In the TV series "Fan Hua," the character "Ye Shu" is portrayed as a very formidable person, referred to by Bao Zong as "the old sorcerer." Was there really such a person in that era?
The Old Shanghai Stock Exchange ceased operations after the Liberation Army took over Shanghai in 1949. By the end of the period known as “Two Whites and One Black,” speculators in the market had been largely suppressed, with many arrested and some executed.
The process of joint public-private operations was essentially completed around 1956.
By the early 1990s, a mere four decades later, there should have been many surviving individuals associated with the Old Shanghai scene.
Understanding the 1980s: The Era of Limited English Literacy and Technological Adaptation in China
In the 1980s, after years of collective development, many adults were unable to read English, having learned Russian during their youth. Their understanding of transactions was limited to bartering and even depositing money in banks (referred to as savings at the time) was promoted by the state. When buying a “foreign trash” shirt on the street, customers couldn’t understand the label indicating “Do Not Iron.” The seller had to explain it during the transaction. This lack of understanding extended to more complex devices like cameras and gear bicycles, where even adjusting the gears required careful learning.
Even a large computer factory, which is now criticized for merely assembling parts, was considered high-tech at that time for being able to understand an entire English manual and correctly insert circuit boards. These stories are tears of an era. People like my uncles, who worked in the financial markets for many years, were not just skilled; they were akin to legendary sword immortals in their expertise.
Former surfer from the previous dynasty. Do you know why the results of the openness in the Soviet Union and China were vastly different? It’s because of time. China has gone through 40 years, and there are still some talented individuals from the previous era’s experience with the free market turbulence. These people can still compete with international managers when integrating with the international community. On the other hand, the Soviet Union’s openness occurred in the 1970s, and by then, most people had passed away, leaving no talent behind, leading to surrender.
Sure, please look up Lin Legeng.
The Significance of “Uncles” and “Mentors” in Shanghai Culture
Every successful “Baobao” (a term used to refer to successful individuals) is not born out of thin air like Sun Wukong; behind them stands an uncle or mentor who plays the role of a life guide.
In Shanghai, the term “uncle” or “shushu” is used to express a close non-blood relationship. “Jiye” is the most intimate term for a specific elder in the eyes of Shanghainese. Originally, “Jiye” referred to a godfather or godmother, but it can also be used to refer to a godfather or godmother.
Shanghainese use the term “uncle” or “shushu” more broadly and flexibly. It can accurately refer to both uncles and godfathers, or it can refer to respected male elders. It can be used to address familiar people or quickly establish rapport with strangers.
The existence of “uncles” and “mentors” like “jiye” comes out of necessity in life. When a person enters society and lacks the protection of blood relationships, “uncles” and “jiye” are practical supplements.
The relationship between “uncles” and their younger counterparts can be understood as a basic version of mentorship, and it can even evolve into a very close relationship akin to father and son, as seen in the characters played by You Benchang and Hu Ge.
Young people in various professions all need an “uncle” to guide them, and generation after generation of young people ultimately grow into “uncles.”
Pondering the Unusual Mentorship in TV Drama
Thinking about it with my current knowledge, I find it hard to believe such a person exists.
From the TV drama, it’s clear that the uncle wants to make money in the stock market in no time.
However, he teaches Abao to invest in stocks, do business, and even helps Abao manage the company.
If it’s for money, there’s no reason to work for Abao. If it’s a debt of gratitude, he doesn’t need to stay at the company all the time; being an advisor would suffice.
But in the TV drama, he can go to great lengths for Abao, using all his connections and considering many options for him. This is something I can’t quite comprehend, especially if it’s not his own son.
If he’s already so skilled, why does he continue to do all this, just for that meager Weibo salary?
As the blooming flowers fall, it all feels like a dream…
Reflections on the Past and Forgotten Individuals
Looking back with my current understanding, it seems unlikely to encounter someone like him.
Currency reform, he doesn’t understand it.
Foreign trade system reform, he doesn’t understand it.
Even the concept of monogamy, he doesn’t grasp.
In the realm of the mundane, social intricacies, and even matters of leisure, he has enough experience, lessons, and practical knowledge. He is intelligent, shrewd, straightforward by nature. But to label him as “exceptional” might be an exaggeration.
He has connections in Hong Kong, various networks, but he ran away to do business at the age of 16 instead of pursuing higher education at 20, which is questionable. According to the standards of that era, he was a skilled metalworker but not a cadre.
Not only in that era but in any era, including the present one, there are many individuals like him. If you must make a comparison, he’s akin to a rural gentry.
Many things about him can only be observed and heard, not taken too seriously. His understanding of dress code is almost at the elementary school level. Teacher Ge Jin once wrote on Zhihu, and he is far more professional than this uncle.
