HSBC: Success in China, failure in China?

The British bank HSBC has suddenly become the focus of media attention again recently. According to the “Notice of Revised Terms and Conditions for Online and Mobile Banking” issued by HSBC, the bank will launch a revised version of its online and mobile banking terms and conditions from July 26, the new version mentions that online and mobile banking services are only available to Hong Kong customers in Hong Kong, reminding customers that if they are outside Hong Kong, “do not use, download or distribute online or mobile banking “. But then HSBC also said that customers can use the online and mobile banking services as usual when they are overseas. If we look back in history, it is easy to see that the origins of HSBC and all its troubles are related to China.

After the Opium War, China’s foreign debts soared and a sound banking system was urgently needed. But at that time, China only knew about money changers, not banks, and foreign banks were based in England or India. So, Thomas Sutherland, a Scot and the first chairman of the Hong Kong Whampoa Dockyard Company, initiated the establishment of the Hong Kong and Shanghai HSBC in 1864 with a capital of 5 million Hong Kong dollars.

The original name of HSBC was “Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Company Limited”, which was directly translated as “Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank Limited” in Chinese, abbreviated as HSBC. Since the Chinese name of the bank at that time had the word “Hui Li” in it, Su Shilan followed the custom and made the Chinese name “香港上海汇理銀行”. In 1866, the English name was changed to “The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation”, and in 1881, the Chinese name was changed to “The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation”, and the banknotes issued were inscribed with “HSBC” by Zeng Jize, the eldest son of Zeng Guofan and then diplomat of the Qing Dynasty, Yi Yong Hou. The banknotes were inscribed with the Chinese characters “HSBC” by Zeng Jize, the eldest son of Zeng Guofan and a diplomat of the Qing Dynasty at the time, giving the name “HSBC”. The word “HSBC” is said to have been suggested by the Chinese buyer Gu Yingchun after he had measured the fortune of the strokes, taking the meaning of “abundant remittance”.

The Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation was originally established to provide financial services to foreign companies (mainly British) in China, and although it had established a global network of branches and correspondent banks in its early years, its main business remained in China and other parts of the Asia-Pacific region.

In 1874, when the Qing court was building defense fortifications in Taiwan, only HSBC was not afraid to offend the Japanese government, but demanded an annual interest rate of 15% for the “Taiwan Defense Loan”, while the average annual interest rate of bonds publicly issued in the market was only 8%. The court built the Song-Shanghai Railway, Zuo Zongtang’s Western expedition, the Sino-Japanese War, etc., all had to borrow from HSBC, making it the largest creditor of the Qing government. From 1874 to 1890, HSBC lent a total of 28.97 million taels of silver to the Qing Dynasty, accounting for 70% of the total loans of the Qing Dynasty, and after 1911, HSBC acquired the right to collect and deposit Chinese customs duties and salt taxes. By the beginning of the 20th century, HSBC had become the largest bank in the Far East, and the foreign exchange traded by HSBC often accounted for 60-70% of the turnover in the Shanghai foreign exchange market.

During World War I, HSBC’s business was temporarily interrupted; with the end of the war, HSBC’s business expanded further; in 1921, HSBC decided to spend 10 million taels of silver to re-build the building on the Bund in Shanghai, which was equivalent to the sum of HSBC’s profits for two years.

In 1949, as the Chinese Communist Party gained power, HSBC’s operations in mainland China had to be greatly contracted, with only four branches in Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin and Shantou being able to operate. In April of the same year, HSBC handed over its mainland properties, including the Shanghai branch building, to the government, while the Shanghai branch continued to operate and the remaining employees rented the Yuanmingyuan Road building as their premises, and the Shanghai branch reduced its scope of operation. This humiliating situation was not rewritten until the 1980s!