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Openness and the culture of the ocean: The Fujianese way to grow wealth

Source:GMA News | 2015-07-10  Click:

They are all billionare tycoons, but what else do Henry Sy, Lucio Tan, Andrew Tan, and John Gokongwei have in common?

They or their families originated from Fujian, a coastal province in southeastern China.

Fujian is also one of China's richest regions, coming in at 8th out of 31 administrative divisions in terms of GDP per capita in 2014, according to China's National Bureau of Statistics.

In separate interviews, Dr. Chu Yanli, a senior counselor at the Foreign Affairs Office of Fujian Provincial People’s Government,  and Zheng Zhiqiang, deputy director of the Foreign Affairs Office of the city of Quanzhou in Fujian, said that many aspects of life in the province can be seen as factors that contributed to the Fujianese ability to grow money.

One of these, said Chu, is the ocean and its bounty.

"I was told that people [of Fujian] eat more fish, more seafood, so they became smarter. That’s one factor," Chu told visiting reporters from the Philippines and Thailand on Tuesday.

"The culture of the ocean also helped them because the ocean always changes. It brings storm, tsunami and yet sometimes it is very calm. They have to face the challenges which made them very strong," she added.

Chu added that the dealing with the wide open sea allowed the Fujianese to be braver and more accepting of others.

"The ocean is big and open so the people are very open-minded. They are easy to be with as neighbors and easy to integrate with others," she said.

"That is why when they settled down in the Philippines, for example, they were able to make friends very easily, closely with those people."

Chu said that the Fujianese who immigrated to the Philippines were helped by Filipinos' acceptance.

"The people helped them, accepted them when they settled there. Because of that, the Fujianese were able to easily find a job and easily upgrade their lives and make success," she said.

"It is also because the Philippines is a very good, open country, You also treat the Chinese from Fujian properly, carefully, and also offer the opportunity for them. That’s why they have a chance to improve their lives," Chu added.

Expats' success helped Quanzhou's growth

Until railways and roads were built in the mid-20th century to provide access through the mountains, Fujian was a secluded province with limited land, even in its largest city, Quanzhou. The province became a place for innovative ideas and placing value on education.

"Quanzhou has a large population but the land is very limited. During the ancient times, they did not have enough food so they had to find other ways to make a living. They had to start small business, even in the province or in other countries," said Zheng.

"Since the natural resources is limited and also because of the childhood memories and education, [striving to earn a living] is kind of in their genes. Most of the Quanzhou businessmen are very hardworking. Most of them started with nothing [and went] from small businesses to big ones," he added.

Fujian is now one of the fastest-growing and most dynamic regions in China, while Quanzhou is the province’s number one prefecture-level city in terms of gross domestic product.

"In the 1980s, Quanzhou is ranked sixth of the nine prefecture-level cities of Fujian in terms of gross domestic product, but now it is number one for the past 16 years," Zheng said.

He said the overseas Chinese helped Quanzhou in its development.

"Quanzhou is doing good because we received a lot of support from the overseas Chinese. When they have set up their businesses abroad, they return to the city with their capital, technology and invest money in Quanzhou," said Zheng.

He said his ancestors were among those who went to the Philippines to make a living.

"My grandfather’s grandfather and his three brothers went to the Philippines some 100 years ago. They spent most of their lives in the Philippines and would just return to Quanzhou for a month or two. The father of my grandfather built a big house here in Quanzhou for their family," he said.

He added that his ancestors stayed in Luzon, but he did not know exactly where. He said his grandfather died and was buried in the Philippines in 1938.

According to Zheng, some 15.8 million overseas Chinese are from Fijuan, with around 8 million of them from Quanzhou. And of this number, about one million are now living in the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore.