According to the March issue of Taiwan’s Reader’s Digest, Master Cheng Yen of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation tops the list as the most trusted person in Taiwan. She held a huge 22 percent lead over Lee Chia-tung, the former president of Chi-nan University, who placed second. She was followed by President Ma Ying-jeou in third, Dr. Henry Lee (US-based forensic scientist) in fourth, His Eminence Paul Shan Kuo-hsi, S.J. (Roman Catholic Church Cardinal) in fifth and Master Aki (grand chef of the national banquets) in sixth.
The top choices
Known as the "Asian Mother Theresa," Master Cheng Yen founded the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation in 1966 with a commitment to promote the religious spirit of charity. After every major disaster in Taiwan, Tzu Chi volunteers are first to arrive on the scene to help. With a vast number of volunteers, they are able to match - if not surpass - government agencies with their efficiency in rescue and relief work. Even in remote corners of the earth, Tzu Chi volunteers are often the first to send medical assistance. Master Cheng Yen’s name has been put forward for the Nobel Peace Prize, notably, by the 2008 Nobel Prize winner in Physiology or Medicine Harald zur Hausen who believes she is the most qualified candidate for the honor.
The Digest’s multiple-choice survey polled Taiwanese people about a range of areas. With respect to public welfare, unselfish and high morals, and professionalism, Master Cheng Yen ranked first. She was followed by Cloud Gate Dance Theater founder Lin Hwai-min (5), former president Lee Chia-tung of Chinan University (7), and "the forever civil servant on TV" Chang Hsiao-yen (10). All are long-term volunteers in public service seen to bring social stability.
Others receiving a high degree of trust included movie director Ang Lee (3) and former US Major League Baseball player Wang Chien-ming (8). They are considered to be persistent, focused and highly idealist. Professor Li Ding-chan of The Institute of Sociology in Tsinghua University said. "The top ten are all outstanding professionals and long-term hard workers in their professional fields. They all have the attitude of dedication and stability, no negative news or tricks, thus winning the trust of the people."
Money does not equal trust
Comparatively speaking, those associated with "monetary power" ranked lower. In particular, entrepreneurs’ reputations of being trust-worthy took a beating in the face of the global financial crisis. According to Liu Wei-kong, an associate professor of sociology at Soochow University, "In the last year's financial turmoil, the public showed antipathy for the money game; and the decoupling of social wealth and social responsibility led to low public trust in entrepreneurs"
The only person that bucked this trend was Morris Chang, chairman of the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp., who ranked in ninth place. Although a business owner, Chang gives the impression of honesty. Once at a shareholders’ meeting, Chang warned investors that wafer prices for the next quarter would not be good, asking investors to be conservative.
Foxconn chairman Terry Gou is also ranked in the top 20 at number 14. According to Liu’s analysis, Gou has been actively engaged in public service. "His performance after Typhoon Morakot in August 2009 was better that that of the government. He has a reputation as the Bill Gates of Taiwan."
Media prominence does not equal trust
In the Digest’s survey, the low rankers were politicians, talk show hosts, TV pundits and entertainers. Professor Ku Chung-hua of National Cheng Chi University pointed out, "Taiwan's journalists have their own political stand points, and the media relates sensational news to high ratings. This is the reason why they fail to win public trust." Chang Ly-yun, researcher at the Institute of Sociology at Academia Sinica, said, "It is a great irony. The media, which control public opinion in society, and the politicians, who control the operation of the government, should be trusted by the people because they are all involved with public interests. Instead, they occupy the lower rankings.”
At the same time, being a popular artist does not mean they are trusted. Jay Chou, once named "Asian Little Superstar" holds 52nd place. "You can see the good or bad reputation of the media from Jay Chou’s ranking," said radio host Wang Tzu-sou. "Why should Jay Chou, who was listed by CNN as one of Asia's 25 most influential people in the world, get such a low ranking? One of the possible reasons is that he has been tarnished by his many romantic scandals. So regardless of how prominent you are, once you hurt your image, your credibility is also discounted."
Former presidents trailed at the bottom
According to Reader’s Digest, the survey asked respondents to make a single choice among the most trusted figures, Master Cheng Yen was again ranked first and the national banquet chef Aki came in at sixth place. These rankings did not change, but President Ma Ying-jeou’s ranking jumped to third from 37th place. Political commentator Nanfang Shuo said that this is because Ma enjoys national visibility. In the multiple choices survey, Ma is ignored because respondents picked others, but in the single choice survey, respondents remembered him. It is interesting to note that in the multiple choice survey, former President Lee Teng-hui ranked 75th while another former President Chen Sui-bian came in last at 80th.
Japanese-American scholar Francis Fukuyama said in his book Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity that trust is a form of social capital, and only a high degree of trust in society can lead to the creation of higher economic prosperity. Professor Ku agrees that Taiwan's social trust is indeed in fragile shape, but the operation of a modern society depends on the political and economic systems, not on an individual. "So, trust in individuals is full of risks, not as good as the trust in a system." Ku said that if social trust has been low for a long time, the economy will not recover easily.
In the survey, the Reader’s Digest listed 80 celebrities from all walks of life in Taiwan and asked respondents to pick those they trusted most. The survey was conducted by Digital Edge, which sent out 16,200 e-mails and received 1,003 responses. The final tally was taken from 760 valid responses in late October 2009.
- The Press Division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in San Francisco represents the Government Information Office (GIO), Executive Yuan, Republic of China (Taiwan). GIO maintains nine Press Divisions in the United States, including the San Francisco office. The Press Divisions are in charge of promoting Taiwan's public relations and cultural exchanges. This blog is updated by the Press Division, TECO in San Francisco.
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