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First-generation Chinese-Americans growing their influence in philanthropy

Philanthropy by Chinese-Americans is increasing faster than the general population as a whole, with many giving to higher education, often to their alma maters, according to a new study. 

The number of Chinese-American foundations in the U.S. rose to nearly 1,300 between 2000 and 2014, a 418 percent jump compared to 195 percent for the general population.

The research also showed that major gifts by Chinese-Americans increased almost five-fold between 2008 and 2014 to nearly $500 million. In 2014, a pair of brothers Gerald and Ronnie Chan alone gave $350 million to Harvard University’s School of Public Health, at the time the largest gift in the school's history.

The findings come from the Global Chinese Philanthropy Initiative, a partnership of UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs, the University of California, Irvine's Long U.S.-China Institute and Asian Americans Advancing Justice LA. 


Stewart Kwoh, who heads AAAJ-LA and the philanthropy initiative, said many of these big donors are first-generation Americans choosing to buck cultural conventions and "give back in big ways."

"Usually, the tradition in Chinese-American families is to take care of the family and what we’re seeing now is the giving is to even a broader community family," said Kwoh, who is also an honorary lifetime trustee for KPCC.

Kwoh said some of the philanthropists are interested in passing on the family business to their children "but they don’t want to give the stocks and cash to the children because they feel it will ruin and change their lives so they don’t have to work."

John Long's family foundation has given tens of millions of dollars to initiatives like launching the Ziman Center for Real Estate and the Long U.S.-China Institute at UC Irvine.

Long first came to the United States at age six and grew up in South L.A. He went onto found Highridge Partners, a global real estate investment company, and realized he wanted to start a foundation.

"Certainly, enough people have helped me in my life that I feel like it's almost a mission," Long said of the foundation, which is now run by the youngest of his three daughters.

"At the end of the day, you can either hoard what you have or you can share," said Long, who lives in Palos Verdes. "They’re not going to stuff my casket with dollar bills."


The report found that philanthropy is also fast on the rise among Chinese overseas. In China, the number of foundations in 2016 stood at 5,545, a jump of 430 percent over 10 years.  

That's good news for the U.S. Wealthy Chinese from Hong Kong are by far the top donors to American universities, giving $181 million between 2007 and 2013.

Kwoh said that the report focused on Chinese-American philanthropists after noticing a string of major gifts they made, but the plan is to broaden the study of philanthropy to other Asian Americans and to Chinese around Asia.

"We want to put a spotlight on people who are giving," Kwoh said. "We want to spur more interest in giving back to the community."