井底之蛙

1/21/2008

How to get rich in Chinese business

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 9:15 am

This is from the Hawai’i Reader in Traditional Chinese Culture1 It is a wonderful reading to use in classes, as our hero Dou Yi manages to make dough in pretty much every way that you can imagine in the Tang-Song period. He is sponsored by a temple, does commercial agriculture, invents something new, (the ‘firewood’) creates personal connections with foreign merchants, swindles someone out of a piece of jade, reclaims land, gets involved in commercial entertainment, sucks up to powerful officials and sells offices. The only real question is if the essay’s emphasis on his frugality makes him more of a Confucian merchant or if his Zhuangzi-ian use of things at hand makes him more of a Daoist entrepreneur.

Dou Yi, a Mid-Tang Businessman

Dou Yi of Fufeng was thirteen years old. His various aunts on the paternal side had been royal relatives for several reign periods. His paternal uncle Dou Jiao was honorary president of the Board of Works, commissioner for the palace corrals and stables, and commissioner of palace halls and parks. [Dou Jiao] owned a temple yard in Jiahui Ward. Yi’s relative Zhang Jingli served as aide in An Prefecture. After he was relieved of his duty by his replacement, he returned to the city [of Chang’an]. An Prefecture produced silk shoes. Jingli brought with him more than a dozen pairs of those to give to his nephews and nieces. All except Yi fought for them. Soon only one slightly oversized pair was left behind by the nephews and nieces. Yi bowed twice before he accepted them. Jingli asked him why. He just kept quiet. Little did they know, Yi harbored great ambitions for business success like Duanmu. So he went to the market and sold them for 500 cash, which he stored away in a secret place.

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  1. This is a wonderful book that includes translations of all sorts of things that do not ordinarily turn up in sourcebooks. The preface says that it is intended for use in classes on the “history, culture and society of China, both modern and premodern” How it could work for a Modern class I can’t guess, as there are only and handful of readings from the Qing and later. I’m also not sure how well it would work for a straight history class, as it seems more geared to a culture class. Still, there is a lot of cool stuff in here. []

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