A Chinese Millionaire's Publicity Stunt: Charity Lunch for New York's Homeless

Analyzing the top news stories across the web
June 26 2014 11:24 AM

A Chinese Millionaire's Publicity Stunt: Lunch for New York's Homeless

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Julia La Roche for Business Insider

This post first appeared in Business Insider.

Multimillionaire Chen Guangbiao, the self-proclaimed "most influential person of China," held a massive event in New York City on Wednesday during which he handed out $100 bills to 200 homeless people at the Loeb Boathouse in Central Park. "He's the man! He's the man!" one man shouted, throwing his arm around Chen and waving the three $100 bills in the air.

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"I wish and hope that you will put the money into good use," Chen said in remarks delivered through a translator. "I hope that you will use this money as seed money for whatever job training or job education you will receive so that you can help yourself," he said.

Chen, 46, then told the crowd that he would like to do this every year. They began to cheer and whistle. Along with the cash, Chen’s homeless guests were treated to a lunch of seared sesame-crusted tuna with an Asian slaw and steak with mashed potatoes and green beans by a white-gloved waitstaff. "They're not feeding the press?" one of the many members of the media in attendance quipped beforehand. 

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The meal served at Chen's luncheon

Julia La Roche for Business Insider

Chen began his New York City adventure Tuesday when he strolled through the streets of Tribeca with a photographer and reporter from the New York Postattempting to hand out $100 bills to passersby. That effort didn't exactly go as planned as many of the New Yorkers Chen tried to hand money to ignore his entreaties. 

The lunch also didn't go off without a hitch. According to the event's invitation, the lunch was for 300 "poverty-stricken people." But only 200 people from the New York City Rescue Mission were able to attend. At least 100 other homeless community members were left outside the event. Duwell, one of the men who found himself barred from the luncheon, called the event "the worst fraud [he] has ever seen perpetrated against the homeless community."

"I am handicapped, and I have been waiting here for 10 and a half hours," he said. "I have been chased by the police and treated with disrespect after we were promised a gourmet meal and $300. This is a publicity stunt."

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Homeless New Yorkers waiting outside

Julia Cannon

Another woman, Tammy, claimed she waited three hours and said she "was going to stay as long as [she] had to, to get her good meal." Tammy questioned the method used to invite people to the event. "Why would you send an invitation by email to homeless people? If I had a computer, I would have a home!" Tammy never made it inside.

An Anti-Chinese Communist Party group also gathered in protest outside the venue, repeating a chant of "Chinese Communist Party is evil! Chinese Communist Party is terrible!" throughout the day. The Anti-CCP presence was not surprising, though, since CCP supporters clad in military fatigues turned out in huge numbers to volunteer for the event. 

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Chinese Communist Party supporters

Julia Cannon

Despite the controversy, Chen seemed to remain confident in his philanthropic efforts. "I have helped millions of people and would like to encourage the press to interview the people who actually received help from me today—instead of listening to those people who might be jealous who might have a lot of negative things to say about what I have to offer," Chen said at the lunch. The reason why folks were left out wasn't exactly clear. 

Chen is a recycling magnate with a reported wealth of $740 million. He is infamously eccentric and, according to Reuters, "something of a celebrity in China." One of Chen’s trademarks is singing the song "We Are The World." He mentioned the song repeatedly during the lunch. He also performed some magic tricks for the crowd. 

On his business card, Chen describes himself as the "Most Influential Person of China, Most Prominent Philanthropist of China, China Moral Leader, China Earthquake Rescue Hero, Most Well-known and Beloved Chinese Role Model, Most Charismatic Philanthropist of China," among many other self-proclaimed accolades. During the Central Park event, a DVD played in the background that constantly referred to Chen as "the No. 1" this and "the No. 1" that in China. We eventually lost count.

Chen is one of the 400 richest people in China. At the event, he explained his rationale for giving cash away. "Some people [say] that money is almost like human waste—you don't come to this earth with it and you cannot carry it to your next life." 

Here's Chen’s rendition of "We Are The World":

And here’s the invitation:

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Cheng Guangbiao

Julia La Roche is a finance reporter at Business Insider. Follow her on Twitter.

Julia Cannon is an intern at Business Insider.

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