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The $350 Million Question: What Drove Harvard Gift From Hong Kong Billionaires?

Ronnie Chan speaks at the Horasis Global China Business Meeting
Ronnie Chan speaks at the Horasis Global China Business Meeting
Wang Duan and Cui Yueheng

HONG KONG — Harvard University received the largest financial gift in its history earlier this month when the Morningside Foundation, founded by brothers and Hong Kong developers Ronnie and Gerald Chan, donated $350 million to its School of Public Health.

"It could be asking for trouble to do good deeds in mainland China," 65-year-old Ronnie Chan said a week after the donation announcement.

He recalled his bitterly disappointing experience of contributing to a renovation project of Beijing's Imperial Palace. It ended in a scandal. "What matters in doing philanthropy is not the money but the heart and efforts put in."

Established in 1913, Harvard's 100-year-old public health school will be renamed the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health to honor the late T.H. Chan, father of the billionaire brothers.

"Our father was a staunch supporter of education," Ronnie says. "He handed down his will of promoting education and medical research to alleviate human illness and suffering. It's most appropriate that our father's name is associated with a top university public health school endeavoring to improve people's wellbeing."

Gerald Chan is an alumnus of the Harvard public health school, where he earned master's and doctorate degrees in 1975 and 1979. "This gift is our homage to our father's legacy," he says.

From his Hong Kong office, Ronnie Chan says that it's tradition in his family not to hand down inheritances. He also says that, in philanthropy, it's important to be focused on particular causes. "Because if your door is too wide open, everybody will be at your doorstep. One has limited energy and money."

The Morningside Foundation had a bad philanthropy experience between 2000 and 2005 during the renovation of Jianfu Palace, part of the Forbidden City, the National Palace Museum. In 2011, the Jianfu Palace was exposed by Chinese media as having become a private club reserved only for the world's privileged, including Henry Kissinger, which aroused huge public outrage.

"When I went to take a look myself, I was appalled by the horrendous changes made to this mid-18th century monument," Ronnie Chan says. "It was turned into something like a five-star hotel. I couldn't possibly agree with this. One can find five-star hotels everywhere in the world. But what on earth does the Palace Museum want one for?"

Though many have speculated that this bad experience is probably what pushed the billionaire brothers to give a huge sum of money to Harvard instead of to Chinese universities, Ronnie Chan pointed out that their foundation does "also donate to five Chinese universities — Peking University, Tsinghua University, Fudan University, Shanghai Jiaotong University and Tongji University — although it's less well known."

"Doing charity in mainland China isn't a simple matter like it is in the West, just involving giving out money," he says. "Rather, it can bring a lot of headaches and even provoke anger like once happened to my brother Gerald. I had to comfort him saying, "Never mind, pretend as if you had thrown away that money.""

Asked for specifics, Ronnie Chan is reserved, saying only that China's academic corruption and atmosphere still need to be improved. "Without academic vigor, it's impossible for Chinese universities to conduct world-class research," he says. "This is part of the reason why we'd rather give money to Harvard University. Besides, public health involves the whole of humanity and thus has an extraordinary significance."

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How A Xi Jinping Dinner In San Francisco May Have Sealed Mastercard's Arrival In China

The credit giant becomes only the second player after American Express to be allowed to set up a bank card-clearing RMB operation in mainland China.

Photo of a hand holding a phone displaying an Union Pay logo, with a Mastercard VISA logo in the background of the photo.

Mastercard has just been granted a bank card clearing license in China.

Liu Qianshan


It appears that one of the biggest beneficiaries from Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to San Francisco was Mastercard.

The U.S. credit card giant has since secured eagerly anticipated approval to expand in China's massive financial sector, having finally obtained long sought approval from China's central bank and financial regulatory authorities to initiate a bank card business in China through its joint venture with its new Chinese partner.

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Through a joint venture in China between Mastercard and China's NetsUnion Clearing Corporation, dubbed Mastercard NUCC, it has officially entered mainland China as an RMB currency clearing organization. It's only the second foreign business of its kind to do so following American Express in 2020.

The Wall Street Journal has reported that the development is linked to Chinese President Xi Jinping's meeting on Nov. 15 with U.S. President Joe Biden in San Francisco, part of a two-day visit that also included dinner that Xi had with U.S. business executives.

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