The Xu Family of Guangzhou, History, Politics and Art
|Xu Family Qing Porcelain Collection
THE EXHIBITION Virtuous Heritage: Xu Family of Guangzhou: Mandarins, Revolutionaries, Educators and Scientists at the University Museum and Art Gallery, The University of Hong Kong, is dedicated to the Xu clan, the first family of Guangzhou. Their fortunes were intimately linked to the vicissitudes of the late Qing (1644-1911) era and after, a period of 150 years, during which six generations thrived. How they adapted during this time of great transformation, from salt merchants to court officials and from Qing loyalists to Republican rebels and communist revolutionaries, form the narrative of the show.
The Xu clan originated in Chenghai in Guangdong province. It came into prominence in the late Qianlong period (r.1735-1795), one of the most extensive and prosperous of Chinese empires. Trade with the west was confined to an enclave in the capital, Guangzhou (Canton) where strict controls were imposed in 1757. Sometime in the Qianlong era, Xu Yongming from Chaozhou (Swatow) settled in Guangzhou. His son, Xu Baiting (1772-1846), the patriarch of the clan, made a fortune through the salt trade, a government monopoly, by contracting it out to the community. Largely through his own efforts, Baiting suppressed piracy along the Canton coast for which he received an imperial award. Achievement throughout Chinese history was equated with careers in officialdom, determined by the imperial examination system, the core of which comprised three degrees, the xiucai, the juren and the jinshi. Baiting had lofty ambitions for his descendants. He established a clan school in the family compound, Xudi on Gaodi street, so that they might rise through the ranks. His eldest son, Xu Xiangguang (1799-1854) was the first in the family to attain the juren at twenty, and the jinshi a dozen years later.
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