Saturday, November 27, 2021

Qing Dynasty Merchant Cleverly Instilled Life Principles in His Son

During the Qing Dynasty in China, Suzhou was a vast, populous town with various goods and thriving businesses run by hard-working owners and enterprising merchants. At that time, there were many people living in the Huaiqing area who ran businesses, passing them on from father to son for generations. They taught their descendants not just principles of business, but also life principles in order to secure the family’s future.

An elderly native of Huaiqing living in Suzhou was engaged in buying and selling between Suzhou and Huaiqing, continuing the business that his father had left to him. As he was getting older, he took his son with him to Suzhou to learn business skills so that he could, in turn, pass the business on to him. Unfortunately, his son was young, vigorous, and reckless. When his son first came to Suzhou, he failed to restrain himself and became enamored with a prostitute. Ignoring his family’s traditional moral standards, the son lingered in the red-light district all day long and remained ignorant.

The merchant knew about it, but he did not scold his son immediately. Although his son spent a great deal of money, the merchant didn’t put a stop to it. Half a year later, they had sold out of all their stock and distributed it to the stores. After collecting the payment from each store, they were about to return to their hometown.

The father told his son: “Now, I will give you money. You can use it to take care of the girl you adored, buying her clothes, food, and anything else she wishes so that she can accept you wholeheartedly and will only pay attention to you and refrain from complaining about you in the future.”

The young man thought that his father blamed him for spending too much money, so he lowered his head silently. The father said: “It is not that I cherish money so much. It is for you to learn the talent of being a proper suitor.” Then, he gave his son hundreds of silver taels right away. His son took the money to buy clothes for his lover, a prostitute surnamed Su. Then, he arranged everything well for her family, stayed with her for three nights, and told her what his father had said to him. Su asked: “When will you be back?” The young man replied: “Maybe half a year later.” 

Traditional colorful silk clothes, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
His son took the money to buy clothes for his lover. (Image: Sasinparaksa via Dreamstime)

Su said again: “Today, I have got you, and so that I don’t receive any other visitors, if you give me another one hundred silver taels, I will stay at my home and never meet any other men. I will wait for you until you come back.” The young man agreed. 

After arriving home, his father asked him: “Is the money enough?” 

He said: “It was short by one hundred silver taels.” 

While giving him money, the father said: “In five days, we will leave for Huaiqing. You can spend a few more nights with her. Then, after I pack up, we go home together.” 

The young man went to Su’s home, gave her the money, and told her when he was leaving. Su was in tears, seemed reluctant to part with him, and gave him a farewell dinner. Five days later, they parted in bitter tears. 

Father teaches son important life principles

It was time to leave. The Huaiqing businessman had boarded the boat berthed at the riverbank. As soon as his son arrived, the ship set sail. After the boat passed through Zhenjiang and across Jinshan, the merchant opened a small suitcase, took out a piece of shabby, old clothing and a pair of shoes with holes in them, asked his son to put them on, and ordered him back to visit Su.

On seeing such beggarly clothes and shoes, his son was stunned and hesitated. Finally, the father told him: “I neither drove you away nor embarrassed you because you spent too much money. By doing as I say now, you will know the way of the world and the heart of human beings.” The ship anchored on the shore. 

His son had no choice but to disembark and go ashore. The father said: “After seeing that woman, you tell her that the ship broke apart and sank in the Yangtze River from a storm. Fortunately, a neighboring boat saved you, but all your personal belongings have been lost, and it was hard to tell whether your father was alive or not.” 

Yangtze river near the Three Gorges Dam.
His father sent him back to tell his lover he had lost everything in a shipwreck on the Yangtze River. (Image: Jakub Wojtowicz via Dreamstime)

Following his father’s advice, the young man came to Su’s dwelling again. But when seeing him so ragged, the doorkeeper did not allow him to enter. So they quarreled with each other. On hearing his voice, Su was pleased and thought he had not gone home with his father but stayed in Suzhou to look after their warehouse instead.

So she let him in. However, upon seeing him dressed so poorly, her countenance changed suddenly. He explained to her that his possessions were lost when the boat sank in the storm, but she did not want to listen and ordered the doorkeeper to drive him out immediately. 

Sadly, he had no choice but to go to a retailer with whom he had dealings in the past in order to ask for help. But on seeing him so miserable, the store owner drove him away. 

At this time, another store owner walked toward him from the opposite direction. Noting the familiar face but having no close friendship with him, the man said: “I haven’t seen you for a few days, but why do you look so depressed?” 

He told him about the shipwreck due to the storm. The store owner took him back to his store, giving him new clothes, a good meal, and some money, and urged him to go back to search for his father. 

After the young man returned home, he told his father from the bottom of his heart: “Father! I have realized the fickleness of the world. The woman loved me because she was greedy for my money. The store owners curried favor with me because my merchandise could make money for them. Now, I will turn over a new leaf. The ancient saying goes: ‘A friend in need is a friend indeed.’ It is correct. I know how to conduct myself from now on. “ 

After realizing the fickleness of the world, his son understood many life principles.
After realizing the fickleness of the world, his son vowed to turn over a new leaf. (Image: Kenneth Keifer via Dreamstime)

After returning to Huaiqing this time, his father told him: “I am getting old and am unable to travel far away from home. From now on, you can independently do business for the family.” His father asked him to ship goods to Suzhou to sell again. This time the young man distributed the commodities directly to the retailer who had helped him and never went to the store that had driven him away.

Later, Su learned his story of a shipwreck had been a test for her. She felt very regretful. Since then, the young man never succumbed to sexual temptation. With a dedication to his business, he finally became a very wealthy man. The store owner who helped him by giving him clothes, food, and money when he was in need also gradually became rich. 

Before achieving significant success, people must temper themselves through a lot of social experiences. On disciplining children, why do people always adopt harsh, forbidding approaches? Strict rules can prevent a child from doing wrong temporarily, but not permanently. If young people can be guided according to their own nature, being allowed to discover right and wrong for themselves, they will genuinely remain invincible.

Translated by Joseph Wu and edited by Helen

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