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Hu Xueyan Biography


 

Hu Xueyan (胡雪岩, 1823-1885) was the most famous merchant representatives from Huizhou, today’s Huangshan. He boasted the sage of Chinese business and had a special and superior title – Red Hat Businessman(红顶商人, merchants wearing the red-color official hat in Qing Dynasty, or merchants doing business in the name of official, who is just like today’s leaders of state-owned companies in China). Today, what we partially see his contributions through two great cultural sites in HangzhouHangzhou Huqingyutang National Traditional Chinese Medicine Museum, and the Former Residence of Hu Xueyan.


The Profile of Hu Xueyan

Xueyan actually was his courtesy name, and his real name was Hu Guangyong (胡光墉). He was born in Jixi, Huizhou, made his efforts to explore and develop his personal business empire from a poor apprentice to an unbeatably rich businessman with a great official support. In his early period, he opened a medicine store, and then acted as an official assistant in Zhejiang provincial administration to help prepare the finance and weapons.

In 1861, under the threat of Taiping Heavenly Kingdom’s troop, Hu Xueyan helped Wang Youling(王有龄), the provincial governor of Zhejiang, to buy the ammunition, food and collect the money to support the fight against the insurgence, but they were finally defeated, and Hangzhou was occupied, and Wang Youling got suicide. In 1862, Qing troop got Hangzhou back, and Hu Xueyan was recommended by Jiang Yifeng(蒋益灃), a high official of Zhejiang province, to Zuo Zongtang, who was the governor of Fujiang and Zhejiang provinces.

In 1866, he assisted Zuo Zongtang in establishing Fuzhou Shipbuilding Bureau, which was China’s first modern shipbuilding factory. When Zuo was transferred to the post of Governor General of Shaanxi and Gansu provinces, Hu was in charge of the affairs in Shanghai Procurement and Transportation Bureau. During the period, he borrowed large sums of money from outside for Zuo Zongtang as soldiers' pay and provisions and for ammunition purchasing. He made a great contribution to Zuo Zongtang’s beating down the riot of northwest China, and the Qing government awarded him a lot both materially and spiritually. He got an official title, Buzhengshi(布政使), a second-rate official in whole official system of Qing government. Hu Qingyu could exclusively rode the horse in Forbidden City of Beijing and awarded the Emperors’ Yellow Jacket(黄马褂), which were both the symbols of honors and superiorities at the time.

He also by virtue of the powers of Xiang Troop (湘军, a vital part of late Qing Government’s military power originally established and developed by Zeng Guofan and Zuo Zongtang in Hunan province during the suppressing the insurgence of Taiping Heavenly Kingdom), he established a large series of private banks named Fukang Bank(阜康银号, The named was originated from a historic book of Sichuan named Huayangguo Zhi, and express his intention of the country is stable, peaceful and powerful, and the people are rich, and the resources are abundant)throughout China. He also did business in traditional Chinese medicine, silk, tea, cloths, shipping, foodstuff, real estate, ammunition and Dangpu (当铺, the special store existed professionally offering the service of guaranty) etc, taking control of the commercial trade in Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces. His capital reached over 20 million ounces of silver at the highest period, during this time, Huqingyutang established. So in later period, people summarize his success and have an influential conclusion that - to be an official, book of Zeng Guofan must be read, and to do business, book of Hu Xueyan must be read.

After getting a huge achievement in business and politics, Hu Xueyan began to build his mansions and gardens, and also got a great many concubines, and led a luxurious life. Zeng Jize(曾纪泽, the second son of Zeng Guofan and a famous diplomat in modern China) criticized him as a wicked businessman and a harm to country and people. After Zeng Guofan died, Li Hongzhang(李鸿章, an influential official in late Qing Dynasty and the leader of Huai Troop, actually the Troop of Anhui, and the founder of modern China’s navy) decided to beat Hu Xueyan for controlling the influence of Zuo Zongtang, and he thought that the silver is better than rice and money is the root of Zuo Zongtang. And the largest supplier of finance of Zuo Zongtang was Hu Xueyan, and then he became a sacrifice to the infighting between Zuo and Li. Since then, his business declined, and before his death, he returned to a penniless figure again. Life is always compared to a dream, and the life Hu Xueyan was a legendary dream, wasn’t it?

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Editor: Julius from Mildchina
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