Last week, broadcast journalist Yang Lan, who was dubbed by CNN as China’s Oprah, visited the University of Washington to talk about the challenges of philanthropy in China.
Yang, who has 200 to 300 million viewers for her news program, packed the room with more than 600 people. Several people had to be turned away.
Yang, with her husband, started the Sun Culture Foundation in Hong Kong, not in China. She said Hong Kong is more efficient in running philanthropic organizations. In China, there are many restrictions. It’s too early for China to develop philanthropy businesses, she explained.
Bill Gates and Warren Buffett were guests on her show last year, trying to persuade millionaires to donate their fortunes to charity.
That is a revolutionary concept for China. Still, there were 50 multimillionaires who showed up at one of Gates’ meetings, said Yang.
China has more than 1,400 billionaires. The majority of Chinese billionaires have gotten their wealth through real estate.
Dining with Yang Lan
UW President Phyllis Wise hosted a dinner for Chinese broadcast journalist Yang Lan at the president’s residence. The conversation among the seven guests at the dinner table was lively and open. Yang did not hold back.
On censorship, she said, “We just have to take it. But there is still a lot of room for free speech.”
A strong advocate for equal rights, Yang said she is one of the advocates attempting to push women’s retirement age from 55 to 60, the same as that of men.
For a glimpse of how Chinese society is changing, Yang gave an example. “Last Oct. 1, there were 9,000 marriage licenses issued in China,” Yang said, “but there were also 5,000 divorces and the majority were initiated by women.”
Despite censorship, Yang said the Internet is making a difference. If people “don’t touch on China’s bottom line” namely, issues on Taiwan, Falun Gong, and Tibet, much of the information will pass through.
She has witnessed many policy changes due to outcry from the Internet. Microbloggers can be so fast that, by the time China moves to block the blog, it’s too late.
Yang shared her story of how she got to where she is today. After getting a bachelor’s degree in English, she earned her master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. She believed that there was opportunity for change, so she returned to China after graduation.
Out of 1,000 women who applied for her job two decades ago, Yang was picked after seven rounds of interviews. No such show connecting Beijing to the rest of the world was ever produced before. When the first program aired, “there was no script,” she said.
Though bureaucracy and censorship are ingrained into China’s system, China is also toying with many new ideas and projects to advance the country. Younger leaders like Yang can push through diverse perspectives and influence the public. ♦