When the Asian edition of Forbes magazine chose 48 heroes of philanthropy last week, the list included four Taiwanese: Chi Mei Group founder Hsu Wen-lung (許文龍), Evergreen Group founder Chang Yung-fa (張榮發), Wowprime chairman Steve Day (戴勝益) and Chao Wen-cheng (趙文正). Chao who?
It turns out that the fourth Taiwanese on the list is a part-time cleaner at Ta Yi Iron Works in Greater Taichung who earns less than NT$20,000 (US$668) a month. What has he done to be listed alongside Taiwan’s richest people?
The 68-year old Chao, who suffers from fading eyesight and kidney stones, spends half of his day working at the factory and the rest collecting materials for recycling. Every month he donates three-quarters of his salary to charity, and over the past three decades, he has donated more than NT$4 million, sponsoring 13 children living in poverty in Taiwan and abroad. Last year he donated NT$600,000 to the Greater Taichung Fire Department for a new emergency vehicle. Although he donates most of his income to charity and lives a very simple life, his wife fully supports his charitable endeavors.
Chao’s giving can be compared to that of Taitung vegetable vendor Chen Shu-chu (陳樹菊), who has donated more than NT$10 million to help orphans and other children and found a library, among other efforts. In 2010, Chen was selected by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Chao and Chen are common people and the size of their donations does not compare to those made by the rich and powerful.
However, they are doing what many people think about, but fail to follow through on. Chao and Chen have channeled their altruistic spirits into a love for others and performing charitable acts. This love surpasses the egotistic love for oneself and one’s family and Chao and Chen have been able to continue expressing it through charitable actions for decades. It is this exceptional behavior that has turned these everyday people into heroes of philanthropy.
Philanthropy and charity have become increasingly popular in Taiwan in recent years. The actions of Chao and Chen have moved many people and encouraged more to contribute money and effort to public welfare. While their abilities may be economically limited, they form a force that lifts all of society. However, for this force to build more momentum, more economically successful people will have to contribute more of their efforts to charity.
In 2002, Bill Gates, once the world’s richest man, donated US$24 billion to set up an organization aimed at eliminating infectious diseases, helping poor children and providing them with an education in information technology. In 2006, investor Warren Buffett announced that he was donating US$31 billion to the Gates Foundation, making it the world’s most powerful charity organization. In 2006, the two made donation pledges in the hope that other wealthy people would donate some of their fortunes to charity. If their call is heeded, the world will see the formation of a new force for public welfare.
Most wealthy Taiwanese care only for their families and leave their wealth to their children, often resulting in enmity and lawsuits between heirs. If they could emulate the charitable spirit of Chao, Chen, Gates and Buffett — like Hon Hai Chairman Terry Gou (郭台銘), who has announced that he will donate 90 percent of his wealth to society — they would be spreading their altruism to all of society and to future generations.