What would you do if a swindler tricked you into spending tens of thousands of dollars on a piece of junk that’s completely worthless?
I will probably just cry and blame my own bad luck. But one ingenious man turned the shenanigan into an opportunity to launch a marketing campaign and it was a triumph!
He not only recouped his loss but also advertise his business far and wide. This man was Hu Xueyan, who later became the most famous and successful businessman in China during the late Qing Dynasty.
Hu Xueyan was born in 1823 in Anhui province. His father passed away when he was still a kid, and his mother had to raise him and his siblings all by herself. Life was hard, but his mother instilled in him important values like responsibility, integrity, and hard work.
When Hu Xueyan turned 12, he travelled to Hangzhou, which was a prosperous and bustling city, and became an apprentice at a local bank. He had a strong work ethic and went above and beyond the call of duty. The bank owner didn’t have any offspring and before he died, he passed his bank to Hu Xueyan.
With strong business acumen and a bold vision, Hu Xueyan soon expanded the bank and opened more branches. But he noticed something: His customers were all wealthy people who wanted to store their extra cash in the bank.
But there were also a lot of people who were struggling and in need of money. To serve this group of people, Hu Xueyan decided to open a pawn shop.
A pawn shop is a place where people could borrow money when they are cash-strapped. The customer would bring in an item as collateral. The pawn shop would determine the value of the item and give the customer a loan based on its value. When the customer has more money, he can return to the shop and repay the loan to get his item back.
Hu Xueyan found a person who was really good at appraising and estimating the value of items and hired him as the manager. And soon business at the pawn shop was flourishing. However, some people became envious of Hu Xueyan’s success and were scheming to get money out of him.
One day, a young man, about 20 years old, swaggered into the pawn shop. He first looked around, then headed up to the manager and said, “Oi! Where’s your boss? I need to see him. I’ve got a precious piece of antique jade. It’s from the Shang dynasty!”
The Shang Dynasty ended around 1045 BCE. So this piece should have been at least 3,000 years old. That is a rare find!
The manager was really excited. He took over the piece and looked at it closely, turning it back and forth. The more you looked at it, the more it indeed looked like it was a genuine piece from the Shang Dynasty.
The manager asked, “How much are you asking for this?” The young man replied, “300 tales of silver!” Silver was the currency used in the Qing Dynasty. A tael of silver was a block of silver that weighed about 38 grams.
To put things in perspective, at the time, you could buy a nice house in the capital city for about 150 taels of silver. So with 300 taels of silver, you could buy two houses!
The manager hesitated and thought, “That’s a lot of money”. So he tried to bargain, “300?! How about lower?” The young man waved his hand impatiently and said, “It seems you know nothing about antiques and you have no appreciation for the good stuff! Where’s your boss? Get him out!!
But Hu Xueyan was not in the shop that day. The manager deliberated for a while and decided that he really should not miss this opportunity. So he gave 300 taels of silver to the young man and kept the jade.
The next day, however, a feeling of doubt flooded the manager’s mind. He looked at the jade again, and the more he looked at it now, the more suspicious he became. He invited a few other experts to appraise it. After examining it, unfortunately, everyone said it was a fake. The manager’s heart sank!
He immediately went to Hu Xueyan and said, “I think I made a huge mistake. For 300 taels of silver, I bought a piece of junk. I’m really, really, really, really sorry!” He was incredibly nervous and terrified that he might lose his job. But Hu Xueyan was very calm, didn’t get angry and forgave him. He said, “It’s alright. Everyone makes mistakes. You made a mistake. It’s okay. It’s not a big deal.”
A while later, of course, Hu Xueyan went back to the manager and said, “You know what? Tell the other staff that we’re going to organise a big banquet. Go invite all the most influential and distinguished people in the city. Tell them we’ll showcase a precious antique from the Shang Dynasty.”
The manager was surprised and said “Wait! What?! We were deceived by the swindler and now we’re going to deceive other people? I don’t think that’s a good idea.” But Hu Xueyan simply smiled and said, !You know, I’m not that kind of person. Just trust me.” The manager had no choice but to carry out what his boss told him to do.
On the day of the banquet, the room was buzzing with excitement. The dining tables were covered with the best food and drinks, and everyone was enjoying themselves, having a jolly good time.
When the mood was at its climax, Hu Xueyan asked one of his clerks to go upstairs to fetch the Shang Dynasty antique. Then, he walked up to the front of the room and cleared his throat, “Alright, everyone! The highlight of the night! May I present to you the stunning piece of the Shang…”
At that moment, the clerk who was holding the antique slipped and fell on his back. The Jade flew off his hands, propelled midair, and then smashed onto the ground, breaking into many pieces.
People gasped, and the room was dead silent. Everyone was shocked by what had just happened. A few seconds later people started to mutter, “Aiya! What a shame! In order to showcase this beautiful antique to us, it got smashed!”
Upon seeing people’s reactions, Hu Xueyan quickly bowed to everyone, “I’m so sorry. Because of our mistake, you won’t be able to admire this wonderful antique. I hope this incident hasn’t ruined everyone’s evening. Please accept my sincere apologies!”
Since now there was no antique to admire, everyone went back to enjoying their food and drinks and left afterwards. Of course, when the guests went home, they passed around the news to their friends and families, “You know what happened at Hu Xueyan’s pawn shop? A Shang dynasty antique was smashed to smithereens!”
The gossip spread like wildfire and soon everyone in town knew about it. A few days later, the news reached the swindler’s ears—the young man who sold the fake antique to the pawn shop.
He was delighted and thought, “You smashed my antique! How unfortunate… for you! It’s time for me to make more money!” He showed up at the pawnshop, took out the 300 taels of silver that he previously received as a loan and said, “I’m ready to pay back the loan. Now I want my antique back!”
He knew that the shop wouldn’t be able to give it to him because it was already smashed. He jotted his chin and added, “If you don’t have it, then you better pay me a compensation of at least 1,000 taels of silver, or you’ll be in big trouble!”
Hu Xueyan didn’t say a word. He took over the silver to check that it was indeed genuine and placed it in the till. Then, he turned around and handed over the Shang Dynasty antique to the swindler and said, “Here you go!”
The swindler’s jaw almost dropped to the ground and said, “What!? How can this be?!” Hu Xueyan replied, “The one we smashed the other day… it looked even more fake than yours!”
The swindler was gobsmacked, couldn’t utter a word and left the shop.
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