and CCTV News all published calls on their official Weibo accounts to assist Xiaodie by donating through a special telephone hotline, with the appeal being reposted over 10,000 times, including by large media outlets such as the People’s Daily and Yangcheng Evening News.

However, the big break for Xiaodie came at 7 pm on 17 August, when famous angel investor and 2013 Danwei Model Weibo Worker Xue Manzi posted a public service project to raise donations for Xiaodie’s cause on the Sina Weibo Micro-Charity webpage under the title “13 year old girl collects bottles to help her grandmother cure her illness”. The fundraising goal was set at 100,000 yuan. By the evening n 18 August, donations had reached a total of 37,928 yuan. One day later the figure stood at over 80,000 yuan and briskly rising, with almost one thousand people having made donations.

Xue posted on Weibo that he had personally donated 10,000 yuan, commenting that high-key fundraising efforts are necessary “because only if it is high-key will you attract the attention of the whole society”. Health services company iKang have already agreed to subsidize the transportation of Xiaochen’s grandmother to the Guangzhou Sanjia Hospital for examination and treatment, and the project will be implemented and supervised by the China Siyuan Foundation for Poverty Alleviation.

In a country noted for its lack of charitable giving and still reeling from the Guo Meimei embezzlement scandal, Xue is leading the charge to buck this trend. He is one of the most prominent users of the Micro-Charity site, being listed as the fourth most generous giver on its ranking table. Micro-Charity was launched by Sina Weibo in 2011 and is basically a platform for crowdsourcing donations to charitable projects, which can be proposed by any of Weibo’s million or so ‘verified’ personal or organisational accounts. It shot to prominence when Xue coordinated a massive campaign, which raised 1,000,000 yuan in just three days to pay for the stem cell therapy needed by a popular micro-blogger with leukaemia, Lu Ruoqing.

The rapid success of the Xiaodie Micro-Charity project is particularly powerful testament to the influence wielded by Weibo celebrities such as Xue on the Micro-Charity website, probably as a result of the trust they generate for a cause in which they act as guarantor and are thus accountable for. A similar Micro-Charity appeal launched by Xue in June to raise money for a 12-year old girl collecting bottles to pay for her mother’s medical costs also easily surpassed its 100,000 yuan objective. Whereas two separate fundraising projects in April and June for the same family forced to collect bottles to pay the medical expenses of their three-year-old child with leukaemia, but launched by a far more minor Weibo personality, failed to get much more than a quarter of the way to their far more modest targets.

Having amassed a considerable fortune through property investment and co-founding telecommunications giant Unitech Telecom, Xue first made a name for himself on Weibo by spearheading an online campaign drawing attention to the issue of child trafficking in China. He subsequently garnered a reputation as an angel investor by inviting netizens to pitch projects and opportunities to him over Weibo, of which he invests in as many as fifty per month. Lately he has been increasingly prolific in his social media philanthropy and vocal in his advocacy for charitable giving by the broader Chinese population.

Links and Sources:
Southern Metropolis Daily (南国都市报): 海口旧州13岁女孩吴小蝶捡瓶子救奶奶引全国关注
HiNews (南海网): 海口:奶奶胸口长瘤 13岁孙女捡瓶子帮其治病
China Current: China’s philanthropy in the age of Weibo
China Daily: Sina Weibo launches new charity platform
China Daily Europe: A micro-blog tale of survival
China Digital Times: Name of the week: Guo Meimei
Wall Street Journal: In China, philanthropy gains cachet

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