Xiang Haiqing, a 22-year-old Shanghai Fisheries University student, gained a bit of fame recently for his split with his sponsor, Sun Li, a popular actress starring in several TV series.
A student from an impoverished family in rural Chongqing, Xiang has been supported by Sun and her mother since 2002.
She paid his yearly tuition of 6,000 yuan (US$768) after his entry in 2005 and 500 yuan a month for living expenses. She also bought him a mobile phone and sent medicine to his sick mother. But the deal fell apart in December 2005 over a disagreement about how to spend the money.
The dispute didn't make headlines until last November. "Sun's mother scolded me for asking for too much money," Xiang was quoted as saying, stressing that as a student officer, he needed more money for social activities.
Sun Li said that Xiang used the money on matters other than life and study. At that point Sun decided to stop covering Xiang's living expenses but continues to pay his tuition.
The incident raised the issue of whether sponsors have the right to dictate how their benefactors use the money.
A Qiu, a TV program host with China Central Television Station:
"To make the sponsor-benefactor relationship sustainable, it is more sensible to make a deal between the two regarding how the money should be used. I believe that well-intended donors should not impose unreasonable requirements. They may just ask their benefactors not to drink or visit karaoke, which is reasonable."
Li Mingshuang, a student at Peking University:
"The 500 yuan should have been enough for most Chinese students. But it hurts one's self-esteem to have to receive and adhere to rules imposed by their sponsors. And there might be frequent misunderstandings between the two sides as they inevitably have different expectations. I would rather not receive such a sponsorship if any kind of conditions were imposed."
He Dong, a popular media commentator:
"What's worth thinking behind the debate is that although the country now has dozens of charity foundations, there are still many people who don't trust the practices of those organizations and choose to support the poor directly by themselves. But a person-to-person sponsorship lacks effective regulation and often ends up in sorrow for both sides."
Chen Hongtao, a branch director with the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation:
"Poor students who receive sponsorships from others should never feel ashamed. Instead, they have to be confident and face their lives positively. My foundation has supported about 30,000 poor students in the past four years, but we always limit the sum of money every benefactor gets in order to prevent him or her from misusing the money and adopting an unhealthy lifestyle."
Zhang Qihuai, lawyer in Beijing:
"There is no legal boundary on person-to-person sponsorships, and it is totally based on personal willingness on matters including when to initiate or end a sponsorship and how much to donate. No one has the right to interfere into another's business and force them to stop or continue the sponsorship. But I believe both the sponsor and the benefactor should communicate well."
(China Daily January 5, 2007)