Education Charity Shanghai Sunrise Celebrates 25 Year Anniversary

By Natalie Hallensleben, January 12, 2022

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One spring day in 2021, Jian Hua Chen, came to Shanghai Sunrise carrying a 20-year-old photo. The photo shows the former scholarship recipient with four of her Shanghai Sunrise sponsors. Jian Hua asked for help identifying them so she could respect her father’s dying wish to thank them for their kindness and generosity.

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Jian Hua Chen with four of her Shanghai Sunrise sponsors

Jian Hua was one of the non-profit organization’s first scholarship recipients. Raised by two disabled parents, Jian Hua experienced economic hardship and big responsibility from an early age.

Her life and that of her family changed thanks to her sponsors’ support: Jian Hua not only completed high school, she went on to obtain a university degree and, since graduation in 2008, has been working at China Construction Bank, leading a fulfilled life with her husband.

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Jian Hua Chen today

The success of Jian Hua and thousands of other students is thanks to British film producer Charlotte Ashby, who founded Shanghai Sunrise in 1996 in order to create access to education for underprivileged Shanghai youth.

In China, education is only free until Grade 9. To this day, the volunteer-led charity provides high school and university scholarships to students from low-income families who struggle to afford all education-related expenses. 

Registered under the Shanghai Charity Foundation (SCF), Shanghai Sunrise strives to empower its graduates to realize fulfilling careers and become positive forces in their communities. In order to find those most in need of financial assistance, Shanghai Sunrise volunteers work closely with SCF and social workers to identify and assess scholarship candidates.

The volunteers conduct a home visit with every family who applies for the scholarship program to verify their personal situation. The charity targets students from low-income families whose income levels are just above the poverty line, but who do not qualify for public support. Many of them are either a single-parent household and/or facing severe medical costs due to chronic or terminal illness. 

Over the past 25 years, Shanghai Sunrise has partnered with numerous individuals, corporations and associations in the community, raising more than RMB35 million and creating more than 12,000 scholarships. Once a student is enrolled in the program, Shanghai Sunrise aims to support the student’s entire high school education and university years, should the student successfully apply.

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Students in the Shanghai Sunrise scholarship program

“For Shanghai Sunrise, 2021 was a milestone, as we celebrate 25 years of giving back to the community and empowering less fortunate youth,” says Shanghai Sunrise Board chairperson Frances O’Rourke. “Since its inception, Shanghai Sunrise has given more than 3,300 students and their families a chance at a brighter future.”

During the 2020/2021 school year alone, the charity provided scholarships to 383 students to continue their education. In 2021, 137 sponsored students graduated from high school or university. 

Besides addressing financial needs, Shanghai Sunrise supports learning outside of the classroom and personal development. Students attend student-sponsor events every year, which broaden their horizons, allow them to build relationships with someone outside their usual environment and connect them with peers who can relate to their challenges.

The charity also organizes activities to give students opportunities to develop their skills such as a “Career Day” or an online “English Corner” to practice English conversation with native speakers.

By giving students from low-income families access to education and personal development, Shanghai Sunrise helps expand their career choices and life opportunities. Among their graduates are administrators, accountants, nurses, teachers, police officers, engineers, artists and managers.

One concept the volunteer-led charity tries to instill in their students is to volunteer and give back. Some alumni continue to be involved with Shanghai Sunrise. In fact, several students have become sponsors themselves – some individually and others as part of an alumni support fund.

“To find so many sponsored students passing on the help they received is most gratifying and proof of our impact,” says Frances.

Jian Hua is one of the alumni giving back. In May 2021, she spoke with her former sponsors who used to work at the Shanghai American School. The teachers were truly touched to know the impact their sponsorship had on Jian Hua and her family. She shared how attending school and participating in Shanghai Sunrise activities helped build her confidence.

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Jian Hua Chen gives a speech to new students entering the Shanghai Sunrise scholarship program

Later that fall, Jian Hua then gave an inspiring speech to the new students entering the Shanghai Sunrise scholarship program at the 2021 Student-Sponsor Pairing Ceremony. She also met the student she will sponsor through high school.

“It's time for me to reward my sponsors and the community in the same way they helped me,” says Jian Hua. “I will not only sponsor the student financially but also, and more importantly, serve as a mentor. I firmly believe that this will be the greatest return to my sponsors and also fulfill my father’s last wishes.”

To make success stories like Jian Hua’s happen, Shanghai Sunrise relies on generous donors and volunteers. With a sponsorship of RMB 6,500 you can help a disadvantaged student go to high school or university for a whole year.

General donations to help cover the charity’s program expenses are welcome as well. The charity also has a wide variety of ways in which volunteers can get involved: finding and keeping sponsors, fundraising, organizing events, writing articles, designing marketing materials or recruiting other volunteers.


Join Shanghai Sunrise at its 25th Anniversary Fundraising Gala on February 12 at Hyatt on the Bund. Please contact gala@shanghaisunrise.com for details.

For information on how to become a volunteer or sponsor, please visit www.shanghaisunrise.com.

Scan the QR to follow Shanghai Sunrise on WeChat:

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[All images courtesy of Shanghai Sunrise]

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