There is no doubt that the financial success of the Huizhou merchants provided the foundation for the booming growth of Hui culture. The Huizhou merchants have more than 600 years of history behind them. During the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), the imperial capital moved to Lin’an (now Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province), which was not far from Huizhou, and thus it was easy to transport goods from Huizhou to the capital both by road and by river. According to some historical records, Hui merchants were engaged in business practically everywhere by the beginning of the Southern Song Dynasty. They traded in tea, ink, paper and other quality goods. In ancient Huizhou, a boy in his twelfth or thirteenth year had already begun to do business as an apprentice of his relatives in the same clan. Huizhou merchants usually focused on small scale trades, but tried to make the best quality products. The Huizhou Chronicle describes Huizhou merchants as “properly dressed, well-spoken, fully aware of price, knowing when is the good time to buy and sell, and getting extra profits from selling local goods in other places.” (These records were made during Jiajings reign (1796 – 1821) in the Qing Dynasty.)
Huizhou has a very good climate for growing and producing several famous teas, such as Huangshan Maofeng and Qimen Black Tea. So tea has always been one of the staple goods exported from Huizhou.
However, Huizhou people were apparently not only satisfied with trading in natural produce, but also aimed to create good quality products using advanced technology in order to dominate the Chinese market. The writing brush, the ink stick, paper and the ink stone, known as “the four treasures of the study”, were the star products of the Huizhou region. Even now, they still produce the best ink and paper you can find in China.
The most prosperous period for the Hui merchants was during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties, and this is the reason why most Hui villages are composed of houses built during these two dynasties. In ancient China, no matter how rich you were, businessman as an occupation was still not as good a title as official or scholar. To improve the social standing of the family, some Hui merchants purchased official positions, and almost all Hui merchants chose to invest in a good education for their predecessors. They hoped that, by educating their predecessors, more members of their family would become officials and scholars, and thus, during the Qing Dynasty, there were many officials and scholars from Huizhou.
Discover more stories about Hui Merchants from our travel: Discover the Ancient Chinese Villages in the Huizhou Region