Written by Audrey Cheng
Translated by Yao-yang Tang & Audrey Cheng
Edited by Dilber Shatursun
Hearing the word “lawyer,” images of pinstripe suits, poker faces, and shrewd personas may come to mind. None of these apply, however, to attorney Tim Chang, J.D., who instead uses sincerity, warmth, and balanced judgement to win the trust of his clients. These are qualities inspired by the example and legacy of his father, Nai-Liang Chang, a former prosecutor and humanitarian in whose footsteps Tim has followed all the way to Tzu Chi.
As a child, Tim’s family moved with his parents from the neighborhood of Shilin to the 9th Judicial Village on HangZhou South Road in Taipei. The Village was housing built especially for those who worked for the Taipei District Court, including Tim’s father. Tim grew up playing with the children of other judges and prosecutors and interacted with their parents daily. Even from a young age, the seeds of a career in law were subconsciously planted in his mind at an early age. Yet, Tim’s father was no ordinary legal practitioner.
Nai-Liang Chang has received numerous commendations through his work, including the “Nation’s Highest Distinguished Service Award for a Judicial Officer” – awarded to him personally by Chiang Kai-shek, the former President of Taiwan. In the 60s, he received the United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights for his meritorious services in criminal prosecution and was subsequently sent to the United States and Australia for a judicial tour and visit. Nai-Liang later served as the Chief Judge of the Criminal and Juvenile Courts of the Taipei District Court, and a Judge of Taiwan’s High Court. He left the judiciary at the age of 47 and went to the United States for further study through his Juris Doctor degree.
After, Nai-Liang returned to Taiwan, became a practicing lawyer and was retained as legal adviser to various government ministries. He also served as an official advisor to the Executive Yuan, the executive branch of the Taiwanese government. He also began working in higher education as both an adjunct and assistant professor of law. Nai-Liang’s wife, too, Yue Wang, was a teacher at Blessed Imelda’s School, the oldest Catholic school in Taiwan, and Shilin Junior High School. With both of them as parents, their example left an indelible mark on Tim, who would start a new chapter in the United States.
A Young Man’s Journey
By the time Tim was ready for college, he received a scholarship that allowed him to attend the University of Southern California in Los Angeles where he initially majored in electrical engineering. Then, he switched to international studies and, in the footsteps of his father, went on to law school where he earned his Juris Doctor degree from the Pacific McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento. He also received certification in corporate governance from Tulane University School of Law in New Orleans.
Tim began his legal career in civil litigation. But, he soon discovered working in an adversarial context was incompatible with his personality and character. Tim gradually switched to non-litigation work (including commercial law, mergers and acquisitions, securities laws, etc.) as the United States began to see a vibrant growth in trade and investment activities from East Asian countries including Taiwan, China, and Hong Kong in the 90s. Several Taiwanese corporations and an international bank even sought out Tim’s expertise in corporate governance and retained him as independent Board Director. He is now a partner at Musick Peeler & Garretts, LLP.
In 2009, Tim co-authored a popular book in Chinese on transnational taxation for immigrants in the U.S. from Taiwan and China. Despite having lived in the US since high school, Tim has regardless joked that his Chinese language skills would “not be able to put food on the table for my family.” With specialized legal vocabulary, Tim faced a steep learning curve. However, overcoming it would mean he would enjoy a competitive, bilingual advantage over his peers.
A New Generation of Compassion
In college, Tim came across Tzu Chi. His grand-aunt was Manzi Wei Xie, the starring actor of the Da Ai Drama, “Manzi at Home.” She was also a senior instructor of Jing Si flower arranging courses. Time accompanied her on a visit to the Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital (near completion at the time) and the Jing Si Abode in Hualien, Taiwan. Deeply moved by the Master’s mission to improve health care there, Tim’s parents contributed money for the construction of the hospital as well as a patient room and two beds.
Since the 1980s,the Chang family has been making monthly donations to the Tzu Chi Foundation. Becoming more involved in and impassioned by Tzu Chi, Tim’s father Nai-Liang even became a legal advisor for the Foundation and taught law to the first class of students of Tzu Chi’s Nursing School in its initial year of establishment.
One of Nai-Liang’s clients introduced his daughter to Tim. Her name is Lucy Huang. They married and began living in San Marino in Los Angeles. Lucy is also a high achiever, having received a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master in education. After graduation, she went into business with her father and co-founded Charter Enterprise, a kitchen equipment company. She and her family have been disciples at the Fa Kwang Temple and have supported Tzu Chi as well.
Tim and Lucy have two teenage daughters named Tiffany and Kimberly. They, too, have a charitable spirit. When they discovered neonatal units at their local hospitals were short on hats to keep premature babies’ heads warm, the girls recruited their classmates to knit hats. They then donated them to nurseries and neonatal intensive care units at various hospitals.
This effort became what is now Madhatter Knits, a 501(c)(3) non-profit with chapters on both coasts of the United States. This summer, Madhatter Knits volunteers also worked with Tzu Chi USA to make COVID-19 kits for new mothers and protective facial covers for babies. Yet, the Chang family’s expanding contributions have not gone unnoticed.
On February 21, 2007, the Changs were featured on the front page of the Los Angeles Times in the article, “Feeling the Tug of Tradition: As Commercial Ties with China Expand, Chinese Americans Are Acquiring New Interests in Old Ways.” Tiffany, who was featured in the newspaper photo, recently participated in the Center for Future Global Leaders (CFGL) Young Artist Competition and became a finalist. Tim has been especially proud of his daughters for their growing achievements, thoughtfulness, and willingness to put compassion into practice.
