Chinese copper coins have a long history. They contain the wisdom of the Chinese people and symbolize the way of doing business based on honesty and integrity.
The meaning of copper coins
Before the reign of Qin Shi Huang (259-210 B.C.), Chinese copper coins had many shapes due to the many warring states. After Qin Shi Huang unified all of the states, he worked on the coinage system and started to use square-hole copper coins. Such a shape was adopted by subsequent dynasties, lasting even until the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1912).
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Through the different dynasties, regardless of the different materials mixed with copper to make the coins, and regardless of the variety of the sizes of the copper coins produced, they were all round on the outside and square on the inside. The roundness of the copper coins represents the sky, symbolizing the wisdom of innate nature, which is the basis of a business. The square symbolizes the earth, indicating that integrity and honesty should be the basis of all trades.
The well-trusted Huizhou merchants who trade with integrity
From ancient times to the present, successful merchants who do business with integrity gain a reputation for being virtuous and good-hearted people. Wang Tongbao, a Huizhou merchant in the Ming Dynasty, was a very famous example.
When Wang Tongbao was young, he saved the life of a fellow villager, Zhou Fu, by chance. In return, Zhou Fu, who ran a pawnshop, took Wang Tongbao to work in his own store.
Six years later, Wang Tongbao was able to take charge of his own business. With Zhou Fu’s assistance, Wang Tongbao was able to open his own shop, Wang’s Pawnshop. Due to his running the business with integrity, the shop soon attracted a lot of customers.
Wang Tongbao had a regular customer, Scholar Zhu. He once entrusted his private savings of 500 taels of silver to the pawnshop owner, hoping he would not tell anyone. Wang Tongbao agreed to take in his money and keep the secret for him.
After that, Scholar Zhu went out to travel and study. He was away for several years without anyone hearing news of him. Wang Tongbao later learned that the scholar had died somewhere far from home. The original deposit of 500 taels of silver plus interest had now accumulated to 1,800 taels.
When the pawnshop accountant heard of the news, he was very happy, thinking that “when a man dies, any debts owed to him are canceled,” which was the normal practice. He thought that the money would be a nice windfall for the pawnshop. However, Wang Tongbao looked at it differently. He said: “Although Scholar Zhu is dead, the money is still his. We must find his family and return it to them.”
After asking around, it turned out that the dead scholar had a pair of elderly parents. The old couple at first thought that Wang Tongbao was there to ask for money and said they were too poor to help pay his debts. However, Wang Tongbao explained the situation and gave them the money. The old couple never expected someone to bring them money that they were unaware of, and thanked Wang Tongbao repeatedly.
From then on, the fame of Wang Tongbao and the integrity of Huizhou merchants spread far and wide at home and abroad.
Translated by Cecilia