However, none of this matters. What matters is the warmth, dignity, and strength of this uncle. His character is vivid, principled, and practical, which immediately distinguishes him from 90% of the people.
I once wrote a bit about such people in a short article, for reference.
Random Recollections from the Courtyard
Today is the major heat, and it reminds me of the summers and courtyards of my childhood, along with the people and events that are now only imprinted in my memory.
After 1949, like a massive tide, it gathered some people in several old houses in Jiangnan. These people were calm and reserved, but behind that facade was a tremendous strength that I only realized long after they left the world. In any case, those are unforgettable moments, fragments, and snippets.
The neighbor in front of my house was surnamed Zhao, and their daughter married Ma Yushu, who was a prominent figure in public discourse a few years ago. My mom spent several afternoons gossiping about Zhao’s daughter. I showed her articles from popular public accounts, and she just responded with, “Nonsense.” The last daughter of the Zhao family was born in the early 1970s and used to play with me when we were kids. In the final years before the old house was demolished, she was the only one taking care of her family’s ancestral home. The house, neither too big nor too small, had a few rooms, a guest hall, and a courtyard. When relatives and friends came, they could immediately find a place to sit. The kitchen could produce a few dishes, and you could even pick some loofah from the yard to make an egg soup. It was not an easy task.
The old patriarch of the Zhao family was a man of few words, only known for helping out in the neighborhood committee. He wore black-framed glasses. Every evening, he wrote in his diary with a brush pen. He wrote so discreetly that even his youngest daughter never showed any enthusiasm to peek. Even until his passing, no one bothered to check what he was writing. Just like passing by their house and saying, “Good evening, Mr. Zhao,” he would habitually raise his head, respond with a couple of “yes,” and continue reading the newspaper.
In the pond of the Wangshi Garden, there’s a “Zhuoying Shui Pavilion,” which conveys the meaning of “Canglang water is clear, it can wash my hair; Canglang water is muddy, it can wash my feet.” Inside, there are Zheng Banqiao’s couplets “Zeng San Yan Si Yu Cun Tao Fen.” Zeng San refers to the three self-examinations of Confucius. The act of self-examination has been instilled in me since my childhood. I started writing a diary from the first grade of elementary school (most of the early ones have been lost). Basically, every night before sleeping, I would engage in self-criticism. It was a very fun thing to do. Because decades later, most people, before going to bed, criticize the world on the internet.
Suzhou’s courtyards have randomly scattered stones, large stone slabs, neatly arranged brick blocks… The Zhao family’s courtyard had stones, so it would be exceptionally clean under the scorching sun. My family had another courtyard in Hu Xiangshi Lane on Pingjiang Road. That courtyard was large and comfortable because it was along the river, and there was a well. In the evening, with only a few families in the courtyard, we’d draw water from the well and pour it in the yard. The heat would dissipate, and starlight would shine down. Nowadays, Hu Xiangshi Lane promotes itself by mentioning that Tang Na lived there; Tang Na is Jiang Qing’s ex-husband and also lived in Hu Xiangshi Lane.
We subscribed to Wenhui Bao and Xinmin Evening News. That was in the early 1980s, when China’s population was less than 1 billion. The postman at that time was no different from the postman I later saw in the United States. Every day, from outside to inside, they delivered letters and materials to each household. Sign where needed, register where needed. Ah, back then, the postmen were so trusting, they didn’t even check for green codes. Other neighbors would often come to my house to flip through the newspapers. The newspapers were placed on the Eight Immortals table in the guest hall. Neighbors didn’t hesitate to pick up the newspaper, sit on the bamboo-backed chair by the window, flip through a few pages, and chat with the adults. It was mostly about who visited where, and who received visitors. At that time, so-called foreign dignitaries who came to China would often visit Suzhou, so our area often had so-called foreign guests. The one I remember most clearly is when I passed by Zhu Tutu in the crowd, a prominent figure. The evening news said that Zhu Tutu, the Black Archbishop, had come to Suzhou.
Later on, reading newspapers became more about checking television channel information in the margins. Then, I no longer remember which year was the last issue of Wenhui Bao.
Most of those middle-aged and elderly newspaper readers who were energetic, ruddy, and physically fit have already left this world. I don’t know their descendants, let alone communicate with them. Will the grandchildren of those who were beyond the realm of visual documentation, who were generations apart, ever know or want to know?
I still remember Mr. Zhao from the Zhao family, and his face became a role model for peaceful coexistence. Occasionally, after school, passing by their guest hall, I would see him writing with a brush pen. It seemed like he was communicating with another world, to the extent that even when I appeared, left, or glanced back at him, he didn’t notice or know what he was writing.
