The COVID-19 epidemic that is spreading across China is a tragedy of massive scale that has claimed over 1,000 lives and sickened many more thousands of people (check here for the latest stats). The crisis has prompted ordinary people, celebrities, and companies around China and across the world to come together and raise money to help.
But that is not enough for one high-level Chinese official, whose remarks suggest that the authorities are not satisfied with what they have received so far. In a press conference on February 10, Chén Yuèliáng 陈越良, head of the community governance division at the Ministry of Civil Affairs, said that tech giants should create some digital tools for the government while stressing the importance of technical support in containing the outbreak. “I earnestly requested major internet companies like Tencent and Alibaba to invent some epidemic tracking software for community workers. Building useful free software for us is more useful than donating 1 billion yuan,” Chen said (in Chinese).
Prior to this, the two firms had made massive charitable donations in assistance to the government to battle the disease. In January, the Tencent Charity Foundation donated 300 million yuan ($42 million), half of which was used to buy medical masks and other goods in need. On February 7, the company announced another 1 billion yuan ($143 million) donation, as well as the establishment of a 1.5 billion yuan ($215 million) fund for public health.
Alibaba, meanwhile, donated (in Chinese) 1 billion yuan ($143 million) to the government. Its ecommerce site Taobao also vowed to stop price spikes for medical items on the platform. Beyond these, Alibaba founder Jack Ma’s personal foundation made a donation of 20 million yuan ($2.9 million) to the Chinese Academy of Engineering, dedicated to scientific projects created to address the epidemic.
Given these considerable commitments from Tencent and Alibaba, Chen came across as ungrateful and unreasonably demanding to many internet users, who argued that he was emblematic of the irresponsible attitude of many government officials who overly rely on the generosity of citizens but do little themselves despite their leadership positions.
Below are some of the most passionate reactions on Chinese social media:
“So you rely on companies for infrastructures and the public for goods. Your job gets done just by talking?”
“Since you think software is more beneficial than 1 billion yuan, can you return the money to Alibaba?”
“You’re a beggar and you think you have the right to be picky?”
“Stop calling for donations and start buying services.”
“If you plan to do nothing, can you please return some of our taxes from last year? I don’t believe that you only pay extra for teachers and doctors.”
“To internet firms: Software is more useful than 1 billion. To logistics companies: Free shipping is more useful than 1 billion. To face mask factories: Free masks are more useful than 1 billion. To farmers: Free vegetables are more useful than 1 billion. What’s your value when the public has done everything? Lying in bed and waiting for someone to feed you?”
“Oh, God, does every Chinese government official think this way? What else do you want after Alibaba donated 1 billion yuan? The company?”
“Are you serving the people or are you making the people serve you?”
“Should we let Alibaba and Tencent collect our taxes from now on? My heart went cold hearing what he said.”