Yao Ming thinks China needs more freedom, flexibility


Reuters/Petar Kujundzic Former Houston Rockets center, retired NBA star Yao Ming believes China could use more freedom, International Business Times reported.

Yao has recently complained that his charitable foundation is hampered by Chinese rules limiting to 10 percent the share of contributions that can go toward expenses such as salaries for executives, office space and travel.

The nonprofit Yao Ming Foundation was launched in 2008 following the catastrophic earthquake in Sichuan province, in southwestern China. Under Yao’s guidance, his foundation has subsequently devoted funds to rebuilding schools in the affected area.

He contrasts those strictures to the rules that apply in the United States.

“They have more freedom,” he said, during the World Economic Forum. “They can set up their own rules and principles for donations.”

In China, “the government regulations are quite tight. We don’t have enough flexibility,” Yao underscored.

As a result, he said, his foundation “can’t recruit the most excellent people.” He carefully added, grinning: “It doesn’t mean the people we have aren’t excellent.”

Yao’s comments drew looks of mild surprise from a room full of Chinese and foreign fans.

Known globally as China’s breakout basketball sensation, the 7’5 Yao has long served as a de facto Chinese cultural ambassador. He also occupies a seat in the National People’s Congress, China’s legislature, not traditionally a place for decrying lack of freedom in the Middle Kingdom.

But, as he reflected on his years in the United States, where he anchored the Houston Rockets basketball team for parts of eight seasons, and where he still counts numerous friends, Yao said that Americans enjoy an edge when it comes to philanthropy.

Yao has also led high-profile conservation campaigns, traveling to Africa to decry the killing of elephants for ivory that has flowed in large part to China.

“I was shocked by feelings I could not carry back with the photographs,” he said here, as he recalled a visit to an elephant orphanage where he encountered a 10-day-old baby whose mother had been killed in the ivory harvest.

Yao has also urged Chinese consumers to eschew shark’s fin soup in response to overfishing and has helped raise funds to spread awareness of HIV/AIDS.

Yao’s protestations about the limits on the spending of foundation contributions presented an apparent contrast to the spirit of charity advertised on his website, which notes that he and his wife, Ye Li, “have committed to paying the Foundation’s administrative costs so that 100% of any contribution from the public is directed to the charitable cause.”

“What we lack is flexibility,” Yao said. “We all want to hire people with the highest expertise, but we have no ability to recruit the top people.”

In July 2011, Yao announced his retirement from professional basketball due to a series of foot and ankle injuries which forced him to miss 250 games in his last six seasons.

Yao played 8 years in the NBA – all for the Houston Rockets. He holds career averages of 19 points per game, 9.2 rebounds per game, and 1.9 blocks per game. He appeared in 486 NBA games (476 started), and was selected to the NBA All-Star team 8 times.

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