The text message sent this week by China’s largest mobile phone operator to subscribers in the country’s earthquake-hit southwest was unusually solicitous for a communication between a company and its customers.
“Are you still in the earthquake disaster area? We are worried about your safety, and looking forward to hearing from you,” ran the message, which announced the gift of a Rmb10 free call credit. “Don’t forget your loved ones . . . one call can put your family at ease.”
The gesture from the Beijing arm of operator China Mobile was just a tiny part of a huge outpouring of support for victims of Monday’s devastating earthquake from companies, individuals and government departments across this vast nation.
The wave of offers of funds and help is driven by simple compassion combined with a patriotic desire for national solidarity and fuelled by a Communist government schooled in the art of mass mobilisation.
The state-owned companies like China Mobile that still command the lucrative heights of the economy have long been expected by the government to set an example in times of trouble.
Fixed line operator China Telecom was yesterday offering its own free calls to homeless survivors gathering in a sports stadium in Mianyang, a city that lies near some of the worst- affected areas.
Local enterprises were also pitching in. Yan Jialin, a manager at Mianyang-based television manufacturer Sichuan Changhong was setting up four 50-inch TV screens at the stadium.
“We’ll donate anything else we can,” Mr Yan said. “The whole country cares about the refugees and the refugees want to know what’s happening with the rescue operation.”
In a sign of official approval for corporate generosity, the Communist party’s People’s Daily newspaper yesterday published a list of corporate aid donors, ranked by generosity.
Government leaders have called for a national response to the earthquake to demonstrate the “socialist spirit of mutual aid, where – as the Chinese saying goes – “Help comes from all eight points of the compass for the one place in need”.
Yet the response has also crossed ideological borders. The democratic government of rival Taiwan has offered T$2bn (£33,000, $64,000, €41,000) in aid, while the Taiwanese public has reportedly given another T$2.2 billion. Taiwanese industrial powerhouse Formosa Plastics Group topped the People’s Daily list of corporate donors with a pledge of Rmb100m (£7m, $14m, €9m).
There have also been a flurry of donations by multinationals with large operations in China, including Rmb6m from Volkswagen, the largest car maker, and Rmb5m from Ford, which has factories in Chongqing, next to Sichuan province.
Companies sponsoring Beijing’s August Olympics have been quick to announce assistance, with Samsung offering to send a team of search and rescue specialists alongside a gift of Rmb30m.
And Carrefour, the French retailer which recently became the target of a mainland China boycott, said it would give Rmb2m.
Companies and workplaces from towns around the disaster area have sent in volunteer units with water or food, while individuals have lined up to offer their labour to rescue efforts. Blood banks in Beijing and other cities around the nation have announced they are full, while the national Red Cross has called the public response unprecedented.
There have been discordant notes, including online commentary focusing on the difficulty of being sure that donations will be well spent, with the corruption that pervades Chinese bureaucracy.
Other internet users rail at companies and government departments forcing staff to donate to national appeals. “Each individual in our work unit has to donate Rmb100. It’s turning a good thing into something loathsome,” wrote a blogger.
But many needed little persuasion. A junior employee in a township government in Beijing’s Changping district said her bosses ordered her to donate RMB30 for earthquake relief. Instead she stumped up Rmb100 and made a further private donation after work. “There was no way just RMB30 could express my feelings,” she said.