Huizhou Merchants(I)

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

The success of Huizhou merchants no doubt played a fundamental role in the emergence and growth of Huizhou culture. The term "Huizhou merchants" generally refers to businessmen from the six counties under the broader title of the Huizhou Prefecture-- Shexian, Xiuning, Qimen, Yixian, Jixi and Wuyuan. Researchers generally believe that the Huizhou merchants have origins in the southern Song Dynasty (1127~1279), began preliminary development between the late Yuan Dynasty (1271~1368) and the early Ming Dynasty (1368~1644), to solidify power around mid-Ming period. The merchants flourished during the reign of Jiajing (1522~1567), culminating in power and influence while Qianlong sat on the throne (1736~1796). The turn of the 19th Century saw the beginning of the end for the Huizhou merchants, their power finally dwindling under Jiajing and Daoguang (1796~1851).

The history of the Huizhou merchants spans a period of about 600 years, 300 of which they dominated the region, deservedly occupying a significant place in the history of Chinese commerce. In the Southern Song Dynasty, as the capital was moved from Kaifeng to Lin'an (now Hangzhou), the political and economic centre of the Empire shifted south. This stimulated the economy of neighboring areas and opened China’s southern regions to the introduction of Central Plains culture. Huizhou, conveniently situated between Dingus and Zhejiang Provinces, was significant to the economy of southeastern China as a communication hub between the South and the North. As a result of Huizhou's particular geographic assets and the need for economic development, landowners saw their opportunity and began to take up business.

According to records, by the beginning of the Southern Song Dynasty, the Huizhou people were "engaged in trade every where", selling tea, ink, paper and wood. This is a reasonable claim, as, after Ming Dynasty Emperor Jiajing assumed the throne, the number of merchants amounted to 70% of Huizhou’s population. In fact, there is saying commonly heard throughout China attesting to Huizhou trading acumen: "It is a Huizhou practice that thirteen year-olds start their career in town and at seventeen they do business all over the country". At the young age of 12 or 13, a Huizhou child could expect to begin work as an apprentice in town and not as a farmhand on his father’s property. As a result of a land shortage and a superfluity of manpower, farmers were driven away from their rural lifestyles centered around agriculture, and into more urban forms of making a living. As the Ming Dynasty Anhui Chronicle commented, "Many Huizhou people take up business, because they have no other choice". Generally speaking, Huizhou merchants operated on a small scale, engaging in minor trades, and most of them were under the control of a larger business. They were not born merchants.; their success was a result of various social factors and painstaking efforts to climb a ladder of ambition. The Huizhou Chronicle, of the Jiaqing years (1796~1821), describes Huizhou citizens as "properly dressed, well-spoken... fully aware of prices, knowing when to buy and sell, and gaining extra profits from selling local goods at other places." Despite their overwhelming achievements, the earliest people who left Huizhou to "make a living away from home" never suspected that a flourishing Huizhou business would "spread almost all over the country", and that Huizhou merchants would "gain a national fame".