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Ms Chen Shu-chu, The Most Generous Vegetable Seller

Posted Dec 10 2011 10:35am
Ms Chen Shu-chu, In March this year, Forbes magazine named her A month later, Time magazine selected and she emerged under the Heroes of Philanthropy category. And she has been selected as the winner of the Reader’s Digest’s Asian of the Year Award on November 25.

Ms. Chen Shu chu at her vegetable stall in a market in eastern Taiwans Taitung County.1 Ms Chen Shu chu, The Most Generous Vegetable Seller
Reader’s Digest magazine commended Chen for

“Chen’s work has been because she doesn’t fundraise or seek donations, but rather she goes without, in order to save the proceeds of ,” according to the magazine.

When asked about being honored by Reader’s Digest, a humble Chen brushed off the news, saying “Whether or not I win an award is not important, I’m still going to continue doing what I do.”

Dora Cheok, editor of the magazine’s English-language Asia edition, praised Chen as an example of “ordinary people doing extraordinary things.” She said the award is presented to individuals who and

In its December 2010 issue, Reader’s Digest Asia carries the story of this amazing lady in an article entitled ‘The Generous Vegetable Seller.’ This story is very inspiring and with Christmas round the corner, I hope the story will move people to do their part for the less fortunate of our society.

This blog post of mine will probably end up as my longest post so far. I hope you will really take the time to read the entire post. May you be inspired!

The Generous Vegetable Seller by Esther Liang (published in the December 2010 issue of Reader’s Digest)

After the morning hustle and bustle, the atmosphere at Taitung county’s Central Market quietens as every stall shuts for the day and their owners return to the comfort of their homes.

. With head bowed,

Reader Digest5 Asian of the Year The Generous Vegetabls Seller Chen Shu Chu Ms Chen Shu chu, The Most Generous Vegetable Seller READER DIGEST’S ASIAN OF THE YEAR – THE GENEROUS VEGETABLS SELLER CHEN SHU-CHU Decades of hard work have caused the and ;

Ms Chen leads her life with a daily routine. and sets up her stall, which

, the other stall owners have fondly given her the title of “market manager”.

In the dark and damp market, Ms Chen, nearing her 60s, holds the stall her father left her dearly. Yuan-Jin Vegetables

With her vegetables selling at “a bundle for NT$30 ($1.30), three bundles for NT$50 ($2.15)″, she earns only marginal profits.

Yet, her frugality has allowed her to donate about NT$10 million ($4321,550) towards various charitable causes, including helping schools, orphanages and poor children.

The selfless generosity of a woman with such humble income has placed her under the international spotlight.

In March, Forbes magazine named her one of 48 outstanding philanthropists from the Asia-Pacific region. A month later, Time magazine selected the year’s top 100 influential people and she emerged under the Heroes of Philanthropy category.

TIME magazine Ms Chen Shu chu, The Most Generous Vegetable Seller TIME MAGAZINE’S THE 100 MOST INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE IN THE WORLD Fellow Taiwanese and Oscar- winning director Lee Ang wrote her entry personally. “Money is worthy only if given to those in need,” he quoted Ms Chen. He also wrote: “Amazing, but of all she has given away, her greatest gift is leading by example.”


Despite the honour of receiving the Time award in New York, gaining global recognition, and a personal meeting with President Ma Ying-jeou,

President Ma visiting Chen Shu Chu at her vegetable stall Ms Chen Shu chu, The Most Generous Vegetable Seller PRESIDENT MA VISITING CHEN SHU-CHU AT HER VEGETABLE STALL If not for President Ma and the Foreign Minister personally convincing her to go, she would not have agreed to visit New York, as she felt that “this is not a competition and I did not win anything”.

Amid the frenzy of applying for a passport and preparing for the visit, her main concern was that her regular customers would not get their vegetables.

Chen Shu Chu at 2010 Time 100 dinner Ms Chen Shu chu, The Most Generous Vegetable Seller CHEN SHU-CHU AT THE 2010 TIME 100 DINNER IN NEW YORK . The local authorities decorated her stall with congratulatory posters and banners hailing her as the Pride of Taitung and the Model of Philanthropy.

There are fans who turn up at the stall with a vegetable basket and a camera, hoping for a picture with Ms Chen.

Despite all the attention, she remains humble. “I have done nothing extraordinary and anyone who wants to can do it. There are many other charitable people; we just don’t know about them,” she said. Ms Chen, who is unmarried, added: “I do not place great importance on money. When I donate to help others, I feel at peace and happy, and I can sleep well at night.”

She also feels for the poor, having experienced hardship in her younger days.

Born in 1950, Ms Chen lost her mother after completing her primary-school education.

Ms Chen saw her father asking their neighbours for money, but it was too late to save her mother. She gave up her studies and dedicated her life to helping at the vegetable stall.

When she was 18, her younger brother fell sick and the illness dragged on for over a year, gradually depleting the family’s savings.

