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Jiang Chun --- The Most Famous and Powerful Merchant from Huizhou in Qing Dynasty

Jiang Chun
Portrait of Jiang Chun

Jiang Chun(江春, 1721-1789) a top businessman of Qing Dynasty, whose courtesy name was Yingchang(颖长) and literal name was Heting(鹤亭) or Guangda(广达), was born at Waicun, Jiangcun Village in She County of Ancient Huizhou. Jiang Chun was a big salt businessman living in Yangzhou of Jiangsu province and was also the No.1 of Eight Most Authoritative Businessmen in Lianghuai Region(两淮, Region between Huai River and Yangtze River as well as region of southern and northern Huai River). Famous for his story of welcoming Emperor Qianlong with Huizhou Cuisine and Salt-Made White Pagoda to make friends with Emperor Qianlong when he was only a commoner , he was crowned as the most powerful and admirable businessman of Huizhou. In accordance to the record of Yangzhou Huafang Lu (a historical book named Record of Yangzhou Gaily-Painted Pleasure Boat, 扬州画舫录), Jiang Chun acted as the leader of Lianghuai Salt Business, and awarded many imperial honors like The Royally-Honored Figure of Fengchen Garden in Neiwu Mansion(内务府奉宸苑卿) and Buzhengshi(布政使), which belonged to the top-level official in governmental system. Jiang Chun was special man in that time.

Some according to the historical materials comment Yangzhou as the colony of Huizhou Merchants who were represented by Jiang Chun. This viewpoint in some way is reasonable, because in fact, the whole Yangzhou’s development, even the whole Jiangnan region including today’s Shanghai, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Wuxi and Changzhou in Qing Dynasty were all under the predominant influence of Huizhou Merchants. Also, Jiang Zeming, the former president of People’s Republic of China born in Yangzhou, was also the descendent of Jiang Chun, and his visit to Huizhou in 2001 to learn more about his family history and leave a lot of inscriptions or handwritings more vividly show the long influence on China.

At the early age, Jiang Chun failed in imperial examination for many times. The continual failures forced him to transfer to business. He was quite expert in making friends with officials, aristocrats, princes and authorities. Also, he was specialized in law of salt and knew how to operate salt business. During his forty years'charge of Liang Huai Salt Business, he sufficiently showed his talents and life ambition. He was trusted and preferred by Emperor Qianlong, and rewarded a lot of honors to show his loyalty. Actually, Jiang Chun’s loyalty was rooted in the early education of Huizhou, in which the traditional values of Confucianism comprised of Zhong(忠, Loyalty),Xin(信, Integrity),Jie(节, Continency) and Yi(义, Righteousness) were highly highlighted. Emperor Qianlong visited Jiangnan region for six times, and his life was absolutely arranged and well served by Jiang Chun each time. Even he serve Emperor Qianlong to enjoy the real Huizhou Cuisine, one of the top eight cuisines in China for its special tastes and raw materials. His loyalty moved Emperor Qianlong too much, and Emperor Qianlong also presented him many treasured gifts, which even included the favorite things of Emperor Qianlong like his Xiang Lang(Small Fragrant Pocket with Healthful Herbs, 香囊). Besides, Emperor Qianlong also lived in Jiang Chun’s private villa, Kangshan Caotang(康山草堂, The Humble House of Kangshan), for two times, also Emperor Qianlong who was quite specialized in calligraphy inscribed the tablet for Jiang Chun’s private villa, and his inscription was Yi Xing Tang (怡性堂, Hall of Cultivating Character). Emperor Qianlong once highly commented Jiang Chun and the salt businessmen like: what a great power of wealth salt businessmen had! In other words, his meaning was that Jiang Chun’s wealth equated the total wealth of the whole country.

Emperor Qianlong
Portrait of Emperor Qianlong

In 1785, on the 50th enthronement celebration of Emperor Qianlong, Jiang Chun represented the salt merchants dedicated approximately one million liang of Baiyin (白银), and he was also invited to attend the Qian Sou Yan (千叟宴, the feast of one thousand old people), the most exclusive and most famous imperial gala in history organized by emperors of Qing Dynasty in Qianqing Palace of Forbidden City of Beijing to show their thanksgiving and respect to the old people or those who contributed extraordinarily to the country. Moreover, such a special top royal party used to be held every 50 years. As the palace banquet with the largest scale in Qing Dynasty, the invitees were all the special and quite authoritative figures. Jiang Chun was summoned to enjoy feast with Emperor Qianlong together, and also awarded a stannum stick to show his special status in the whole country, because the stannum stick in ancient China not only released the special respect from the authority to the old people but the embodiment of privilege and honor in whole country. This was another greatness of Jiang Chun got except his special story that making friends with Emperor as a commoner, particularly in the period that the merchants were seriously discriminated and arranged at the bottom of the whole society(anciently, the walks of life were comprised of four classes: Officials or Learners, Peasants or Farmers, Craftsmen and Merchants). In this way, Jiang Chun’s greatness was more obvious and respectable.

