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Wall Street of the empire

Updated: 2022-07-28 08:02 ( China Daily )
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The first draft bank of China offered the world a template for the modern bill of exchange. Its merchant culture memorabilia now draw a million visitors to Rishengchang museum every year, report Yang Feiyue in Beijing and Sun Ruisheng in Taiyuan.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site today, the ancient town of Pingyao in Shanxi province formed the economic backbone of China during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The town was home to the country's first piaohao (money exchange house) that bankrolled the empire during a period when all bookkeeping was on paper, and the only way to crunch numbers involved the abacus.

In 19th-century imperial China, business-savvy merchants from Shanxi were making their presence felt in Japan and Korea in the east, Russia in the north and other nations in the south. They had to rely on security guards for transferring their financial wealth, measured in gold and silver, from one place to another. The method was hardly safe and led to the inception of the piaohao.

The bank of Rishengchang, which literally means "sunrise prosperity", was established in 1823 and it became the prototype of China's early financial system, offering remittance services and loans, and accepting deposits. It even boasted a high-capacity underground vault.

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