Huizhou Merchants(II)

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

Huizhou’s grip on trade was all encompassing, selling tea, grain, salt, silk, cloth, wood, paint, paper, ink, pottery, and simply anything else that proved to be profitable. Through some merchants opened teahouses, restaurants and hotels, the salt trade and pawn-broking businesses were the most lucrative of their endeavors. Pawn- broking, in those days, was actually a form of usury. Wei Chaofeng, a Huizhou pawnbroker depicted in fantastic stories, deprived a scholar of his real estate in three years' time by changing him exorbitant interest rates. By the late 19th Century, one could hardly find a pawnbroker who was not from Huizhou, for there was "no place too far for Huizhou merchants to expand". They pressed eastward to the north of Jiangsu, went west to Yunnan, Guizhou, and Gansu, north to the surrounding areas of Liaoning, and south, to Fujian and Guangdong. In even further bursts of expansion, they sailed to Japan, Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries, their footmarks left on "almost half of the globe".

The resourceful Huizhou merchants were well versed in the principles of trade, fully recognizing from what body came the hand that fed them. By maintaining close friendships with the ruling party and firmly aligning themselves with the court, these businessmen occupied a position of the utmost power and influence. Their strategy was to "provide funds for academic pursuits with business profits, get political positions through academic pursuits and ensure business profits from the political positions," thus illustrating the close link between education, politics, and power during this era. Bent on establishing academies, schools, examination centers, and cultivating feudal intellectuals to consolidate the patriarchal clan system, the five counties of Shexian, Xiuning, Yixian, Qimen, and Jixi managed to produce an incredible 2,108 "Jinshis," or people who passed the final imperial examination. The exams were held every three years and presided over by the emperor, who then selected a successful few for title holding. Later, during the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368~1911), the literary works of 343 people from Shexian County alone were included in Best Poems or Best Essays. There are stories about "three successive Jinshis from one place, four Hanlina (members of the Imperial Academy) within ten li", "father and son both ministers", "brothers both prime ministers" and "three generations of imperially-honored courtiers." Academic studies and etiquette both greatly advocated, Huizhou was a cradle for talented scholars with achievements in various domains. Huizhou culture, enriched through these achievements, welcomes visitors from far and wide with splendid displays of arts and a wide range of interesting history.