“I do feel that each person should try to find a cause or causes that they are passionate about, rather than what is fashionable at the time.”
“I believe success in life is not based in assets gained or knowledge acquired. It is how we make use of what we have to contribute to society,” said Cyrus Tang in an interview with Los Angeles Times in 2008. Cyrus Tang is one of the longest-standing and continuous philanthropists among Chinese Americans today. Leading Tang Industries, a diversified holding company engaged in manufacturing metals, Mr. Tang is the CEO of the largest minority-owned steel fabricating companies in the United States.
Born in Suzhou, China, and now residing in Las Vegas, Nevada, Mr. Tang conducts his philanthropic work through two entities; one is focused on the United States and the other on China. The Cyrus Chung Ying Tang Foundation directs its activities in the United States. Its mission is to foster greater understanding and mutual respect between the United States and China through effective investment in community service, civic activities, and cultural exchanges. In addition, the foundation is involved in the promotion of education and healthcare for Americans. The foundation’s various programs reflect Mr. Tang’s desire to express his gratitude to this country for the generosity and opportunities offered him. The Cyrus Tang Foundation focuses its activities in China. Its mission is to improve the quality of life in disadvantaged communities through effective investments in education and public health and by fostering community spirit. While a minimum 70% of foundation funds are directed toward education programs, most of these programs carry with them a community service component. The purpose of the community service aspect is to emphasize and to encourage the spirit of caring and compassion for others, and to promote civic mindedness.
Among the factors that motivate Mr. Tang’s giving, education is foremost. “My focus has typically been on education in both China and the United States. Education is one of those areas that has the potential to produce exponential social returns,” said Mr. Tang. Illustrative gifts include donations to educational and health entities within the United States as well as in China. Shanghai Jiaotong University received USD 16 million (RMB 100 million) in 2014 for translational medicine, and the RAND Corporation, a research center based in Southern California, received a grant of USD 2 million (RMB 12 million) in 2007 for the Tang Institute for U.S.–China Relations.
A second key motivation of Mr. Tang’s giving is crosscultural understanding. The Cyrus Tang Hall of China at the Field Museum of Chicago, opened in June 2015, is the newest permanent exhibition since 2011. The exhibition is the largest anthropology-focused exhibition on China’s culture and history in the United States. Mr. Tang observed that “the Field Museum has over 2 million visitors every year and this exhibit will help bridge understanding between the USA and China.” It represents a significant addition to not only the museum’s coverage of world cultures but also to the museum’s relationship with China. Tang’s previous gifts to the Field Museum of Chicago exceeded USD 7 million (RMB 42 million) and have supported anthropological and biological research in China. Mr. Tang described the importance of better understanding China and stated, “Another theme that is important to me is cross-cultural ties between China and the USA. Being a Chinese American, I feel I have a responsibility to try to help bridge the gap between the two cultures to everyone’s benefit.”
Having an impact is a very significant aspect of Mr. Tang’s giving. “For me, the impact of the donation or program
is what matters most. We are a private foundation with finite resources; hence, it is critically important for the funds to be used well and with maximum impact,” said Mr. Tang. As an example, Mr. Tang cited a university scholarship program he has funded as having significant impact. The program in China selects students based on civic engagement and encourages the scholarship recipients to engage in service and philanthropic activities. “Many of our scholarship recipients have gone on to continue the spirit of philanthropy and civic engagement in their day-to-day lives,” Mr. Tang noted. Another example is the calculated return on investment of a rural development project. According to Mr. Tang, the project increased the annual per capita income of participating villages from USD 170 (RMB 1,037) per person to nearly USD 1,200 (RMB 7,320) per person over the course of five years. Other measures of impact that Mr. Tang described include:
➤ From 2006 to 2013, 48,313 scholarship recipients were funded by the Cyrus Tang Compassionate Heart Scholarship program. Awardees were middle school and high school students in rural Chinese counties.
➤ From 1996 to 2003, 251 primary schools were built in impoverished rural areas of China.
➤ From 1998 to 2007, 17 reports and publications were generated by Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles. Reports addressed voter and demographic analyses, poll monitoring, vote and census counts,
and voter education and registration. These reports and profiles have educated millions of Americans about Asian Americans and have fostered civic engagement by many.
While measures of success are important, Mr. Tang returns to the heart of philanthropy. Reflecting on the importance of reviewing programs, he noted that “it is far more important to us to work with trusted partners that have shown to be responsible and effective in the past.”
BEING CHINESE AMERICAN
Mr. Tang is distinct in his sponsoring of grassroots and civic engagement activities, especially among Chinese American philanthropists. While education and cross-cultural understanding remain prominent themes in his giving, he also recognizes the importance of facilitating Chinese Americans’ full participation in American society. His gifts have encouraged community service or participation in civic life, especially among youth and immigrants, and he seeks to instill a spirit of compassion, caring, and civic-mindedness. He invests in people, especially students, who give back to society. One example was that a number of scholarship students went to the earthquake-ravaged area of Sichuan in 2008 to investigate what direct relief the residents needed. They communicated those needs to the Tang Foundation which immediately sent hundreds of tents to the affected area.
Mr. Tang takes a long-term view to philanthropy and suggests that future philanthropists avoid fads. “I do feel that each person should try to find a cause or causes that they are passionate about, rather than what is fashionable at the time.” Mr. Tang’s historic commitment to building U.S.–China relations exemplifies this sentiment. In describing U.S.–China relations, he expressed fatigue with the current rhetoric among politicians in both countries: “In reality, the U.S. and China have far more in common than differences. It is one of my objectives...to show how similar we all are and how many of our interests are aligned.”