Zhang Ziyi and China’s Celebrity–Philanthropy Scandals

Elaine M Jeffreys


In January 2010, the internationally acclaimed Chinese actor, Zhang Ziyi, became a focus of public criticism for allegedly defaulting on a pledge to donate one million yuan to the 2008 Sichuan earthquake disaster-relief fund. That earthquake not only killed 70,000 people and left five million homeless, but also produced a dramatic rise in individual and corporate philanthropy in China. Philanthropic donations in 2008 amounted to a total figure of 100 billion yuan, exceeding the documented total for the preceding decade. Zhang’s ‘failed pledge’ led fans and critics to accuse her in interactive media forums of both charity fraud and generating a nationwide crisis of faith in the philanthropic activities of the rich and famous. Dubbed ‘donation-gate’, the ensuing controversy obliged Zhang Ziyi to hire a team of USA-based lawyers, to give an exclusive interview to the China Daily, and to engage in renewed philanthropic endeavours, in an effort to clear her name. Hence, contrary to claims that celebrity philanthropy is an apolitical mode of philanthropy, an examination of the Zhang Ziyi scandal and its disaster-relief precursors demonstrates that celebrity philanthropy in the People’s Republic of China is a political affair.


Celebrity; Philanthropy; China; Zhang Ziyi; Sichuan Earthquake; Disaster Relief

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