People

Published: Wednesday July 2, 2014 MYT 5:10:00 PM
Updated: Wednesday July 2, 2014 MYT 2:34:47 PM

Chinese tycoon's 'homeless' lunch leaves bizarre aftertaste

Chinese millionaire feeds fillet mignon to "poor and destitute Americans" then serenades them with We Are The World — say what?

In a move that has been criticised by some as shameless self-promotion, wealthy Chinese entrepreneur Chen Guangbiao offered a free lunch of seared tuna and fillet mignon to several hundred homeless New Yorkers at a swanky Central Park restaurant on June 25.

The 200 homeless people showed up for the lunch — which Chen publicised by buying full-page advertisements in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal — were entertained by Chen singing We Are the World. They also witnessed a ceremony in which Chen was presented with a certificate declaring him "the world’s greatest philanthropist."

"If you have a river (of wealth) you better know how to share it with other people," 46-year-old Chen said. "We are one big happy family in the world."

Hero or buffoon? Aside from footing the bill and singing We Are The World, Chen Guangbiao also performed a magic trick for his homeless guests at a lunch he hosted in a posh restaurant in New York's Central Park. — Reuters

Surreal and incongruous, the homeless diners were seated around dozens of round tables covered with white tablecloths set with china and fine cutlery in the banquet room of the Loeb Boathouse, famed as the backdrop for such films as When Harry Met Sally and TV shows including Sex and the City.

During the lunch, he announced to applause and cheers he would hand out US$300 (RM962) to each of the guests and also introduced a self-immolation survivor whose medical treatment he paid for. The initial excitement over the cash handouts turned into jeers, however, when it became clear that they money was not forthcoming.

In response to media reports denouncing his unfulfilled promise, Chen said to the South China Morning Post that he decided the night before the event to donate US$90,000 to the New York City Rescue Mission — a homeless shelter that helped organise the event — instead. Apparently, Chen was advised by the Mission not to give the money directly to the homeless.

In the same article by South China Morning Post, Chen said he spent US$80,000 on the lunch, US$400,000 on the newspaper ads and US$150,000 for a public relations firm. The article also mentioned that the original invitation for 1,000 homeless people to attend the lunch had to be cut down to 250, when police said they could not provide enough security personnel for the event.

Chris Weber, 38, said he heard about the event at the Mission. He said he enjoyed the lunch but found Chen’s philanthropy insincere. "It’s a nice gesture but I’m guessing he also has a motive," he said.

Out of place? New York's homeless eating gourmet food served by waiters wearing suits and bowties. Later, many jeered at the millionaire for reneging on his promise to give each guest a US$300 cash handout. — Reuters

The Nanjing-based mogul, the bulk of whose fortune comes from his company Jiangsu Huangpu Recycling Resources and is estimated to be worth between US$400mil and US$800mil, has staged similar charity publicity stunts in the past. In 2011, he travelled to Taiwan to hand out cash-filled envelopes worth a total of US$200,000 to the underprivileged, drawing the suspicion of Taiwanese politicians.

Despite the many criticisms that have been levelled against him by various quarters, Chen remains undeterred, saying that his philanthropic work means to set an example for other Chinese millionaires to do more for charity. Apparently, he’s eyeing Africa for his next charity stunt. — Reuters

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle, People, People, US, New York, Chen Guangbiao, millionaire, tycoon, China, Chinese, homeless, criticism, lunch, charity, philanthropy, publicity stunt, bizarre, New York City Rescue Mission

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