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Rachel Lu

Donation With Counterfeit Chinese Money Triggers Cold-War Era Response

Please give these deserving children real money. (Via Weibo)

Last week, foreign consulates in the southern Chinese megalopolis of Guangzhou held a charity sale to raise funds for disabled children. The event raised 330,000 RMB (about US$53,000), but the Belgian consulate received 5,000 RMB in counterfeit money. The news was published in China’s domestic media, leading some online commentators to call the buyers who used counterfeit money “shameless.”

At least one man, however, instead believes that the foreign consulates, who set out to help China’s less fortunate, were the shameless ones.

He Keng (@贺铿), the former vice bureau chief of China’s National Bureau of Statistics and the director of the Statistics Institute at China’s Central University of Finance and Economics, offered this comment on Tencent Weibo, one of China’s leading microblogging services:

To be honest, foreign consulates do this kind of thing in order to humiliate Chinese people! Does China need the 330,000 RMB? And that money came from Chinese people anyway! I think the people who do these so-called ‘charity events’ are really the shameless ones.

Mr. He posted another tweet on Sina Weibo, another microblogging platform, with equally perplexing logic:

RMB330,000 is only a month or two of salary for the U.S. consul general. They engage in this charity sale with much fanfare, then [publicize] the fact that Chinese people bought the charity products with counterfeit money. Is that really charity?

Self-reliance, to a fault

Mr. He likely came of age in the Cold War era, when China engaged in deliberate isolation out of a sense of pride and officialdom believed it was shameful to reveal the suffering of its people to the outside world. Any foreign assistance was seen as proof that the Communist Party, the self-proclaimed mighty savior of the Chinese people, could not take care of its own.

A snapshot of one of He Keng’s rants.

In the aftermath of the Tangshan earthquake in 1976, the Chinese government refused all foreign aid and rescue efforts in a show of self-reliance. The 7.8-scale earthquake killed more than 240,000 people (some estimates put the figure as high as 700,000), as many perished in collapsed buildings without timely assistance or proper rescue equipment. Similarly, the North Korean regime puts heavy emphasis on a “juche”–or self-reliance–principle that eschews outside help for its suffering population. But that regime is now widely mocked and reviled in China’s blogosphere.

Welcome to modernity

Fortunately, times have changed. The vast majority of China’s Internet users seem to have moved on from the Cold War. Mr. He’s comment attracted tens of thousands of comments on Tencent and Sina Weibos, with most users heaping criticism and abuse on him and his way of thinking.

@吹个球 commented, “People like you should stay in Mao’s era to protect the so-called ‘face’ and glory of the country.” @铁成的幸福生活 wrote, ”You don’t see your own shortcomings but blame others for lifting your fig leaf and revealing what’s underneath. That’s truly shameless.” @BigHappyDreamer asked He, “Do you have a conscience?”

The official Weibo account of the Belgian Consulate in Guangzhou (@比利时王国驻广州总领事馆) also got into the act, posting this response:

1. We participated in this event organized by the Guangdong foreign affairs office, and all products were donated by Belgian companies which took no compensation. 2) The price at which the products were sold were manufacturer’s prices, not marked-up prices. 3) All profits (more than 7,000 RMB) were donated. How is that shameful? All of our colleagues worked overtime all day on Saturday for charity! What was really shameful was the 5,000 RMB in counterfeit money.

Internet users have also pointed out that holding charity events to raise money is a common practice among diplomatic communities in most countries, and China’s own missions overseas also engage in similar events.

@亢奋青年田某某 quipped, “How does the former statistics bureau chief view the difference between cooking the books and counterfeiting money?”

A joke about China’s official statisticians is making the rounds on China’s social media after Mr. He’s flirtation with Internet notoriety: Responding to criticism that he can’t count, the official statistician held out three fingers and said, “I have five words for you, ‘That is total bull.’“

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Rachel Lu

Rachel Lu is a co-founder of Tea Leaf Nation. Rachel traces her ancestry to Southern China. She spent much of her childhood memorizing Chinese poetry. After long stints in New York, New Haven and Cambridge, she has returned to China to bear witness to its great transformation. She is currently based in China.