The “Zhuoying Shui Pavilion” in Wangshi Garden is certainly beautiful, wonderful, and exceptional in content, with exquisite allusions and more. But I have been to the Jinsha River, and many other places around Dayan Town. It was still July, and under the plateau’s ultraviolet rays, the water at the source of the Yangtze River flowed over my feet towards the distance. That is another side of me; I don’t like places like the Zhuoying Shui Pavilion. Within the high walls and courtyards, everything is just memories and mourning.
Being forgotten is complete death.
Uncle’s Capability and Social Position
Whether Uncle is formidable depends on who he’s compared to. Compared to ordinary folks, he’s quite impressive. However, when compared to true experts, the gap is quite evident.
What’s Uncle’s social status like? Even someone with a bit of power like Director Jin can’t easily control him. He’s positioned as someone slightly more financially capable and possessing some life wisdom than the average person. The issue is that while having life wisdom counts, ultimately, society values strength, and all factors must be reflected in one’s abilities.
Most people find “Blooming” appealing due to Wong Kar-wai’s direction and the cast, but whether it’s the business strategy or the level of conflict, it’s quite low. I’ve already explained my thoughts on “Blooming” in the “Tiger Talks Movies” column, for those interested.
Comparing it to “River Flows To You 3,” it involves state-owned, collective, private, and foreign economies. In terms of the level of conflict, Song Yunfei has reached a high-ranking position, and the Liang family has been managing their business for three generations. While their appearance may not be as refined as in “Blooming,” their scope and level are several notches higher.
Why didn’t the market economy transition in the former Soviet Union succeed? It’s because from the October Revolution in 1917 to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, more than 70 years had passed, and the generations with experience in doing business in a market economy had already passed away.
In contrast, China’s liberation to the reform and opening up only spans 29 years. Even before that, there were stock market experts among the older generation. Their business experience is still relevant. Those who have traded stocks know how crucial it is to navigate through bull and bear markets. Due to their experience, the older generation in China can often outmaneuver inexperienced investors.
I remember a line from a TV series: In this world, many people hide their sharp edges. Not for anything else, but because they are highly capable, and concealing those edges can avoid unnecessary trouble. Throughout the long history of humanity, such individuals exist, and it’s precisely because of their concealment that they remain unknown to the public. However, this doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
There is a book called “Red-Crowned Merchant Hu Xueyan.”
In the late Qing Dynasty, there was a prominent figure in the business world, and many people can still trace the whereabouts of his descendants to this day.
Doing business in turbulent times was a rare way for ordinary people to prosper, and the risk awareness and moral standards of one’s ancestors depended largely on the turbulent background before liberation.
Such intelligent individuals are most likely to lay low and re-emerge after several years.
Lin Legeng: ?
In fact, such individuals are not rare. Even Chiang Kai-shek, who once frequented the Shanghai Securities Commodity Exchange, had only passed away just over a decade ago, and his descendants have a presence in many areas.
PS: On July 1, 1920, the Shanghai Securities Commodity Exchange officially opened for business with an initial capital of 5 million yuan. The trading items included securities, cotton, cotton yarn, cloth, gold and silver, grains and oils, fur, and other seven categories, making it China’s first comprehensive securities exchange. This exchange was initiated and founded by Sun Yat-sen, with the participation of Chiang Kai-shek, Zhang Jingjiang, Dai Jitao, Yu Qiaqing, Chen Guofu, and others.
Insights into Two Figures: Uncle Ye and Bao Zong
Three incidents reveal the nature of these two individuals.
When faced with financial difficulties during a trip to the Northeast, Uncle Ye resorted to selling Shanghai cigarettes.
While instructing Miss Wang to write self-criticisms, Uncle Ye presented a stack of self-criticism papers.
When helping Li Li find a chef, Uncle Ye did not meet any VIPs.
From incident 1, we can see that Uncle Ye is a problem solver. Money is a problem, and he takes it upon himself to solve it.
From incident 2, it’s evident that Uncle Ye often considers collective interests. Writing self-criticisms is something you do when you’ve harmed the collective interest. Sometimes it may not necessarily benefit him directly, but it’s still a problem-solving approach.
From incident 3, Uncle Ye has connections, although his relationship with them is average. His network likely owes him favors, which is why they are willing to help him.
Overall, Uncle Ye is someone specialized in solving problems.
On the other hand, Bao Zong is different. He focuses solely on one thing – being a person. Otherwise, where does the money come from? Just because you talk doesn’t mean others will invest in stocks with you.
One is a capable general, the other a wise ruler.
When I watch TV dramas, the barrage constantly reads, “Where is my Uncle Ye?” Do you have what it takes to be Bao Zong? Can you open your mouth and make a billion? That was a billion in 1993; if Chairman Deng had known, he might have had Bao Zong executed.
You underestimate the knowledge and wisdom of the people of that era. It was a time when material conditions were relatively scarce, without the internet, but there were many individuals with extensive experience and exceptional wisdom. Grandfather and uncles were just some of them; there were even more remarkable individuals.