Jiang Chun built more than 8 garden-style buildings in Yangzhou such as Kangshan Caotang and Tui Yuan (退园, Retreat Garden). Jiang Chun settled down in Yangzhou but he still kept the original lifestyle of Huizhou people. And he purposefully created his own world----a colony of Huizhou. He lived in the villas or private gardens featured with the Huizhou architectural style, and cuisine he enjoyed were all cooked by chefs of Huizhou, who were all invited from Huizhou, the hometown of Jiang Chun, also, the raw materials were all from Huizhou. Furthermore, he organized and operated his own family opera group---Chun Tai Ban (春台班, Group of Spring Platform), performing Hui opera (徽剧). More interestingly, his also used his hometown dialect to communicate with anyone. He was generous with investing Hui opera and Huizhou medicine. It was said that he used to reward 10, 000 liang of gold(10,000两黄金, a big sum) to the playwrights of Hui opera, who made a great contribution to the development of Hui Opera. By the way, his family opera group, Chun Tai Ban, in 1790 together with San Qing Ban (三庆班) He Chun Ban (和春班)and Si Xi Ban (四喜班), the other three largest Hui Opera Groups in Huizhou, went to Beijing following Emperor Qianlong’s command to congratulate Emperor Qianlong on his 80th birthday. This is the historically famous event in Chinese opera history or culture history named Four Hui Opera Groups Entering Beijing. This was the origin of Peking Opera.

However, in his late life, his asset was consumed and he had to keep his business operation in some bad measures. For consoling him, Emperor Qianlong assigned him as Bu Zheng Shi (布政使), a top-level official in governmental system roughly in charge of the operation and management of province, approximately like today’s province governor, in Ming and Qing Dynasties. Also Emperor Qianlong also gifted or lent him a lot of bankrolls, about 550,000 liang of silvers (550,000两白银). After Jiang Chun died, Emperor Qianlong also presented his son named Jiang Zhenhong (江振鸿) about 50,000 liang of silvers (50, 000两白银) as the operation capital of salt business

the White Pagoda
The White Pagoda built by
Jiang Chun on the Slender
West Lake in Yangzhou

Jiang Chun was quite kind-hearted and accommodating. In accordance to the record of Yangzhou Huafang Lu, he quite actively helped the governments or the local people to go through the urgencies or accidents for many times. And according to the record of Liang Huai Yan Fa Zhi( The Historical Record of Salt Law in Liang Huai Region, 两淮盐法志), from the 38th year to the 49th year of Emperor Qianlong’s reign, Jiang Chun together with other people for government and local development totally donated roughly 11, 200, 000 liang of silvers(11, 200, 000两白银).

The Legend of Building a Salt Pagoda Overnight

It was said that during Emperor Qianlong’s visit in Yangzhou, Emperor Qianlong asked the local authorities whether there was a white pagoda on the Slender West Lake (瘦西湖) or not. The local officials and big businessmen were all in silence except Jiang Chun, and he answered to Emperor Qianlong there was a white pagoda on the Slender West Lake. Emperor Qianlong happily said he would visit this pagoda next day. But there was no white pagoda on the lakefront at all. The aftereffect of the lie was quite bad, and he was probably sentenced to death. He was quite anxious, but in a flash, he got an idea. He commanded many people to move the salt to the lakefront to build a white pagoda with salt. On the next morning, the whole Slender West Lake was in the heavy fog when the imperial fleets were moving on the lake. Emperor Qianlong through the window unclearly saw the towering pagoda and became quite happy. After Emperor Qianlong left Yangzhou, Jiang Chun rapidly built a real white pagoda on the original site of salt pagoda, and at present, this pagoda is still standing on the lakefront of the Slender West Lake.


Writer: David from Seeraa International
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