I have been fortunate to have had the pleasure of visiting the ancient city of PingYao in the Province of ShanXi, China a couple of years ago.
This town was the financial centre of China in the Ming and Qing Dynasties. As such, there were a few Armed Escort Agencies in PingYao. Three of these were set up as museums for tourists to enlighten themselves to the workings of an Armed Escort Agency.
The following posts were a re-hash from a now-defunct wuxia website.
The following photos were taken mainly from the First Armed Escort Agency in North China 华北第一镖局. This is a map of PingYao, showing the site of the First Armed Escort Agency in North China.
(The name of this Armed Escort Agency is "First Armed Escort Agency in North China" but I think it would be more accurate to translate the "First" 第一 as "Top" or "Number One". I certainly would not believe that this is the very first ever Armed Escort Agency in North (or other cardinal directions) China.)
Yes, this map was courtesy of the Yamen hostel - I stayed there because I am a poor traveller.
This poster explains the functions of an Armed Escort Agency.
Roughly translated, it says:-
The business of an Armed Escort Agency
Generally speaking, the Armed Escort Agency’s business falls into three categories.
One – to escort a newly appointed official to a post some distance away Two – to transport silver (money) and goods Three – to protect a rich man’s home
With the popularity of bills of exchange, silver ingots were mainly replaced by these but the remaining business categories of the Armed Escort Agency continued; the records of the Tong Xing Gong Armed Escort Agency revealed that it had escorted cloth in Henan Province’s Kaifeng, XuCang, LuoYang etc. cities, and escorted money in Xian’s SanYuan, Ningxia Porvince, etc.
For those in the Armed Escort Trade, most times of the month would see them “eat and drink outstation” (live away from base station) and their monthly salary would be four or five tales of silver. The Chief Escort could earn six or seven taels. Of course, when escorting an official to his post, and if the official was pleased (with the service) the gratuity could sometimes be ten to twelve taels of silver, but this cannot be counted as recurring income. At the end of the year, if the Armed Escort Agency made a profit, all the members could receive a bonus but naturally the owner would receive the largest share.
Usually, when escorting twelve thousand taels of silver, only two or three escorts would be involved, and the Armed Escort Agency’s income from this transaction would be approximately fifty two taels*. The escort of goods/commodities is combined with the escort of money. If any items were lost during the escort, the Armed Escort Agency would have to compensate their customer.
* This works out to 0.43%. If the escort involves one Chief and two normal escorts, their monthly salary would come to about fifteen taels of silver. So the income from one such transaction would be about 3.5 times the salary.
For those who are not in the know, please note that I am re-hashing posts from a previous, similar, website. What I am presenting now is a final version of posts after much deliberation and suggestions from other members of the previous, similar website.
Many had given their valued opinions, for which I am grateful. My special thanks go to yenchin (also a member here) for his valuable contributions. And for treating me to fried oysters in Taipei!
This poster talked about the etymology of the present day term Armed Escort Agency. In this thread the term 镖局 has been translated to "Armed Escort Agency" because that is the translation used in China.
Initially, the Armed Escort Agency was written with a Wood radical. By the end of the Qing Dynasty, following the rise of bills of exchange, the character for Armed Escort Agency changed to 票 piao, a ticket with a Metal radical. The Metal radical was indicative of the Eighteen types of weapons while the Ticket referred to the bills of exchange.
In effect, the word 镖 infers the use of martial force to protect money, while the Armed Escort Agency 镖局 represents the specialized organization involved in this business. It would be the equivalent of the present day private security agencies.
The base colour of the Armed Escort Agency’s flag is yellow, representing the colour of the earth found in the plateau of ShanXi. The red trim evokes hopes that the business would spread like red hot fire, and rise sky high.
Meanwhile, this talked about the development of the Armed Escort Agency in PingYao
"Development of Armed Escort Agency (1736 - 1823)
During the reign of the Qing Dynasty Emperor Qian Long, pugilist Zhang Heiwu established the XingLong Armed Escort Agency, hence started the popularity of Armed Escort Agencies. Thereafter, pugilists from ShanXi, HeBei, Shandong etc., opened their own Armed Escort Agencies.
Before the creation of bills of exchange, the Armed Escort Agencies practically undertook all the transportation of monies. At the same time, because these Agencies have branches in various places, their business expanded to include other services. However, unlike banking institutions, the Escort Agencies only limit their services to businessmen, and not to the public.
In addition, the Agencies would accept delivery of letters, but this service is not open to the public, they would only deliver the businessmen's business and personal letters. During this period, the Escort Agencies in effect became a closed holistic communication system."
This is a table of of the active (well know?) agencies and the earliest seem to date form Emperor Qian Long (reign 1735 - 1796) of the Qing Dynasty. It would appear that the escort agencies were active even up to the early years of the Republic of China, i.e. 1920's.
Below was what yenchin said about some of the names on the list above:-
李冠銘 (Li Guan Ming) established the rule that Armed Escorts should not call out their agencies or show banners when they pass by Cang Zhou (滄州). The story goes that there was this agency who passed by his house calling out, and it annoyed him. He said, "Any agency, when arriving at a place, should present their name card and visit the top pugilists at the location, then do the calling, or else it is disrespectful." He then chased the caravan, caught the top of a sign and used his legs to snatch up one of the horses. The agency guards were scared and apologized. Since then all agencies would pass Cang Zhou in a low profile manner.
However, a new worker in 戴二閭 (Dai Er Lu)'s team didn't know this rule and called out in Cang Zhou. 3 pugilists showed up to find some trouble with him despite Dai's repeated apologies. They fought him and were defeated. Making Dai and his fist style (Dai style Xinyi, 戴氏心意) famous.
王五 (Wang Wu) of the Yuan Shun Agency (源順鏢局) is "that" Wang Wu who sometimes shows up in series or movies