The History of Huizhou & The Politics of Commerce

2010-11-29 作者: Mount Huangshan   信息来源: Mount Huangshan

From 1120, during the reign of the Northern Song Dynasty, to the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, Huangshan was located in what was then called the Huizhou prefecture.

Of course, Huizhou had been a prominent location for centuries before the Song Dynasty-- devotees of the The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a Chinese historical fiction that describing the warring period from 220-280 A.D., will be thrilled to learn that a former residence of General Caocao is located in Huizhou, and nine Cao family tombs have been discovered in the vicinity. This Third Century claim to fame not withstanding, it was not until the middle of the Southern Song dynasty (1127 - 1279) that Huizhou secured the reputation of national importance that it was enjoy over the next 600 years. Under Emperor Gao Zong (r. 1127 - 1187), the Imperial Court climbed to new levels of opulence. It reacted to the threat of a Jurchen invasion by relocating the Imperial capital to Hangzhou and initiating an extensive public works programs. When the Imperial Court arrived at its new site in 1132, it looked to the previously unknown Huizhou merchants to supply bamboo, wood, lacquer and craftsmen for the construction of palaces, pavilions, villas and temples.

This construction boom provided Huizhou traders with capital necessary to fulfill their ambitions. The Huizhou merchants ten expanded into new industries and new provinces, garnering fame and fortune as they went. The cunning merchants took advantage of Huizhou’s prime location between the Zhejiang and Jiangsu Provinces, striking up solid, profitable business relationships in major cities. Before long, Huizhou had become an integral route for trade and communications; local traders then had the opportunity to specialize in selling diversified goods such as tea, grain, silk, cloth, pottery, ink and paper.

Frowned upon by classic Confucian ethics, commerce was a marginal part of Huizhou culture until the early 1100s. At this point, during Emperor Jiajing's reign (1522 ¨C 1567), trade proved to be such an incredible boon to the lifestyle of Huizhou’s citizens that some 70% of Huizhou's population was involved in some form of mercantile activity. Successful as this average trading was, it was not until the Huizhou merchants turned to the high margin salt and pawn broking businesses that they were able to accelerate their expansion. They dominated the industry, spreading to all corners of China and even into some Southeast Asian countries; indeed, it was said that by the reign of Emperor Guangxi (1875 ¨C 1909) all pawnbrokers were from Huizhou!

This newly famous merchant class was clever! By investing in Huizhou's education system, they were able to field many candidates for Imperial examinations and thus influence the Imperial bureaucracy. Between 960 - 1911 as many as 2,018 sons of Huizhou achieved the highest level in Imperial government, conspiratorially working for the interests of their home Province. Commercial advantages like valuable salt monopolies could be maintained and cultivated through artful manipulation of the government.

Another unique attribute of the Huizhou merchants was their response to newly bulging pockets. Having traveled far and wide to seek fame and fortune, Huizhou merchants returned to their homeland to invest their gains in large-scale construction. In the name of personal prestige, ancestral honor, and to strengthen their clan, they built ancestral halls, mansions, memorial arches and bridges; all the architectural splendors that still decorate Huizhou's magnificent landscape!