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China's charitable tycoon feeds homeless in New York City

Tycoon Chen Guangbiao is known in China for being eccentric.

Now Americans are getting a glimpse of the man, who at one point expressed interest in buying The New York Times.

In a modern mashup of East, West, millionaires and America's homeless, Chen—who made his fortune in the recycling business—was hosting hundreds of homeless at a charity lunch in New York City's Central Park.

Early Wednesday, hundreds began to gather outside The Loeb Boathouse. Many guests seemed confused about where they should be, and unsure if they'd be allowed inside the restaurant.

Tuna, sir?

Homeless guests dined on sesame-crusted tuna at a charity lunch in Central Park Wednesday.
Brad Quick | CNBC
Homeless guests dined on sesame-crusted tuna at a charity lunch in Central Park Wednesday.

The menu: Sesame-crusted tuna and filet of beef, with lakefront views.

Dessert: Seasonal berries and fresh whipped cream.

Attire: Casual.

Singing during the lunch: Optional.

East meets West

At a lunch in New York City for the homeless, volunteers donned uniforms of Lei Feng, a Chinese communist propaganda symbol of altruism.
Brad Quick | CNBC
At a lunch in New York City for the homeless, volunteers donned uniforms of Lei Feng, a Chinese communist propaganda symbol of altruism.

It's easy to dismiss the charity lunch as a publicity stunt. Chen recently took out an ad in The Wall Street Journal, complete with a photo of himself with icons Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. He paid for a second, similar ad in the Times. If you can't by the newspapers, you can at least buy ads in them.

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Chen, 46, initially hoped to invite 1,000 homeless and give everyone envelopes containing $300 in cash.

But security concerns raised by homeless advocates and police forced Chen to change his plans. The formal event was smaller, and the money will go to a local shelter. Despite concerns about large crowds, Chen was encouraging the homeless to attend by visiting a shelter and handing out $100 bills.

The tycoon says he's determined to make a difference in the lives of Americans in need of assistance.

Chen says his goal is to encourage charity among China's wealthy, and to change the perception that the country's elite are more concerned with leading lavish lifestyles than with helping others.

From recycle magnate to 'moral leader'

Chen might have made his millions in recycling. But he's now focused on American media outlets.

He first caught the attention of many in late 2013, when he tried to buy the Times. When that attempt failed, Chen expressed interest in buying the Times' opinion section. Chen has since said his focus is now on buying the Journal.

On his business card, Chen lists himself as "China's Moral Leader."

That title is sandwiched between eight other not-so-humble monikers including, the "Most Well-known and Beloved Chinese Role Model."

Outside the restaurant, dozens of Chen fans and detractors had gathered to support and protest the wealthy philanthropist.

So while many Americans might struggle to identify Chen in a crowd, after Wednesday, those who have at least heard of "China's Moral Leader" is sure to have grown.

By CNBC's Brad Quick and Eunice Yoon.

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