Philanthropist wins national award for charity works

The retired president of Shanghai Normal University has spent years and his own personal money in projects to help impoverished students across China.

Yang Deguang, the retired president of Shanghai Normal University, was honored as China’s model philanthropist with this week’s announcement that he won the 10th China Charity Award.

The award, established in 2005 by China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs, is the most prestigious honor for companies, organizations and individuals making contributions to national charity work.

Yang, 78, was cited for his efforts in sponsoring students from impoverished families.

“I was born into a poor farm family in Jiangsu Province, and I received a lot of help from others during my school years,” Yang said. “So it’s natural for me to want to give something back to society.”

Yang remembers the mother of a friend who always helped him carry firewood he cut in the hills back to his home when he was a primary school student. In middle school, his head teacher arranged for him to get a place in the school dorm after seeing his 5-member family squeezed into a small home.

In high school, one of his high school classmates took him out to eat in a restaurant twice a month and bought him milk for a whole year, while another classmate had invited him to live in his home when the school dorm was undergoing an overhaul.

Yang began reciprocating the spirit of giving when began tutoring fellow high school classmates who had difficulties in their studies. When he was at Shanghai-based East China Normal University, he always volunteered to live in dorm rooms facing north, leaving the warmer southern rooms to others. He had also saved meal tickets and put them under the pillows of roommates who needed to eat more.

He later worked in the Shanghai Higher Education Bureau, at Shanghai University and at Shanghai Normal University, where he retired as president from the latter.

He began philanthropic work in 2004, donating to an educational development foundation, a charity foundation and tree-planting projects at Shanghai Normal University. He has donated more than 150,000 yuan (US$ 21,921) in total.

On his 70th birthday in 2010, he announced the gift of 3 million yuan to sponsor impoverished students. One million yuan came from his salary; the remaining came from the sale of one of his apartments. The money helps more than 200 students each year as scholarships and subsidies.

In 2012, he raised 2 million yuan from his friends, many of whom are entrepreneurs, to start a nutritious lunch program for poor primary school students in Gansu and Sichuan provinces. In the past five years, the program has benefited more than 4,000 students.

In 2013, Yang raised another 1.5 million yuan and kicked off a new program to subsidize 32 impoverished students with outstanding academic records every year. Under the program, he and his children, students and friends each sponsor one student for study from primary school to university.

The donors include one of his colleagues, Professor Weng Minhua, and her husband. Weng was later diagnosed with cancer and Yang asked her if she would like to quit the program because she needed money for treatment. She declined.

Yang’s philanthropic spirit has inspired many people to open their hearts and pocketbooks. His Sunshine Charity Foundation, set up in 2014, has received more than 3 million yuan in donations from over 200 individuals and enterprises. He also spends half of his retirement pay on charity every year.

The foundation launched a program in 2016 to sponsor 300 outstanding high school students in impoverished areas of China. About 600 students have benefited from the program, with each receiving 2,000 yuan.

Yang has also been active in promoting afforestation. He had spent three years helping turn Shanghai Normal University into a garden campus by planting trees.

“How can we cultivate people without cultivating trees?” he asked.

From 2015 to 2017, he organized eight tree planting projects involving more than 100,000 bamboo willows in the Baoshan, Chongming, Qingpu and Fengxian districts in Shanghai.

He is now also working on a new program to help middle school graduates in western China seek free vocational education in Shanghai. The first group of 36 students is set to come to Shanghai.

“After graduation, they can look for jobs in Shanghai and raise their families,” he said.

A pair of brothers are but two of the beneficiaries of Yang’s largesse.

Their mother used to be a cleaner at Shanghai Normal University and their father was a security guard there.

Two years ago, the mother met Yang and told him that her elder son Jiang Dongdong was at Shanghai University but was considering giving up further studies due to the economic conditions of the family.

Yang gave Jiang 10,000 yuan and encouraged him to continue his studies in technology. Jiang has been admitted into Tongji University, where he will seek a doctoral degree in aeronautics and astronautics.

His younger brother Jiang Luchun was a bachelor’s degree student at Beijing Jiao Tong University. Yang gave him 10,000 yuan, and the young man has now been admitted to Shanghai Jiao Tong University for graduate studies in mechanical engineering.

“President Yang is so kind,” said Jiang Dongdong. “Every time we visit him, he cooks for us and introduces us to his students and friends. We will study hard and try to become better people, just like him.”

Though Yang is generous to others, he is spartan when it comes to his own life. He cooks himself simple meals and disdains the sumptuous banquets usually befitting a man of his stature. He says frugal living frees up more funds for people in need.

“Many people have asked me why I don’t leave my apartment and money to my son and daughter,” Yang said. “Of course, I could make my children’s life richer if I bequeathed assets to them. But helping those in need is much more meaningful. Both of my children have stable work and can get along on their own. I will bequeath them spiritual wealth.”

Ti Gong

Yang Deguang, retired president of Shanghai Normal University, plants trees with children last year.

Ti Gong

Yang Deguang, retired president of Shanghai Normal University, poses for a photo with children in Gansu Province, who are beneficiaries of a foundation named after him.

Ti Gong

Yang Deguang gives out scholarships to students in Xinjiang in December last year.

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