Asteroid named after Taiwanese philanthropic vendor

Chen Shu-chu when she was still working at the vegetable market.

Chen Shu-chu when she was still working at the vegetable market. (CNA photo)

An asteroid discovered by Lulin Observatory in Nantou County, operated by Taiwan's National Central University, has been named after Taiwanese philanthropic vendor Chen Shu-chu (陳樹菊), according to the Taitung County government.

The asteroid No. 278986, which was discovered by the observatory 10 years ago, has now been officially renamed "Chen Shu-chu," while another asteroid No. 281561 has been named "Taitung," the county government said.

The two asteroids were discovered by the observatory, which then spent 10 years seeking naming rights from the International Astronomical Union.

On Wednesday, Jou Jing-yang, president of National Central University, attended a ceremony in Taitung where he presented two certificates to Taitung County Magistrate Justin Huang detailing the new names of the asteroids.

Chen, who now lives in Kaohsiung after working as a vegetable vendor at the Central Market in Taitung City for more than half a century and retiring in April, also took part in the event.

"I never thought this could happen to me," she said emotionally.

Chen, 68, became a household name in Taiwan after her good deeds were brought to light by local and foreign media.

She was honored as one of the 100 most influential figures listed by Time Magazine in 2010 for contributing over NT$10 million (US$325,000) to different charitable causes. In the same year, she was also named one the 48 heroes of philanthropy by Forbes Asia.

In 2012, Chen was one of six winners of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for helping the poor, receiving a US$50,000 cash prize, which she donated to the Taitung branch of Mackay Memorial Hospital.

Chen's mother died during childbirth when she was at elementary school. As a result, she started to sell vegetables at the family stall at the age of 13 to help her father raise her younger siblings.

Chen, who never married and leads a frugal life, has donated every penny she earned over the past two decades to charity, motivated by a desire to help people as her family was helped by others when she was younger.

"Money serves its end only when it can help people in need," she once said. (By Lu Tai-cheng and Flor Wang)