Gates, Buffett say China charity meeting a success

The mansion where the private banquet was held

After a night of wining and dining 50 of China’s richest people in the name of promoting philanthropy, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates told a horde of journalists on Thursday that the biggest difference between eating with Chinese tycoons and Western ones was the food.

Thus ended the two billionaires’ mission to promote charity in China, a journey that provoked weeks of breathless speculation here about whether this nation’s much-resented class of superrich was too miserly to measure up to Western philanthropic standards.

At a news conference, Mr. Buffett and Mr. Gates said the answer was an emphatic “no.”

“I was amazed last night, really, at how similar the questions and discussions and all that was to the dinners we had in the U.S.,” said Mr. Buffett, who had wisecracked about the food. “The same motivations tend to exist. The mechanism for manifesting those motivations may differ from country to country…”

On Thursday, the two men pronounced the dinner an unqualified success, saying that two-thirds of those who were invited had shown up, and that more than half of those at the dinner had offered their own ideas on how Chinese philanthropy should work…

China is widely reported to be second only to the United States in the number of dollar billionaires. Mr. Gates and Mr. Buffett said the nation was unique in that its wealthy class had arisen almost wholly in the past 30 years, so philanthropic practices that are entrenched among European and American dynasties are new here, and open to change.

What you have is a first generation of fortune,” Mr. Gates said, “and it’s natural that they’re thinking through, in this society in particular, ‘What do you do?’ ”

But Mr. Gates suggested that their philanthropic globetrotting was not yet over. “We may do an event in India,” he said.

I’ve worked on a number of homes for the nouveau riche who ended up choosing Santa Fe either as their primary residence or just a holiday home. Cripes, I worked on a “vacation cottage” that was 24,000 square feet in size.

But, even the folks who owned that last example were involved with charity from the local scale to global. As I’ve noted before, most folks I’ve worked with who made their own fortunes were not stingy. The greedy grasping types usually were trustfunders, those who inherited their wealth.

I think a fair number of folks who earned their own way remember where they come from.

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