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Philanthropic Action of the Chinese Diaspora: Family, Ancestry, Identity, Social Norms

Global Chinese Philanthropy Lecture

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Global Chinese Philanthropy Lecture by Marina Tan Harper, UC Davis

Online via Zoom webinar

Due to push and pull factors, millions of Chinese migrants fanned out into the Nanyang (Southeast Asia) from mid-1800s to late 1900s. These first-generation diasporic Chinese (GI) left China with sojourner mentality. Hence their early philanthropic action mirrored sojourners' mindsets and pointed their giving back to their hometowns in China, the motherland. They came down to the Nanyang as unskilled laborers (coolies), riding on the vast appetites for cheap labor demanded by colonialism of the Dutch, Portuguese, English, French and Americans.

After WWII, many countries in Southeast Asia decolonized to become independent nations. As diasporic Chinese and generations of their native-born descendants (G2, G3, and G4) eventually settled as locals into various places in Southeast Asia, new hybrid Chinese identities emerged. Their Confucian Chinese values were confronted and severely tested-very often remolded and evolved as their assimilated, acculturated, and converged with new social norms dictated by local indigenous cultures, and economic, social, and political circumstances of the times. 

Confucian values-honoring the family name and continuing the ancestral lineage-behest multi-generations to stick together in strength. With self-help and mutual aid philanthropy, the diaspora thrived in the Nanyang. The economic success propelled diasporic Chinese into leadership of local communities. This new role as leaders in their adoptive lands turned their loyalties, generosity, and philanthropic action from their own ethnic communities or hometowns in China to their places of settlement. It shifted as new generations, locally born, begin to identify as nationals of these countries, and engender gratitude to where they built their wealth. 

Eventually, generosity to hometowns in China by later generations pulled back or ceased. In philanthropy, the age-old values of family, ancestry, humility, and benevolence now give younger generations of ethnic Chinese pride and purpose to give outside of the traditional familial lines to create opportunities and transform lives in the communities where they work and live, including public good for the countries where they operate their business in Southeast Asia and beyond.

Marina Tan Harper has been Senior Director for International Development at UC Davis since 2016. In this role, she has customized giving platforms for alumni, parents, and friends of UC Davis to give from abroad: Asia, Europe, Latin America, and Canada. Understanding local giving traditions, propensity to give, affinity, connectedness, and readiness of varied constituents on the ground, she knows this is not one-size-fits fundraising. 

Marina was also the Founding Director of the Development Office at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. During her tenure from 2005-2014, $500 million of private support was raised, she made a deep and transformational impact on students, faculty, and the university through public support with the naming of: Wee Kim Wee School, Rajaratnam School, Lee Kong Chian School, Lien Ying Chow Drive, Tan Chin Tuan Lecture Theatre, Toh Kian Chui Annex, Margaret Lien Centre for Professional Success, and Sembcorp Marine Lab. 

Marina Harper earned her PhD in Philanthropic Studies from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, Indiana University. Her research is focused on diasporic Chinese philanthropy. 

This free public lecture is part of the Global Chinese Philanthropy Research and Training Program and made possible with the support of the Cyrus Tang Foundation.

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Duration: 58:54


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Published: Tuesday, February 7, 2023