Mourning for Qinghai: Going Gray, Forced Donations

Sample newspaper front page honoring the April 21 Qinghai Earthquake day of mourning.

With the death toll for the tragic earthquake in Yushu, Qinghai finally slowing, Chinese authorities declared yesterday (4/21) to be a national day of mourning. Many newspapers and websites went to grayscale colors for the day and posted headlines memorializing the victims1. In the real world, flags flew at half mast and all television became CCTV1 for a day.

While everyone agrees the earthquake was a tragedy, not everyone agrees the “forced mourning period” was a great idea. Xujun Eberlein’s Inside-Out China blog ran an interesting translation of a letter from a friend of hers.

Every channel broadcasts only one thing; every person before the camera passionately agitates “transform sorrow into strength, tomorrow will be better!” Such a rolling-broadcast every 30 minutes is capable of causing you a nervous breakdown.

Now it is already 9 pm. I turn on the TV again; every channel still has the same picture and the same language. This is probably something that can only be achieved by China’s and North Korea’s governments.

A few days ago a public servant friend said that, for the Wenchuan earthquake last time, at least the employees had been “mobilized” to donate; this time they simply had our salaries docked. The boss hypocritically notified everyone: Whoever doesn’t wish to donate, come talk to me in my office. Who dares to go to his office and say “I’m not willing to donate”? Unless one doesn’t wish to live!

The “forced donation” thing isn’t new, of course, nor is it entirely foreign to those of us from “The West” — you know you’ve been cornered at the company Christmas party and guilted into “donating” to something before. Nor is the abrupt change in TV programming unfamiliar to Americans who were in the States during the 9-11 terrorist attacks, which sent a shock so big across the airwaves that it actually turned MTV into a music channel again for a month.

Still, company forced donation sets a rather dangerous precedent, as Mrs. Eberlein’s friend notes. If workers are docked a 100 RMB “donation” every time there’s a natural disaster, what happens when there’s more than one major disaster a year? Moreover, what counts as a disaster. If coal mining accidents and rescue attempts count as disasters, then most workers in China would probably be paying their employers to work every year, unable to keep up with the flood of mandatory “donations”.

Still, I’m on the fence about this. On the one hand, forcing people to donate takes all of the meaning out of it. And the government should have funds in reserve to deal with disasters rather than having to rely on this kind of coerced “national spirit.” But on the other hand, money is money, and there’s no doubt that the rescue effort needs it, so assuming this “donated” money is actually getting to them, it’s hard to call the whole thing evil.

Evil for a good cause, perhaps?

In any event, if you’d like to donate here are some links for you. We’re not going to force you to donate, but this post is installed with a virus designed to email porn to your grandmother constantly until you donate at least $20.

Just kidding.


QQ home page in grayscale to honor the April 21, 2010 day of mourning for the Qinghai Earthquake victims.'s homepage yesterday on April 21st, the national day of mourning for the Qinghai Earthquake.

  1. Including a really interesting one on QQ’s news site that reads: “Remembering you…So I will grow up into a tree” []


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  1. Forced donations are a deplorable practice.

    If a perfectly clean, responsible government levies a ‘donation tax’ of 1% of everyone’s salary for the good of disaster victims, then fine.

    But in China – because that’s what we’re talking about – this manner of ‘donation’ is promulgated by those wishing to make a fast buck out of the misfortune of others.

    What percentage of the money collected by Eberlein’s friend’s boss is anyone really expecting to reach those on whose behalf it was taken?

    Just for the record, I wouldn’t agree to a ‘forced donation’ in China or anywhere else. If a visit to the boss’s office would get my money back so that I could manage my own contribution efforts, then that is exactly what I would do.

    Such a system of donation is a catalyst for the enhancement of corrupt practices. Period.

    • pug_ster

      Forced Donations sounds like a bad. Shared burden probably sounds better. While it is bad to be forced to give your money away, it works very much like socialism in Chinese characteristics.

      I think the reaction is very much different than the Sichuan earthquake 2 years ago. I am willing to bet that less people would complain about having their salaries docked compared to this one. Perhaps because there were alot less people died in this earthquake and the people who were dead are Tibetans. Maybe it is just me, but I just don’t see the Tibetans seem to be grateful for the help they have received as the Han Chinese 2 years ago.