An Unforgettable Impression
In 1998, Tzu Chi USA was in need of more legal guidance as it was expanding its operations in the United States. Dharma Master Cheng Yen encouraged Vice President Biyu Lin and Sister Debra Boudreaux to consult Nai-Liang Chang. At the end of their meeting, Nai-Liang grinned and said, “the person Master is looking for isn’t me, but my son, Tim Chang. He practices law in California.” This was a eureka moment for the team.
Tzu Chi USA’s headquarters was based in California at the time, and Tim had lived in the same county! It seemed as if destiny had brought Tzu Chi and him together. He later also provided legal services to a few Buddhist temples and organizations in Southern California and served as a Trustee on the Board of the University of the West.
Recalling his first encounter with the Master in 1998, Tim met Master Cheng Yen at Hualien’s Jing Si Hall. He arrived just in time to join Master for lunch, who didn’t talk much during the meal. She told him, “eat more. Let’s talk later.” Master finished her meal so quickly and left the table before Tim could finish. As he would later find out, Master lived her life by counting in matters of seconds – not wasting any time.
In the following year, an earthquake hit Taiwan on September 21, 1999. It devastated many communities, killing 2,415 people, injuring 11,305, and destroying 51,711 buildings and homes. Tim made an appointment to see Master Cheng Yen before the earthquake and asked if he should cancel the meeting. The response was to proceed as scheduled. He flew to Hualien, Taiwan a couple weeks after the earthquake.
In the interest of time, Master asked Tim to accompany her as she visited temporary housing and disaster relief sites so the two of them could discuss their affairs along the way. Tim was shocked with what he saw. From all across Taiwan, Tzu Chi volunteers were building temporary shelters for earthquake survivors left homeless.
From the bus they travelled on, Tim saw trucks upon trucks arriving with materials, and swarms of volunteers surrounding the Master. To him, she was a savior and beacon of strength and resolve in the midst of chaos. During the day, Tim also sat in and listened as architects and volunteers reported to the Master about reconstruction and relief status. The entire experience left a deep impression on him.
It has been more than 20 years that Tim has offered his legal services to Tzu Chi USA. His work for the organization has included legal matters related to tax exemptions, real estate, gifting, board governance, daily operations, finance, as well as assistance in the application for NGO association with the United Nations’ Department of Public Information. He also fulfilled his wish to become a Tzu Chi honorary board director through his charitable contributions to Tzu Chi USA. Tim has also recruited each of his parents-in-law and friends to do the same.
On Dr. William Keh’s invitation, Tim currently serves on the board of the Tzu Chi Medical Foundation. Tim humbly commented: “Though I’ve not gone through Tzu Chi commissioners’ training, I’ve always considered myself one with Tzu Chi. It is now my desire to follow in the Master’s footsteps for the rest of my life.”
Another Path Begins
What marked Tim the most was the Master’s persistence and understanding of time and effort. He said, “Master’s teachings with her disciples never seemed to involve profound and difficult Buddhist doctrines. She is a sincere person. People who talk to her are moved to action by her sincere dedication to relieve the poor and devotion to compassion. Every time the Master said to me, ‘put your heart into action,’ I take it as momentum to live a fuller life.”
For years, Sisters Mary Keh and Debra Boudreaux encouraged Tim to participate in the commissioner’s training. Because he was busy with his business, he had put it off. When Tim went to Tzu Chi USA on his first day of the training class, a couple of sisters were confused. He had been among Tzu Chi volunteers for so long they had thought he was already a commissioner!
After his training, Tim held adeeper appreciation of what the Master meant by “exercising diligence by putting compassion into action.” Not only must he be attentive to Tzu Chi’s matters, but he must also be attentive of all things he encounters in his daily life. Many people come to Tzu Chi because of the Master’s virtues. Most people come to Tzu Chi to help others. In the process, they are moved and transformed by the suffering they see and the services they performed; at the end, coming to Tzu Chi is finding a way of life that can transform the essence of who we are.
After seeing how Tzu Chi volunteers have gone through so much adversity, Tim believes that Tzu Chi people should not just do charitable deeds; they should also protect Tzu Chi’s tenets and stand up for their beliefs. This way, the pureness and goodness of people’s hearts are not blinded nor tainted. One way he has sought to do this is by sharing about Tzu Chi through his social media accounts, including Facebook.
This kind of outreach helped so much that a friend of his asked to join Tzu Chi’s distribution event after seeing a post. Another called Tim up wishing to make a donation for an honorary directorship. This led Tim to understand social media’s power and effectiveness in inspiring others.
One example is the story of Ken Larsen. Mr. Larsen had been a friend of Tim’s wife, Lucy, for over 30 years. When pandemic began, Mr. Larsen’s daughter, who works at the ICU of Valley Presbyterian Hospital had told her father of how short she and her colleagues were on N95 respirators while treating COVID-19 patients. Mr. Larsen appealed to Tim for help, and Tzu Chi Medical soon came through.
Through this story, Tim’s Facebook friends, including his mother-in-law, were moved to action. She quickly donated money to Tzu Chi to purchase more PPE. Tim quoted Master Cheng Yen’s kindness on Facebook: “Wearing a mask can only cure the symptoms, but a vegetarian diet can solve the COVID-19 issue.” Next, some of his friends began sponsoring Tzu Chi Medical’s “A Better Meal, A Better Earth” fundraiser, which provided vegetarian lunch boxes for the hospital and the healthcare community.
Through his work and commitment to community, Tim Chang is an outstanding example of a life inspired by compassion, generosity, and humanity – things instilled in him by his father, that will continue to inspire many generations to come.