Purdue University



Capital along with Faith: A Study on the Charitable Behavior of the Private Entrepreneurs of Wenzhou, China


Professor, Sociology, Fudan University



This study investigates the active role and participation of Wenzhou’s private business owners in highly publicized charitable activities, including charitable donations to the underprivileged, in an attempt to find the most logical explanation for their gift-giving behavior.

The empirical question of this research project is: Why are Wenzhou’s get-rich-quick private entrepreneurs making philanthropic donations with a vengeance? This study starts with a survey of the existing theories with regard to charitable giving, so as to establish the proper theoretical basis for the proposed thesis. Three of these theories examine charitable donations from the perspectives of political science, economics, and religious sociology. According to Weber, there are two types of social interests: material interests and ideal interests. To the former belong physical assets such as income, wealth, and power, while to the latter belong ideological pursuits such as worldviews. This project will apply this theory to explain the motivations of the philanthropic Wenzhou businesspeople. The motivations model for the gift-giving behavior are depicted in this equation:

Charitable behavior(Y)= material interests(X1) +  Ideal interests(X2)
={economic, political pressure}+{political belief, religious}

Weber’s switchman theory dictates that it is the ideal interests that function as the switchman under the same material interests, the deciding factor, in this equation. On the basis of this theory, this research proposes the four following hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1. The greater the ideal interests are, the more likely entrepreneurs  are to give donations, and the larger the size of the donations is;
Hypothesis 2. Of the charitable businesspeople, those with little or no religious belief cannot compare with those with a religious belief, both in the scale and the number of donations they make;
Hypothesis 3. The more driven the businesspeople are by their ideal interests, the more likely they are to give gifts to strangers rather than to people that they know;
Hypothesis 4. Of the large corporations, the more high-profile they are, the more driven they are by their material interests. On the contrary, the lower profile the businesses are--often small- and medium-sized--the more driven they are by their ideal interests.

The conclusions of the study will not be drawn until these hypotheses are proven valid or false on the basis of empirical statistics and other materials. As part of an ongoing academic dialogue, this project will provide a case study that may shed light on the charitable craze that is becoming the vogue among business owners in basically a grassroots manner.

While the qualitative data analysis will also be used on an individual basis, the quantitative data analysis will be adopted as the main sampling method for this study. As for the qualitative inquiry, the population of concern will be the entrepreneurs in Wenzhou whose businesses have been in operation for at least five years. Closed-ended questionnaires will be distributed among the private entrepreneurs in Wenzhou selected from a sampling frame constructed from the data provided by Multi-Stage Probability Proportionate to Size(PPS). The sampling size will be 400 individuals and their businesses. The collected data will be processed with epdata 4.0 twice for accuracy, and then be subjected to Multivariate Statistical Analysis.

The quantitative data analysis will be supplemented by the qualitative data analysis on the basis of interviews and documentary analysis. The documentary data is often the more effective way for quickly finding out the historical background as well as the current situation of a corporation. The number of interviewees will be limited to 30, who subscribe to a variety of religious or political beliefs, but all of whom must be active participants in charitable activities. These interviews will give us insight into their material and ideal interests, political pressure and/or ideology, religious beliefs, as well as where their public personae end and personal values begin. These data will reveal to us the complex decision-making processes that may not always show up in the quantitative data analysis. In addition, we will supplement the general data analysis with a comparative data analysis. We will also use QSR NVivo V8.0 software as we process the data.

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