Time Magazine’s Hero: A Vegetable Vendor from Taiwan

May 13, 2010 Updated: October 1, 2015

PHILANTHROPIST: Ms. Chen Shu-chu at her vegetable stall in a market in eastern Taiwan's Taitung County.  (The Epoch Times)
PHILANTHROPIST: Ms. Chen Shu-chu at her vegetable stall in a market in eastern Taiwan's Taitung County. (The Epoch Times)
On a typical day in eastern Taiwan, at one local market, you will see an older woman, often attired in an apron, chanting “Fifty dollars [US$1.50] for three bunches [of vegetables]” from her tiny stall. Chen Shu-chu, 60, has maintained the same routine for 47 years—but she recently took some time off to travel.

Chen walked the red carpet at New York's Lincoln Center with Sarah Palin, even exchanging a few words with her through a translator. Chen was honored by Time magazine as one of the 25 heroes, and Palin as one of the 25 leaders, for Time magazine’s "100 Most Influential People Gala."

Chen has scrimped and saved, penny by penny, on a modest income, somehow managing to donate nearly NT$10 million [US$320,000] to various causes, “including $32,000 for a children's fund, $144,000 to help build a library at a school she attended, and another $32,000 for the local orphanage, where she also gives financial support to three children,” according to a Time magazine article written by Oscar-winning director, Ang Lee.

Ang Lee, a fellow countryman, sang her praises, “What's so wonderful about Chen's achievement is not its extraordinariness, but that it is so simple and matter-of-fact in its generosity.”

Chen was born to impoverished parents with eight children. The family survived on the parents’ meager income as vegetable vendors.

After her mother died, she took over her parents’ business, and at the age of 13, she became the youngest vendor in Taitung City’s Central Market, selling vegetables ever since for nearly five decades.

She had never married, although the opportunity presented itself in her early 20s. Her brother told Taiwan’s Liberty Times that their father asked her to postpone her wedding to support the family until her younger siblings finished their schooling, and Chen’s sweetheart eventually married someone else. From then, working at her stall in the market to sell vegetables became the main priority of her life.

Her routine consists of getting up at 2:30 a.m. to purchase vegetables from a wholesale market, opening her business between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m., and closing up shop at around 9 p.m.

Chen is accustomed to working long hours to save money to help others, fueled by her own unique motivation for giving back. When she was still in elementary school, her mother and younger brother became ill, but the family could not afford to hospitalize them. Authorities from her school asked staff members and students to donate money to help the family out. With their assistance, both mother and brother were able to go to the hospital.

She said because she had been helped by others in the past, she vowed to also help the poor. She says that’s how she has found happiness, and even when physically challenged, she perseveres to sell vegetables at the market.

"Money serves its purpose only when it is used for those who need it," she said in a newspaper account.

When asked why she was so generous in donating her hard-earned money, she said, “I accumulate virtue instead of wealth. Life is short, and you don’t know when you will die. I don’t have a son, so what would I do with all the money I have saved? I might as well just do good deeds and accumulate virtue.”

Although Chen has become one of Taiwan’s hottest media stars since she was chosen as a Time magazine 2010 role model, success has not spoiled her. She has asked the media not to hang around, as she wants to get back to her usual routine of selling vegetables in the market right away.

Upon her return to Taiwan, Chen enthusiastically told the media, “I can’t wait to go back to the market to sell vegetables. I want to make and donate another NT$10 million! [US $320,000]."

Read the original Chinese article. http://tw.epochtimes.com/10/5/6/138075.htm