Wen Sung-chen (溫送珍) prizes good personal relationships above all else, and since his retirement, he has made it his mission in life to get people to build the relationships between one another that once existed naturally.
“In the old days we put a heavy emphasis on the relations we had with others, and [as a result] we had a peaceful society. Interaction between people in modern times is becomming ever weaker, as evidenced by the fact that we don’t even care to greet people who live in the same building as us,” Wen said.
Wen was born to a Hakka farming family in Miaoli County’s Nanjhuang Township (南庄) during the Japanese colonial period. He had heard one of his neighbors say that Taipei residents were “ankle-deep in cash” and decided to go to Taipei to find a job after graduating from school in Nanpu.
Before the Japanese Empire started conscripting Taiwanese men to fight in World War II, he managed to save some money by working at a matting and framing store near Nanmen Market, where he was paid NT$12 (US$0.41) per month and given free room and board.
Wen said he was lucky to escape having to go to the battlefield as Japan surrendered to the Allied forces just as he was waiting at Kaohsiung Harbor for his transport ship to the South China Sea.
After Japan’s surrender, Wen used his savings to start up a cosmetics store on Nanchang Road, but his initial sales were low. After finding that he could sell two boxes of soap a day, he used his funds to buy more everyday necessities, which led to a boom in business. The store expanded and eventually become the Dayuan Department Store.
Wen was one of the first Hakka to make a living in Taipei, and his success was widely spoken of back in his home village of Nanjhuang. As a result, he was often asked to temporarily house or show around and find work for young people who had come from Nanjhuang to make their fortunes.
“I’ve been through the hardships of being alone in a new city, and I hoped to be of help for other young men whenever possible,” Wen said.
However, Wen said that when he was expanding his business into a department store, he did not have the time to help his former neighbors, even though he wanted to.
After seeing his children grow into adulthood and retiring at the age of 55, Wen finally had free time and devoted himself to public welfare groups such as local Hakka societies and the Buddhist Compassionate Relief Tzu Chi Foundation. He has been devoted to public welfare ever since.
At the age of 68, Wen also became a member of the Zhongzheng District (中正) mediation committee and remained on the committee for 18 years until he stepped down in 2010.
Wen only received an elementary-school education, and by comparison with the other committee members, who were mostly lawyers, his level of education was quite basic, but Wen said that empathy was the key to getting the job done.
“We often dealt with complaints we felt were unimportant, but the people who brought them in felt they were serious. Only by putting ourselves in their position were we able to understand the gravity of their situation,” Wen said, adding that many times he had wept for complainants once he had fully understood their position.
The head of the committee, Kuo Chu-niang (郭助娘), who had worked with Wen for many years, said that he “is an elder worthy of respect. He never gets angry, and does not boast about the good things he had done. He is also very heavily devoted to education because he feels that he was not very well educated.”