Mr. Lí Chhung-Seng 李春生 長老
1838 – 1924
Lí Memorial Church
Lí Chhung-Seng* was best known for his successful tea-based trading business. He was once considered the second richest man in Taiwan, next to Mr. Lim I-Goân of Pâng-Kio (板橋/林維源.) Yet he is best remembered for his thoughts and how he spent his fortune with an endless loving heart.
The first time I heard of Lí Chhung-Seng (李春生) was when I briefly joined the Taipei YMCA Oratorio Choir under the then music director Rev. Tēⁿ Kím-Eng (鄭錦榮牧師) in 1959 where Mrs. Tēⁿ was the pianist. Rev. Tēⁿ had already been the pastor of the Lí Memorial Church (李春生紀念長老教會) in Taipei for a long time. Since then I have learned of many incredible things Li had done in his lifetime.
Li was born to a poor fisherman’s family. Many of his siblings did not make it to the adulthood. He could not afford to spend much time in school. He simply had to work to get by. Lí entered the business world when he was 15 while learning the streetwise business experiences and the English language from British businessmen.
At the age of 19 he was promoted to work as the treasurer of an international company in Amoy and expanded his visions and experiences rapidly. With his earned trust he was sent to Taipei Taiwan in 1866 to develop the business “network” at Báng-Kah (艋舺 a k a 萬華.) Lí soon began to assist John Dodd, a British businessman who had helped Rev. George L Mackay (馬偕牧師) much in early days, in the import/export tea business between Mainland China and Taiwan. With the success of the growing tea trade in northern Taiwan, their business took off and never looked back. The tea made in Taiwan soon became world famous.
In 1889, Lí Chhung-Seng and Lim I-Goân invested their wealth to help the public buildings in Toā-Tiū-Tiâⁿ (大稻埕) area which turned into the most prosperous district in Taipei in the early 20th century. Líearned a household name of “Lí-Powered by the Westerners” (番勢李春生 or 番勢李仔春) due to his influential foreign relationships.
Lí once spent 64 days touring Japan and was totally surprised by what he saw. He thus opened up the chance for the young Taiwanese to study aboard, especially to Japan. He was also believed to be the first Taiwanese spending more than a year traveling around the world.
Lí became a Christian in his early teens and was never shy of showing his faith to people. In his home, there was daily Bible study, prayers and religious discussions. He was elected as an elder at Toā-Kio church (大橋長老教會 a k a 大龍峒教會) in 1901. He contributed almost half of the church annual budget while he gave away more to the needed. Lí was also known for his strong positions against evolutionary theories and Liberalism. In his world, all things were in the hands of the Creator.
In Taiwan, almost all memorial churches were named after missionaries. Lí’s memorial church in Taipei was the very first with a Taiwanese namesake.
Most people did not see Lí as just a business man. He was much more than business and money. He was also a thinker, a writer, an adventurer, a giver, a dedicated Christian, and a Taiwanese. Lí’s insightful details can be found in his writing, “Journal of a Blockaded Resident in North Formosa during the Franco-Chinese War, 1884-1885” (published in 1888.)
He spent much time in defending Christianity – with writings - in a fundamentally folk religion island whenever he felt necessary. Lí donated money and lands to the institutions like Cheh-Lâm Church (濟南教會,) Toā-Tiū-Tiâⁿ church (大稻埕教會/1915, single handedly) both in Taipei and as far as Taichung First High School.
Money comes and goes. The real treasures are in Lí's deeds and writings. It is our Taiwanese honor and duty to keep, publish and study Li’s life and books which include philosophy, folk religions, Christianity, history, and Biblical interpretations.**
* The Romanized Taiwanese pronunciation of the names and places are used in this article whenever available/possible.
** Some of Lí’s books:
-- Some Lí Chhung-Seng’s websites:
-- Special thanks to Dr. Che-hong Chen of Fremont, CA who provided much of Lí’s data