Doctors suggested that the family send her brother to Taiwan National University Hospital, but they could not afford the fees.

Mr Huang Shun-zhong, a teacher at Ren-ai Primary School, started a donation drive. Unfortunately,

When her father died 17 years ago, Ms Chen, a devoted Buddhist,

In 2000, to set up an Emergency Relief Fund to help poor children obtain financial help.


Assisting in the setting up and maintenance of the fund is Mr Li Guo-rong, who teaches Ms Chen’s nephew.

In 2001,

When he approached Ms Chen, in the hope that she might contribute NT$50,000, Li was shocked when she said she would fund the entire project. The school was sceptical, but Ms Chen was determined.

In May 2005, the two-storey library was completed and named Chen Shu-chu Library in honour of the “Vegetable Market heroine” alumnus.

Ms Chen’s ability to donate such large sums of money has led many to ask: How can a mere vegetable seller earn so much?

“Spend only what you need, and you’ll be able to save up a lot of money!” said Ms Chen.

Since 1996,

To achieve this, she explained that

“This is a simple act that anyone can do, isn’t it?” she said.

Ms Chen leads a very simple life without any luxuries. She does not have any desire for material gain nor any form of enjoyment.

Work, she said, is her enjoyment. “I love my work. If I didn’t, would I be able to work 16 hours a day?”

Everything else is a luxury. She does not buy expensive clothes as “I do not socialise much, hence, there is no need for such beautiful clothes. The clothes from the roadside stalls are good enough for me, and, even then, I like to bargain”.

a bowl of vegetarian rice and a bowl of noodles for NT NT$55. Freeze whatever that cannot be finished, spend another NT$20 on a can of gluten and add that to the rice with some hot water.

“This becomes porridge and is very tasty,” she said.


when she started working at the vegetable stall.

The comfort of her warm bed made getting up early to go to the wholesaler very difficult, especially during the cold winter months. Hence Ms Chen made up her mind

Has business improved after winning the award? “Business is as usual,” she said. “I still need to sell my vegetables. Not much has changed.”

Chen at work after her US trip Ms Chen Shu chu, The Most Generous Vegetable Seller CHEN AT WORK AFTER HER US TRIP She rejects these advances politely.

“It is easy to return borrowed money, but she said.

“I have to be very careful in handling money matters,” she added. Even when customers tip her, she refuses to accept.

“Buying from my stall is already a form of support,” she explained.

The was for the Bureau of National Health Insurance, She requested all shoots be done beside her stall so as not to affect her business.


Since her return from New York, Ms Chen has been working even longer hours. She has a new goal: To collect NT$10 million to set up a Chen Shu-chu Bursary aimed at helping poor children pay for school fees and medical bills, things she could not afford as a child.

“All I need is to sell a few more vegetables, save a little more money, in addition to a number of insurance policies that are near the end of their term. A lot of people are also willing to donate. I am sure there won’t be any problems,” she said.

Mr Li, who treats Ms Chen like a sister, said that setting up the bursary is actually a good way to let her retire from selling vegetables and start influencing society with her reputation, in the hope that there will be more generous “Chen Shu-chus”.

As for Ms Chen, she said: “My philosophy in life is simple: What others say is not important.”

She is content with what she has and feels that as long as she “lives a life she wishes for and does the things she wants, that is good enough”.

The family survived on the parents’ meager income as vegetable vendors.

she became the youngest vendor in Taitung City’s Central Market, selling vegetables ever since for nearly five decades.

. Her brother told Taiwan’s Liberty Times that , 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.

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 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, 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? ”

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.

Chen with an apron with the 2010 Time 100 Most Influential People wordings in Chinese Ms Chen Shu chu, The Most Generous Vegetable Seller CHEN WITH AN APRON WITH THE 2010 TIME 100 MOST INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE WORDINGS IN CHINESE Chen’s generous giving has set off a nationwide trend, encouraging others of small means to donate to charity.

“The point of Chen’s story is that all of sudden many people found that even though they may not be rich, their tiny but persistent small donations may come as a great help to some people,” said Hu Yu-fang of United Way.

inspired by Chen, . Hu is 88 years old, explaining to reporters that he no longer needs the money.

“Chen is like a seed,” said Phyllis Weng, a senior social worker of the Taiwan Fund for Children and Families in the central Taiwan city of Taichung.

“It has taken deep root in the hearts of many people. Her influence will be far-reaching.”

Chen Shu-chu’s story has great lessons for all of us. It is possible for on the world. Money serves its purpose only when it is used for those who need it.

I am very inspired and humbled by this vegetable seller’s frugality, generosity and most of all her humanity. Her spirit and kindness is what we human beings should aspire to.

Thank you, Chen Shu-chu, for helping to show the way.

t100heroes chen shu chu Ms Chen Shu chu, The Most Generous Vegetable Seller CARRICATURE OF CHEN SHU CHU IN TIME MAGAZINE

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