The most well-off Saigonese moguls in the late XIX century


Have you ever heard of a story about the four richest entrepreneurs that shaped the economy of Saigon in the past? Let’s break it down with helloVietnam tour guides.

Sỹ The First – Lê Nhứt Sỹ (1841 – 1900)

Born in a Catholic family, Sỹ was brought to Malaysia by the French missionaries for higher education. On returning, Sỹ was selected to work as an interpreter and soon became an officer in The Southern Colonial Council.


Sỹ The First

Lê Nhứt Sỹ swiftly made a fortune out of good luck striking from times to times. When the French ruled the Southern land of Vietnam, local citizens ran away leaving empty lands and rice paddies behind. Because of such, governors forced Sỹ to claim all these lands. However, his harvests had a bumper crop several years in a row, which made him soon filled his own pockets.

Such heritage built by Lê Nhứt Sỹ still roam the face of Saigon today. The most prominent one must be by Huyện Sỹ Church, where you can find in Saigon downtown via a Vietnam culture tour. Huyện Sỹ Church costed one-seventh of his own legacy and took him three years to complete.


Huyện Sỹ Church

His children were all well supported with good education and later became big landlords controlling various big lands and rice fields all over the South. Latterly, Sỹ’s granddaughter, Nguyễn Hữu Thị Lan, was elected as the Queen of King Bảo Đại. Queen Nam Phương was known to be the last Empress of feudal Vietnam.


Queen Nam Phương

Phương The Second – Đỗ Hữu Phương (1841 – 1914)

Phương was a son of Bá Hộ Khiêm, a rich village magnate in Southern Vietnam. Because of such origin, Phương was a guy born with a silver spoon. He started to learn Chinese since birth and soon adopted French. As a consequence, Phương became an intellectual equipped with high education and social knowledge.


Phương The Second

Following his well-off father, who was believed to be one of the first men trading with the French and abroad businessmen, Phương took over the career as a dealer of real estate and agricultural products. Other than that, due to a good relationship with the French government, Phương was quickly promoted and became a member of Cholon City Council (Saigon’s Chinatown) in 1872 as well as a close assistant for Antony Landes. Đỗ Hữu Phương and his whole family were naturalized as a French citizen in 1881.

Xường The Third – Lý Tường Quan (1842-1896)

Lý Tường Quan was born with his initial name as Phước Trai. Lý Tường Quan was originally a Chinese descendant whose family fled mainland China as a consequence of the Qing regime’s takeover.

Lý Tường Quan worked as an interpreter for the French given an ability to be fluent in both French and Chinese. Nevertheless, his blood passion to conquer a field of business never failed to satisfy the man. Reaching the age of 30, Xường quitted his job and started his own business as food dealer in Saigon and the surrounding cities. As fortune had stricken and a good relationship with the French officers, Xường’s career took off fast. He started to claim several lands for the construction of villas and mansions in the area of Saigon’s Chinatown. These all real estate were then put for sale and lease. Xường’s own manor was a huge building located on Hải Thượng Lãn Ông street today and recognized as an artistic and architectural relic of the city.


Chinatown in the past

Hỏa The Fourth – Hui Bon Hoa (1845-1901)

Jean Baptiste Hui Bon Hoa, a Chinese-descendent Vietnam whose common name was Chú Hỏa, or Uncle Hoả, is a Catholic himself.

Rumor has it that starting as a poor bottle collector, Hoả, fortunately, found a bag of gold hidden in an old sofa. He started using that sum of money to open an old business.


Fine Art Museum

Uncle Hỏa founded his own Hui Bon Hoa company, a real estate cooperation owning over 20000 buildings and apartments in Saigon at the time. Hoả was also the founder and owner of various magnificent buildings that still play a big part in the outlook and economy of Saigon as well as Vietnam culture today. These can be counted as the Fine Art Museum, Majestic Hotel or Từ Dũ Hospital, alongside with many religious and educational domiciles.


Majestic Hotel

These four phenomenal guys had left a great impact on the façade of Saigon then and now. Their heritage is now easily spotted out on the streets when you happen to join in one of the best tours in Vietnam. Quickly sign up for a tour with helloVietnam tour guides now and get the best insight for yourself.

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