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Chinese tycoon offers free lunch and cash to U.S. poor

By Zoe Li, CNN
June 18, 2014 -- Updated 1441 GMT (2241 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Controversial millionaire Chen Guangbiao is known for theatrical philanthropic stunts
  • His latest antic: Inviting poor people in the U.S. to a free lunch and promising cash handouts
  • Chen hopes to foster better U.S.-China ties

Hong Kong (CNN) -- Eccentric Chinese tycoon Chen Guangbiao took out a full-page bilingual advertisement in the New York Times, inviting underprivileged Americans to a charity lunch and offering cash handouts.

According to Chinese media reports, the ad appeared in the New York Times print edition on Monday, announcing that Chen would host a charity luncheon at New York Central Park's Loeb Boathouse on June 25 for 1,000 "poor and destitute Americans". Each participant would also receive $300.

Chen, who is known for theatrical philanthropic stunts, has a photo of himself in the ad placed side-by-side with a picture of Lei Feng, a Chinese soldier from the Mao-era who is celebrated as a selfless model citizen. The title above the images says, "China's 'Lei Feng for a new era.'"

For polluted Beijing, canned air
Chen Guangbiao's English namecard (from Sina Weibo).  Chen Guangbiao's English namecard (from Sina Weibo).
Chen Guangbiao's English namecard (from Sina Weibo).Chen Guangbiao's English namecard (from Sina Weibo).

Those who wish to join the luncheon need to RSVP via a Hotmail email address.

Chen Guangbiao buys a full-page ad in the New York Times (from People's Daily).  Chen Guangbiao buys a full-page ad in the New York Times (from People's Daily).
Chen Guangbiao buys a full-page ad in the New York Times (from People's Daily).Chen Guangbiao buys a full-page ad in the New York Times (from People's Daily).

Chen said he was hoping the lunch would show the U.S. that there are Chinese philanthropists.

"There are many wealthy Chinese billionaires but most of them gained their wealth from market speculation and colluding with government officials while destroying the environment. I can't bear the sight of it," Chen told the South China Morning Post.

Making his fortune from recycling domestic waste and construction materials in China, Chen has been in the media spotlight in recent years for his dramatic publicity stunts promoting philanthropic causes. He arrived at the scene of the 2013 Lushan earthquake in Sichuan just hours after the disaster took place and personally handed out cash to the victims.

Chen has also tried unsuccessfully to buy the New York Times as part of his ongoing campaign to develop closer ties between U.S. and China. He recently expressed a desire to reignite discussions to buy the paper's opinion section and fill it with articles about environmental protection and charity.

Founder of the Huangpu Renewable Resources Utilization Group, Chen has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to various charitable causes over the years and has made it more than once onto Forbes' list of Asia's leading philanthropists.

But not everyone is taken with Chen's flashy generosity.

Jeremy Goldkorn, director of Chinese media research firm Danwei, says: "Chen is a clown whose so-called philanthropy appears to consist entirely of self-promotional stunts like giving handouts of cash in Taipei and New York, and cans of air to people in China."

Goldkorn has also tweeted that Chen is the "greatest insult to the Chinese people."

Other critics find it difficult to take Chen seriously when his English namecard lists an absurdly long string of self-aggrandizing titles, including "Most Charismatic Philanthropist of China."

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