Shen Wansan

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Shen Wansan
Born Shen Fu
Suzhou, Jiangsu Province
Died 1379

Shen Wansan (Chinese: 沈万三) was a businessman during the beginning of Ming Dynasty.

The richest businessman at the end of the Yuan Dynasty


Hongwu Emperor

Shen used to be one of the richest men at the area of south of the Yangtze river by doing foreign commerce and he took the most advantage of the convenient waterway in Suzhou. After he became rich, he made Suzhou as the important place to do his business. Shen lived in the period of the end of Yuan Dynasty and the beginning of Ming Dynasty. At the beginning of Ming Dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang( Chinese: 朱元璋 )the emperor chose Nanjing as the capital. Shen helped to build one third of the wall of the capital.



Shen had been to Zhouzhuang, Suzhou, Nanjing, Yunnan and many other places.Shen always considered Zhouzhuang as the place where his career started. "The residence of Shen is in the north-west of the town which has storehouse,garden and pavilion along the Yinze river"[1]"the magnificent house of Shen is still in Zhouzhuang"[2] But the Hongwu Emperor, Zhu Yuanzhang, was envy of his property and concerned about the threat posed by this fabulously wealthy man. Shen was finally exiled to Yunnan and spent the rest of his lifetime there. The people liked Shen very much and they preferred to believe that Shen would never die and became an immortal. In the Qing Dynasty, someone still claimed that he met ageless Shen in Yunnan.[citation needed] This can show that Shen was beloved by people deeply.

How Shen made a fortune[edit]

Xuanwu lake.

He started his career with farming in Zhouzhuang. Zhouzhuang has the warm climate and easy irrigation which is suitable for farming. Shen followed his father to here and raised wealth through agriculture. "Shen liked buying lands and houses to grow wealth"[3] There was a moneybag called Lu Deyuan in Suzhou. He appreciated the talents of Shen and trusted him. He passed large amounts of money to Shen. With the help of Lu, Shen had more ability to create more money. "Shen Wansan has the fortune passed by a man named Lu who was one of the richest men in this area."[4] Shen developed the farming as well as silk and tea business. As water road is quite convenient in Zhouzhuang, he exported tea, silk, china and food to other places and imported jewels, ivories, spice. By this way, he accumulated lots of wealth. There goes a tale that Shen had a treasure trove so he had countless money. He helped to build the walls and other concerning facilities with countless money. It is said that the Xuanwu Lake used to be his back yard garden.

Ancient Tea Route[edit]

Men Laden With Tea, Sichuan Sheng, China; Ernest H. Wilson (1908).

After exiled to Yunnan, many friends of Shen's went to visit him. They found a new route to earn money: they could transport tea,china, handcrafts and so on to the North-western area and Tibet. The route is now called Ancient tea route. Although the weather there were chilly and the passes were scaling rough and rugged, Shen thought it had potential to be developed. With his rich experience and strong suit, he transported the things peculiar to the South of the River to Tibet, India, Burma and other places.

Historic evaluation[edit]

Among all the historic events, the story of Zhu Yuanzhang and Shen Wansan is the only one which is about the battle between a great politician and a great businessman. The imperial power above everything won the battle inevitably.