The Destiny of Wealth


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This book was originally written for Chinese readers as part of the author’s work to give the Chinese people a deeper understanding of the United States. It offers a fresh interpretation, one that differs from the conventional Chinese concepts of US capitalistic society and cultural traditions. The author notes the paradoxical Chinese official attitude toward foundation in the United States. While, in practice, US foundations have become a convenient source to turn to for a broad range of Chinese institutions (including governmental institutions), they are still viewed with misgivings in certain official quarters. Occasionally, they are mentioned in the official rhetoric as instruments of US policies aimed at the “westernization” and “division” of China.

It is not unique to the United States for people to donate a portion of their wealth to philanthropic causes: the practice has existed since antiquity in China and elsewhere. In Europe, the Church operated various charities as early as the days of the Roman Empire. In China, traditional values have always included benevolence of those who become rich, and people enjoy giving to charities. Traditional charities, however, are different from modern foundations. By the 19th century, a small number of diverse private foundations could be found in Europe, Russia, and the United States. 

But foundations—with their organization, large numbers, and huge scale, and crucial influence—are truly a unique American phenomenon of the 20th century. Chapters in the book focus on the relationship between foundations and the US government and on foundation work in China.

Zi Zhongyun was a senior fellow at and served as director of the Institute of American Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

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Democratic Practice Around the World

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