Today, we’ll continue with our series about famous streets in China. For 600 years, the Huizhou merchants occupied a unique and highly influential position in the history of Chinese commerce. In the Southern Song Dynasty, after the capital was moved from Kaifeng to Lin’an, the country’s political and economic centre shifted to the south. Huizhou, with its strategic location, was a communications hub between north and south, and it became key to the economy of China’s southeast. The local landowners, recognizing the great commercial potential offered by Huizhou’s location, began to develop business interests. Today, we’ll take you to a very famous street in the city, the old Street of Tunxi, where we’ll discover how the local merchants struck it rich.
Historical records describe Huizhou people at the beginning of the Southern Song Dynasty, as “engaged in trade everywhere”. They sold tea, ink, paper and wood. By the Ming Dynasty, the shortage of land and the over-supply of manpower drove many farmers from their fields, and into business. Commerce in the region flourished, and as a result several local products made their way onto the foreign market. The best known of these was, tea.
The Huizhou merchants, with their natural resourcefulness, became adept at obtaining positions at court. As a result, politics and commerce became closely linked. Yet, whatever political advancement they achieved, they never lost sight of their commercial roots and the simple mottos on which their success was founded: “Cheat neither old nor young, and supply fine products at honest prices.”
The success of the Huizhou merchants was the result of a combination of social factors, and based on hard work. Those early people who left Huizhou to make a living away from home could never have suspected that one day the fame of the Huizhou merchants would extend nationwide. Moreover, based on its commercial success, Huizhou became a cradle for talented scholars who made their mark in various fields. Enriched by their achievements, Huizhou earned a reputation as a centre of liberal arts.