Story from History: Being Wealthy Yet Benevolent, Being Diligent, Thrifty and Prudent

Hong Yi

PureInsight | October 1, 2006

[] During the
Period of the Warring States, Fan Li was a high-level official in the
state of Yue. After the state of Yue was conquered by the state of Wu,
Fan Li assisted the king of Yue, named Goujian, for over 20 years.
Eventually they defeated the state of Wu and re-established the state
of Yue. Because of his outstanding contributions, Fan Li was honored
with the title of "High General." After receiving his title, Fan Li
resigned his post. He knew King Goujian well and felt that the king was
someone who could only share sufferings and not prosperity with his
officials. Fan Li knew that the king would turn against him eventually
because of his fame. So he decided to leave the royal court along with
his family.

Fan Li first came to the country of Qi. He concealed his identity and
called himself "Ci Yi Zi Pi" meaning "the outside layer of a wine bag."
When it was in use, the bag could be filled up and held a large volume
of wine. It could be folded into a very small packet when it was not in
use. It could expand or shrink freely, and was thus very flexible. Fan
Li and his sons made a living mainly on farming lands close to the sea
shore. They worked hard and diligently and accumulated a large amount
of possessions quickly. People in Qi nation heard that Fan Li was very
capable, extremely virtuous, and talented. So they invited him to be an
official in their government and gave him the seal of the country. Fan
Li sighed and said, "I have been a government minister. After working
on a farm, I was able to accumulate thousands of grams of gold. I have
already achieved the highest possible things as an everyday
person.  If I keep enjoying this forever, it won't be wise." Thus,
he sent the seal back. Soon he distributed his property to the poor
people. Then he left the area quietly with some jewelry, silver and

He came to Ding Tao (today's Zibo city in Shandong province). It was a
key business center with connections to many different places. He felt
that he could become rich if he stayed there and built up his own
business. So he stayed and called himself Gentleman Zhu. People all
called him Mr. Tao Zhu. Fan Li started various commercial ventures
along with farming and raising domestic animals. He tried to maintain a
mere 10% profit margin and his businesses became very successful. It
didn't take him too long to again accumulate several million coins.
People around the nation all know that there was a Mr. Tao Zhu in Ding
Tao who was the wealthiest person in the world. Fan Li gave away a
large portion of his property to poor friends and neighbors. He was
indeed "a person who is wealthy and loves to perform good deeds to
enhance his virtues."  

Someone asked Fan Li about how he was able to build up wealth so
quickly. Fan Li told him, "One must work hard and be diligent and
should not be afraid of hardships. In the mean time, one should also
raise as many domestic animals as one can." Another person asked him,
"You have accumulated a large amount of money three times in over one
decade and became a millionaire.  What is your secret?"  Fan
Li summarized his 18 principles for business and property management as

No. 1: One must work hard and can't be lazy. Otherwise, one will not succeed at anything.

No. 2: Clearly label the price.

No. 3: One has to live thriftily and should not be wasteful.

No. 4: Never sell low quality products.

No. 5: All goods should be examined and do not accept poor quality products.

No. 6: Be careful about import and export procedures.

No. 7: Be fair to your employees.

No. 8: Label clearly different grades of goods

No. 9: Routinely reorganize stocks.

No. 10: Be firm on deadlines.

No. 11: Buy and sell quickly and don't be sluggish.

No. 12: Clearly stated responsibilities need to be set up for both buyers and sellers.

No. 13: Be careful and solid when doing things.

No. 14: Do not lose your temper. A good temper will bring you wealth.

No. 15: Do not provide absurd suggestions

No. 16: Be responsible.

No. 17: Work carefully; avoid being careless

No. 18: Avoid being fickle and superficial. You will make many mistakes if you are not calm and stable.

Fan Li had many other pearls of wisdom to become wealthy such as "When
there is a flood, prepare goods that will be needed once the water
dries up. When there is a drought, prepare things that need to be
transported by boats. It was recorded into "Historical Record: Section
on the Growth of Business" by the famous historian Sima Qian.

Even though Sima Qian didn't write a chapter in his book just for Fan
Li, he devoted the second half of "The family of Yue Emperor Goujian"
to Fan Li. It showed how much Sima Qian admired Fan Li. In the end of
his article, he said, "Fan Li lived in three different places and was
very famous in his days. He didn't just leave a place. He worked hard
and became famous at each place."

 "Wealthy and yet kind and polite" (from "the Analects of
Confucius"). Fan Li was such a kind of person who was rich yet loving
and generous.

Translated from:

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