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Buffett's Trip Moves to Beijing and Controversial Philanthropy Dinner for Wealthy Chinese

Warren Buffett's Billionaires' Road Trip has spent the day in Shenzhen, but most of the attention is going to a dinner to be hosted tomorrow night in Beijing by Buffett and Bill Gates.

A selection of Chinese wealthiest people are on the invitation list, and philanthropy is on the agenda.

Buffett and Gates say they just want to listen and learn about philanthropy in China. They won't be actively seeking donations of pledges.

David Sokol, Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett, and Bill Gates pose for photographs with soccer players in Beijing.
CNBC/Becky Quick
David Sokol, Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett, and Bill Gates pose for photographs with soccer players in Beijing.

But the visit, as phrased by Reuters, "has ignored a fierce debate on the merits — and difficulty — of philanthropy and charity for the country's own colorful band of newly wealthy."

The news service notes that many rich Chinese are traditionally reluctant to discuss their wealth in public because they are "fearful of exposing fortunes larger than the government or rivals had calculated, inviting unwanted attention from tax collectors and hatred from millions of have-nots."

Bill Gates and Warren Buffett tour a BYD factory in China
CNBC/Becky Quick
Bill Gates and Warren Buffett tour a BYD factory in China

But Reuters also points out that charitable giving is not totally unknown in China: "The top 50 philanthropists donated nearly 3.9 billion yuan ($582.9 million) in total last year, according to the 2009 Hurun Philanthropy List, four times the figure from six years ago."

(The dinner, says Reuters, has been "dubbed by media the 'Ba Bi' — Chinese for 'Barbie' — dinner after the Chinese transliterations of their names.")

The Wall Street Journal also reports today (subscription required) on an "unprecedented public discussion about philanthropy" in China, triggered by the Buffett/Gates visit.

CNBC/Becky Quick

CNBC's Becky Quick is traveling with Buffett and Gates and will have extensive coverage of the trip in a series of live reports on CNBC's Squawk Box, starting at 6a ET.

She's also been posting some photographs as part of her Twitter feed.

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