Fan Li: The ‘God of Wealth’

Statue of Cai Shen, the Wealth God.

Fan Li, a great statesman in ancient China, was honored as the God of Wealth and a role model for business people. (Image: Chotanan via Dreamstime)

Fan Li, a great statesman in the late Spring and Autumn period, was known as a literati, wealth god, and business saint. Fan Li gave his wealth away three times and then rebuilt his fortune three times.

The first time dispersing his wealth

Fan Li, a civilian of the State of Chu, was dissatisfied with the political corruption in Chu and defected to the State of Yue. He was appointed as a high official and helped defeat the neighboring State of Wu. As a result, Fan Li became a prominent figure in Yue and was honored as a high-ranking general and held a high position with wealth and glory.

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However, Fan Li ultimately resigned from his position and gave all of his wealth to the public, leaving Yue. This was the first time Fan Li dispersed his wealth.

The second time Fan Li dispersed his wealth

After leaving Yue, Fan Li went to the State of Qi and changed his name to Cui Yezi Pi. In Qi, he and his family worked hard on the coast, reclaiming wasteland and using it to grow crops while also using the sea salt as a resource to engage in trade. Within a few years, they accumulated wealth worth hundreds of thousands.

Fan Li and his family worked hard on the coast, reclaiming wasteland and using sea salt as a resource to engage in trade.
Fan Li and his family worked hard on the coast, reclaiming wasteland and using sea salt as a resource to engage in trade. (Image: Orapin Joyphuem via Dreamstime)

The king of Qi sent someone to invite Fan to be the prime minister of Qi after learning about his talents. However, Fan sighed: “I am rich because of managing my household and money well. Now, the prime minister’s post has been offered to me. It would seem to be a fortunate thing, but for an ordinary person like me, it is an ominous sign.”

He returned the seal of the Prime Minister to the king of Qi, and distributed all of his wealth worth hundreds of thousands to friends and villagers, leaving only some pearls and jade that were easy to carry as capital for future business. After giving away all of his wealth, he left Qi secretly that night. This was the second time he dispersed his wealth.

The third time dispersing his wealth

Later, Fan Li moved to the State of Tao and changed his name again, calling himself Zhu Gong and people called him Tao Zhu Gong. In Tao, he started a business again and soon became the wealthiest person in the local area, with wealth far surpassing his time in Qi. According to historical records, during his 19 years in business, he accumulated thousands of taels of gold several times over, reaching the level of wealth that could rival a country, and was the wealthiest person in the world at that time.

One year, there was a severe drought across the land and almost no crops were harvested. Fan Li, except for keeping a little for his own necessities, gave all of his wealth to the people of the country, with millions gone in one day.

When there was a severe drought across the land, Fan Li gave nearly all of his wealth to the people of the country.
When there was a severe drought across the land, Fan Li gave nearly all of his wealth to the people of the country. (Image: Amr Hassanein via Dreamstime)

However, within a few years, he accumulated wealth worth tens of thousands again. But Fan Li’s kindness did not stop there; whenever disasters occurred, he gave money to those in need. He kept doing this kind of thing until he had dispersed all his wealth three times in total. 

In order to express admiration for his character, later business people would hang up his image and take him as a role model. However, as time passed, people gradually forgot who Tao Zhu Gong was and only knew him as the God of Wealth, and worshiped him not so they could learn to do good deeds and be dedicated to charity, but for the hope of getting rich.

Maybe many people will envy Fan Li for “getting wealth from all directions” and wonder why they don’t have such good luck themselves. In fact, it’s simple, since one good turn deserves another. Doing good and accumulating virtue can lead to wealth. When you sow the seeds of doing good, you may reap good results in the future. But if you do good deeds hoping to get something for yourself, the fruits you reap will also be limited.

Translated by Joseph Wu

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