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Wu Ping-chien

Wu Ping-chien (Woo Pingkien) 伍秉鑑 (T. 成之 H. 平湖, 1769-1843, Sept. 4, merchant, known to Westerners as Howqua, was a native of Canton where his ancestors had moved from Ch'uan-chou, Fukien, at the beginning of the Ch'ing period. His father, Wu Kuo-ying 伍國瑩 (T. 明石 H. 琇亭, 1731-1800), whom Western traders popularly called Howqua (Hao-kuan 浩官) began about 1777 to trade in a small way with foreigners, but launched out about 1784 as a member of the Co-hong (see under Li Shih-yao) or guild of merchants which monopolized the foreign trade. He was expelled early in 1789 owing to inability to pay a heavy tax levied by the Hoppo or Superintendent of the Canton Maritime Customs. Wu Kuo-ying's second son, Wu Ping-chün 伍秉鈞 (T. 鴻之 H. 衡坡, 1767-1801), who inherited his father's firm, styled I-ho (Ewa 怡和), was chosen in 1792 one of six members added to the Co-hong, and a few years later became one of the most prosperous foreign traders in Canton. He was called by Westerners by his popular name Puiqua (P'ei-kuan 沛官).

Wu Ping-chien was the third son of Wu Kuo-ying. He had several other personal names such as Tun-yüan 敦元, Ch'ing-ch'ang 慶昌 and Chung-ch'êng 忠誠. When he succeeded to the I-ho Hong in 1801, and to membership in the Co-hong, he was known to Westerners as Puiqua, a name which he inherited from his brother; but in 1827, with the approval of the Western merchants of Canton he changed it to Howqua, the name previously Applied to his father. In a few years (1801-09) Wu Ping-chien became the most prosperous member of the Co-hong, outrivalling P'an Yu-tu (see under P'an Chên-ch'êng) and others. But his wealth made him a conspicuous mark for grasping officials. In 1813, when the Hoppo created two supervisors from among senior members of the Co-hong, Wu Ping-chien was made one of them. In the following year, however, this system was abolished, and Pan Yu-tu was made chief of the Co-hong. About a year later (1815) P'an resigned the post and Wu Ping-chien succeeded him. In 1826 Wu retired from business, and was succeeded by his fourth son, Wu Yüan-hua 伍元華 (T. 良儀 H. 春嵐 1801-1833), the third Howqua. Several years later, however, being accused of an illegal opium trade Wu Yüan-hua lost his position as chief of the Co-hong and was temporarily (1831) imprisoned. After his death in 1833 he was succeeded as Hong merchant by his brother, Wu Ch'ung-yüeh [q.v.].

As the most prosperous foreign trader during the first half of the nineteenth century, Wu Ping-chien amassed a large fortune which is reported to have amounted in 1834 to some twenty-six million Spanish dollars. Like other wealthy members of the Co-hong, he was often obliged to pay for debts contracted jointly when his fellow Co-hong members were unable to meet their obligations. Once he is said to have put up a million Spanish dollars for three of his partners. He also made several large contributions to the government--in one instance 1, 100, 000 Spanish dollars (1841) as part of the indemnity to Great Britain. For his financial contributions to the Court he was honored late in life with the rank of financial commissioner.

[ Liang Chia-pin (see bibl. under Li Shih-yao), Kwangtung shih-san-hang k'ao (1937), pp. 288-93; Morse, H. B., The Chronicles of the East India Company Trading to China, vols. II-IV (1926) passim (with portrait); Hunter, W. C. The Fan Kwae at Canton (1911) passim (with portrait).]