Mon, May 19, 2008 - Page 20 News List

Yao under fire over earthquake donation

AFP , BEIJING

China's Yao Ming of the Houston Rockets frowns while watching his team play their first round playoff game against the Utah Jazz at Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah, on May 2.

PHOTO: EPA

On a day when Deng Xiaoping's widow gave her entire life savings to China's earthquake relief, it did not pass unnoticed that sporting icon Yao Ming was a little less generous with his own donation.

China's richest celebrity donated 500,000 yuan (US$70,000) to a relief fund, sparking fierce criticism on the Internet that it was too little from a basketball hero known for his charity work.

“A bit stingy isn’t it?” one fan wrote.

The 7.9-magnitude quake in Sichuan Province likely killed some 50,000 people, according to government estimates, with countless thousands missing or believed buried under the rubble of the region’s devastated towns and villages.

The 2.26m Houston Rockets center, has been at the top of the Forbes magazine list of richest Chinese celebrities for the past five years.

Last year he earned US$55 million from basketball and sponsorship activities.

His initial offer of 500,000 yuan triggered its own “earthquake of protest,” said Maopu, a top entertainment Web site.

Critics maintain that the donation was loose change to a man who makes more than that with one promotional photo shoot.

“If US$500,000 — not to mention 500,000 yuan — disappeared from his bank account, he wouldn’t even notice,” one fan said.

Internet criticism of Yao forced the basketball star to up his donation to 2 million yuan later in the week, media reports said.

Criticism of sporting heroes is unusual in China, where they are often seen as national icons.

Yao is known for his charity work, raising more than a US$1 million for under-privileged Chinese children last year and devoting time and energy toward helping stage last year’s Special Olympics in his home city of Shanghai.

But some Chinese are not slow to attack Yao when it comes to money, accusing him of not giving enough of his enormous wealth back to his home country.

“He’s been drinking milk and eating bread [like an American] for a while and he’s forgotten where he comes from,” one posting said. “You are Chinese.”

Though supporters were outnumbered by critics, many people agreed with one commentator who said that contributions were a personal matter and “whatever Yao gives is his business.”

On Friday, China’s state media reported that Zhuo Lin, 92-year-old widow of China’s late leader Deng, had emptied her life savings totaling 100,000 yuan to give to earthquake victims.

It said she found it hard to sleep and eat after hearing of the tragedy.

State media have played up donations by leaders, business entrepreneurs and others, but donations by the poor have also caught the public eye.

A migrant worker, at the bottom rung of China’s labor market, donated 600 yuan which amounted to his entire monthly salary.

“It might not seem like much, but when you consider it’s his whole month’s income he gave far more than Yao Ming,” one commentator said.

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