Like many other successful Chinese philanthropists, Mr. Chen Jinshi was born of humble origins. Almost 30 years ago in 1988, with only about USD 750 (RMB 5,000), Chen started his business with 28 workers, and today he leads one of the biggest conglomerates in the field of contract construction and property development, Jiangsu Zhongnan Holding Group, Co. Ltd, with over 20 subsidiaries and 50,000 employees across the country, and an annual gross production of nearly USD 14 billion (RMB 85 billion) in 2016.
Mr. Chen was born into a farmer’s family in a small town, Changle, in Jiangsu Province, which is also home to Zhang Jian, a great Chinese entrepreneur, politician, and educator in the Qing Dynasty who founded the first normal school in modern China. Following forefather Zhang’s spirit of entrepreneurship, Mr. Chen started his own business from scratch. His entrepreneurial experience reflected the ups and downs of China’s most dynamic 20 years in economic development and has set a positive example for grassroots individuals with passion and ambition. Since the age of 16, Mr. Chen has worked at all kinds of posts in construction, from mason and carpenter to technician and product manager. The tough experience has made him a grateful man toward life and the community, especially his hometown. With such gratitude, he always keeps in mind that life is not about accumulating personal wealth but about social responsibility and giving back.
Even before the establishment of the Zhongnan Charity Foundation, Mr. Chen donated a lot both individually and through the corporation to his hometown and other regions. To his hometown, he donated over USD 3.3 million (RMB 20 million) to build an outpatient building for Changle Hospital; USD 1.6 million (RMB 10 million) for environmental reforestation; USD 3.3 million (RMB 20 million) to build Zhang Jian Memorial Hall; USD 2.3 million (RMB 14 million) for Changle Senior Nursing Home; over USD 8.2 million (RMB 50 million) for kindergarten, elementary, and middle schools; and USD 15.6 million (RMB 95 million) for Haimen Dongzhou International School. Outside his hometown, Mr. Chen has also donated to various causes, especially disaster relief and education, including nearly USD 1 million (RMB 6 million) for the reconstruction of Sichuan Province after the earthquake in 2008, USD 327,000 (RMB 2 million) for Yushu earthquake relief, USD 160,000 (RMB 1 million) for Yunnan drought assistance in 2010, and 300,000 each to build Guizhou First Hope Elementary School and Mengbulake Hope Elementary School in 2008, to name a few. Since 2007, Zhongnan Group has committed to donating USD 5 million (RMB 30 million) in 10 years to build 100 Hope Schools. In May 2011, Mr. Chen founded the Zhongnan Charity Foundation with a pledged donation of USD 32 7 million (RMB 200 million) over three years from the Zhongnan Group. The foundation continues Mr. Chen’s giving interests in education and disaster relief. In 2015, the foundation carried forward the 100 Hope Schools plan and built more Hope Elementary Schools across the country.
When talking about why he has been giving for so many years, Mr. Chen said that he regarded it as something that was “natural” and “supposed to be done.” Mr. Chen believes that philanthropy is done out of a sense of responsibility. He has been supporting education because children are the future of a nation; disaster relief is a responsibility that everyone needs to undertake; and for disadvantaged people, his humble origin and rough early life has helped him better understand the hardships and needs of poor people, which motivate his giving. It always reminds Mr. Chen of the past difficulties he has gone through when seeing people, especially his countrymen, suffer and motivates him to help them change their lives. Another factor as Mr. Chen mentioned in an interview with China Philanthropy Times is the cultural influence from his hometown, Changle, which is home to China’s last Zhuangyuan (first place in the imperial exam), Zhang Jian. Zhang Jian advocated for “education as father and industry as mother” and established over 300 schools in his lifetime. Deeply influenced by this idea and giving tradition, Mr. Chen has been dedicated to supporting education in his hometown.
Mr. Chen is a low-profile person. Both he and the company rarely publicize what they have done. He believes that having either a low or high pro le is just a different way of doing philanthropy; the ultimate goal is to benefit society. Philanthropy is diverse and multidimensional. Everyone has his own style, and as long as it is beneficial to society, it is real philanthropy.
The Zhongnan Group has been ranked in China’s Top 10 Charity Enterprise by China Philanthropy Times for six consecutive years since 2011. In 2015 alone, the Zhongnan Group has donated over USD 12 95 million (RMB 79 million). Mr. Chen and the company’s generous support to facilitate Changle’s development has helped Zhongnan Village in Changle rank as one of the 15 state-level new village representatives and the only village in Nantong City that meets the provincial standards of healthy living.