HSINCHU, Jan 27, 2011 – China\’s most famous philanthropist started doling out cash on Thursday, the first day of a controversial trip to Taiwan that has sparked criticism and protests from anti-China groups.
Chen Guangbiao, who made his fortune recycling construction materials, handed Tw$7 million ($241,000) to charity groups in Hsinchu city in the island\’s north, amid charges he was promoting reunification with China.
"I don\’t know anything about propaganda for Chinese reunification. I only know about charity and environmental work. I just want to do good," 42-year-old Chen told AFP.
China and Taiwan have been separated for more than 60 years, but Beijing considers the island part of its territory and has vowed to get it back, increasingly leaning towards trying to win the hearts and minds of Taiwan.
However, Chen\’s visit has triggered considerable anger by some Taiwanese, with one commentator throwing a tantrum at a talkshow which Chen took part in via a telephone link.
According to William Niu, a political scientist at Chinese Culture University in Taipei, the mixed reactions to Chen\’s visit reveal deep-rooted cultural differences between the two sides.
"Taiwanese are more discreet when carrying out charitable acts while Chen\’s high-profile style is more acceptable in China where the gap between the rich and the poor is huge," he told AFP.
"It\’s also a face issue as by giving out money the Chinese show that they are richer now and are above us, so Chen is not welcome in some cities."
Earlier in the day, Chen handed three traditional "red envelopes" containing a total of Tw$70,000 ($2,300) to a woman who had been waiting for him at his hotel in Taipei.
"I\’ve never counted so many banknotes. I don\’t know what to do. I will use the money to take care of my 88-year-old mother," the woman told reporters, her voice cracking with emotion.
Chen, who is well-known in China for his flamboyant style of charity, held up a wad of Tw$2,000 notes spread out in a fan shape, surrounded by a crowd of photographers and cameramen.
Chen, leading a group of businessmen from China, arrived in Taipei late Wednesday where he was greeted by some anti-China protesters holding a banner reading "Welcome to the group of hypocrites".
"I will deliver every penny that I\’ve promised… and I hope to come every year," the tycoon told reporters at the airport.
Chen has said that he planned to give away more than $15 million to the poor in Taiwan, in a high-profile gesture suggestive of a shift in relative wealth between China and Taiwan.
Taiwan is five times wealthier than China in terms of gross domestic product per capita, even though the mainland\’s economy is more than 10 times larger than its neighbour\’s.