Quach Dam – the trader who built Binh Tay Market

Coming Ho Chi Minh City, most of the tourists have visited Bình Tây Market (also known as Chợ Lớn). That is a beautiful ancient East Asian architecture and is a major wholesale market in the city. The market was founded by a very famous trader Quách Đàm (Quach Dam, 郭琰).

The life of Quach Dam

An immigrant from China

Quach Dam was born in Longkeng Village, Chao’an District, Chaozhou Prefecture of Guangdong Province, China in 1863.

He left home in the mid-1880s for Chợ Lớn City (French: Municipalité de Cholon) to earn living by collecting and selling waste materials, duck feathers and used bottled. During this period, his life was very hard. At day, he went to buy everywhere; at night, he had to sleep on the sidewalks where he suffered from rain and wind and was frequently robbed.

The King of Rice in South Vietnam

In 1890, thanks to the money saved, he bought a steamship and worked as a prosperous rice merchant in Cần Thơ. Then He established a large rice husking mill here.

In about 1906-1907, he came to Chợ Lớn City and rented a 2-floor building at 55 Quai de Gaudot (now Hải Thượng Lãn Ông Street) to establish a trading company named Thông Hiệp, a name was believed to bring back luck.

After that, he moved the company to a 3-floor building at 55 Quai de Gaudot, a place believed to have the head of a dragon under the ground, the tail in the sea, money would flow into more and more. Over a century, the front of the building has been still bearing the logo Thông Hiệp.

In the following years, in addition to his mill in Cần Thơ, Quach Dam built two other large mills in Chánh Hưng (now in District 8) and Lò Gốm (now in District 6). He also establishes Quach-Dam et Cie shipping company in Phnom Penh to manage his four steam fleets. -However, the business that really brought him high profits was the acquisition in around 1915 of the Yi-Cheong Rice Factory, the largest and most profitable rice mill in Chợ Lớn. By 1923, statistics released by Revue de la Pacifique showed that every 24 hours, the amount of paddy processed at Quach Dam’s factories reached 230 tons in Chan Hung, 250 tons in Lo Tran and 1,000 tons at Yi-Cheong, confirming his status as the most successful rice merchant in Cochinchina.

Deputy Mayor of Cholon

In early 1908, Quach Dam was one of the few Chinese businessmen who became Deputy Mayor of Cholon, playing an active role in city affairs. He built a spacious family residence at 114 Quai Gaudot which was praised by the French press at that time.

It was during this period that Quach Dam began to be thought of as a famous philanthropist, who provided a great deal of support to the hospitals, schools and the association of workers and never was indifferent to poverty (Obituary at Echo Annamite, 1927). He particularly actively sponsored kindergartens and schools for the blind. Quach Dam’s great-grandchild, Mr. Harrison W Lau also said that after the 1923 Kanto earthquake, Quach Dam donated and moved to Japan about 4,000 tons of rice by his ships.

Quach Dam’s family and some officers

Quach Dam built Binh Tay Market

In 1928, Quach Dam spent his money to build a new market. He purchased a swampy land lot with a total area of 25,000 m2 in Binh Tay village, then hired someone to level the ground plan and had the famous Tau Cuoc (also called Xang) Company to build the market. The French government allowed the construction of the new market to start, gave Quach Dam permission to build house blocks around the market and place his statue in the middle of the market’s garden after his death.

The last years of Quach Dam

For most of the last decade of life, despite being seriously ill and partially paralyzed, Quach Dam continues to play an active role in Chợ Lớn’s business and community activities. In 1927, the great trader passed away when Cho Lon had not been completed. The new Cho Lon market which is spacious and clean was inaugurated in 1930. Quach Dam’s family set up his copper statue in the market at his wish. Today, he is still known as the founder of Binh Tay Market.

Statue of Quach Dam in the garden of Binh Tay Market

Statue of Quach Dam in the garden of Binh Tay Market

Statue of Quach Dam was moved to Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum

Statue of Quach Dam was moved to Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum

Summary of Quach Dam

From a poor man, without the capital to do business, he became one of the most successful and wealthy businessmen in the South of Vietnam in the early 20th century, he is said to be a hard-working and progressive man. When he became rich, he not enjoyed alone but shared with the community, especially those who were less fortunate than himself, he was said to be a humane man. He is a good example for everyone to follow, especially the young people today.

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