This study examined how Hong Kong newspapers constructed charity and what the implications were for Hong Kong's residual welfare state. The Oriental Daily (OD) and the Apple Daily (AD), the two most popular newspapers, with over 50 per cent of Hong Kong's newspaper market, were selected as the objects of study. A total of 155 cases were collected from the social service columns of these two newspapers between 1 August and 31 October 2000. The study found that poor physical health and ‘incomplete family patterns’ were the criteria used to verify the recipients’ dependency, which also formed the basis for charitable welfare entitlements. Moreover, an extremely unequal social status was produced between donors and recipients. The former were accorded high social recognition for their charitable contributions whereas the latter were presented as being desperate, weak and helpless people. In addition, four categories of needs were identified; tradition‐oriented needs, emergency assistance, basic material assistance and basic health needs. The study concluded that Hong Kong newspaper charity has helped to consolidate the basis for a residual welfare state. It also revealed that charity was mainly able to deal only with short‐term and specific needs at a particular point in time. More importantly, it was found that a code of practice is needed for journalists involved in charitable activities in order to safeguard the dignity of recipients.