Does Anyone Trust the Chinese Red Cross?

A look at the organization's worsening image problem.
chinese red cross banner.png

Chinese volunteers queue to sterilize their arms before entering a mobile laboratory to donate blood in China's southeastern city of Chengdu. (Andrew Wong/Reuters)

On April 20, the most severe earthquake since 2008 struck China. In the days since, aid organizations have mobilized to provide food and shelter to surviving victims in the disaster area, many of whom lost their homes. Yet in sharp contrast to the outpouring of aid five years ago when a magnitude 7.9 earthquake struck Wenchuan, Sichuan province, the government-run Red Cross Society of China has seen only a trickle of donations, with most people choosing to donate to other charities - or not at all.

The Red Cross Society of China, which is not affiliated with the International Red Cross, has earned a reputation for being untrustworthy. In June 2011, a young woman named Guo Meimei, who claimed to work for the organization, flaunted her luxury goods and extravagant lifestyle on social media. While this incident in and of itself qualified as a PR disaster -- the fact that Guo had not actually worked for the Red Cross has barely registered--recent news concerning the charity organization has not helped it regain public trust.

Here are just a few of the articles about China's Red Cross that have come out since the earthquake that shook Sichuan eleven days ago:

The Chinese Red Cross has claimed that despite online criticism, it is not experiencing a "crisis of credibility." To prove the point, Red Cross officials reported that as of one week after the 2013 earthquake, donations to the Red Cross accounted for over 53 percent of all donations to foundations engaged in disaster relief. Yet the Chinese Internet has been rife with reports that government organizations have required employees to make minimum individual donations, and even schoolchildren have been forced to make similar donations. One citizen journalist wrote,

There are three reasons why the Red Cross has collected so much in donations: 1) government work unit donations are required to go to the Red Cross; 2) central government enterprises and state-owned enterprises, as well as large-scale private enterprises donate to the Red Cross due to policy considerations; 3) well-meaning people who don't understand what's going on have made donations.

In an attempt to demonstrate the organization's commitment to clearing its name, the executive vice-president of the Red Cross Society of China even claimed she would resign if the Red Cross was unable to regain its reputation in two to three years. However, as commentators pointed out, she would be of retirement age by that time anyway.

Hong Kong media report that donations are drastically lower than five years ago. According to politician Raymond Wong, in the three days following the 2013 earthquake, donations there were down to 5 million Hong Kong Dollars (about U.S. $640,000) from 56 million HKD  five years prior. Wong made an impassioned speech against the proposal to send 100 million HKD  to China for disaster relief, stating that the people of Hong Kong had lost faith in the government's ability and willingness to ensure that the money would reach its intended destination. The video of Wong's speech went viral in mainland China, and the vast majority of mainland Web users expressed their agreement with Wong's criticisms.

Liz Carter, an author and translator of Chinese-English language teaching textbooks, and a Tea Leaf Nation contributor, writes on Chinese Internet culture.

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