      • Josh

        I can’t believe I actually saw those words on the screen.

      • china beauty

        Donating is not based on which race the victimes belong to!

        “Tibetan” or “han” is only race identity. Race identity is largely for Population census or on ID card, not for judging how much they are suffering from the earthquake, totally not for judging how much respect you should pay!

        And people donate because they are worried by the scene of ruin and crying. If victims gain their peace again, then donators feel they themselves did a great job. Right?

        I hope you are not a racialist!

        Best wishes to everyone.

  2. Interestingly enough, my girlfriend and I were talking about some of these issues just yesterday coming home from dinner. One thing that I felt was very true was that the public reaction to this earthquake “seems” to be much more subdued compared to Sichuan. Of course, there are quantitative differences but I do think a lot of people have just become a bit numb since Sichuan wasn’t too long ago.

    On the donation front, she told me some girls on Liba were complaining about companies automatically deducting 500 RMB as their “donations”. Overall, though, there’s quite a bit of grumbling about the government requesting strictly monetary donations instead of donations of supplies. From a logistical standpoint, it could be entirely practical, but even the government can’t deny the legitimacy of the populace’s suspicions and distrust on this one.

  3. Here in the UK I hope Gordon Brown doesn’t read this idea of forced donations… he’ll be use it every time there’s a car accident.
    On a serious note governments – good governments – have contingency plans and contingency money in place to use in the event of disasters; having to force people to make donations is equivalent to saying we’re a government without proper plans; we failed the people.

  4. Gerald

    Rather than forced donations, these companies should consider a voluntary donation program with company matching of donations.

    Being forced to “donate” and having employees feeling resentful about it sort of defeats the whole purpose, I think.

    Also, this being China, how effectively do you think that donation money is being spent? I’m not saying that they’re pocketing the money directly (they know that the public is very sensitive about that). But I would like to see more transparency in how they are awarding contracts for the supplies and services. Or maybe they are this time?

  5. Jones

    And I bet you that those companies that do that will tag their names on their employees’ “donations” to get mad street cred for it.

    • Gerald

      No need for them to do that – all they have to do is go on TV and declare that they’re donating a few thousand wan or even an yi.

      Apparently a lot of companies (and a few individuals) did that during the fundraising drive for the Sichuan victims, but later reneged on their donation “pledges”.

  6. B-real

    Do the people get their money back? Is it a tax deduction? if not “forced donations” are not donations it garnished wages to support social services like disaster relief.its just plain wrong. Donations are voluntary, a sacrifice of funds and or materials of those who can afford it.

    If the employer wanted to donate, it could have used the funds saved from not using color ink. The company took advantage of the employee to keep the money in their pockets.

    • Jones

      Does China even have a tax-return setup?

      • B-real

        That’s what im asking. To tell you the truth I don’t know. But when it comes to force donations, I would be the first person as an employee to object and risk my future employment with that employer. No telling what else they will do outside of national emergencies.

      • Jay (a different one)

        Yes, but not as elaborate as elsewhere.

    • Gerald

      Donations here are tax deductible, or at least they are in certain cases.

      Rather than getting a tax return, you just get less tax taken off your pay the month that you claim the deduction.

  7. lolz

    Forced donations at a company level leaves way too much room for fraud. Nevermind China whose charity industry has just started, most of the Western Charities are semi-frauds if you bothered to look at the percentage of money spent on actual programs rather than “administrative” fees.

    • B-real

      That’s why no one really donates anymore especially after the Indonesia thing. Just send shit over or fly over and impose religion on the natives. Especially if its out of the country which most of them are, US Gov takes control of sending X amount of money to X nation with troops. Another form of misused taxes. I hope helping Haiti was a tax deduction because I didn’t authorize any donations to them certainly didn’t agree to troop deployment.

  8. yangrouchuan

    The forced donations will be a shakedown, none of that money will reach relief agencies or victims.

    We all know what caused this quake, same as the Sichuan quake, that 3 Gorges Dam. Even now the group of CAS physicists and engineers who predicted it are muttering “I told you so” while Big Commie cadres force them to keep silent.