Chou Tso-min (1884-8 March 1956), founder of the Kincheng Banking Corporation, was noted for his pioneering efforts in the development of modern banking practices in north China. Huaian, Kiangsu, was the birthplace of Chou Tso-min. His father was a scholar who had obtained the chü-jen degree. Chou received his early education at home from private tutors. About the turn of the century, he went to Shanghai, where he enrolled at the Nanyang Academy, the predecessor of Communications University. Although he was not graduated from Nanyang, he went to Japan and studied law at Kyoto Imperial University from 1905 to 1911. After his return to China, Chou went to Peking, where he served as a section chief in the treasury department of the ministry of finance in the newly established republican government. Soon he was made director of that department. In 1916 he became the manager of the Bank of Communications branch at Wuhu, Anhwei. Then he was transferred to Peking as chief auditor in the head office of the bank. Chou Tso-min recognized the need for developing modern commercial banking in north China to meet the growing demands ofeconomic development there. He therefore founded the Kincheng Banking Corporation at Tientsin in 1917. Chou served as general manager and in 1920 also became chairman of the board of directors. The bank was initially capitalized at CNS500 thousand; soon it had CN$4.6 million in deposits.
When the Kincheng Banking Corporation was established in 1917, there were only three private commercial banks in the area. Under Chou Tso-min's vigorous direction, the Kincheng Banking Corporation set a pattern of modern banking practices. In the five years after 1917, eleven new commercial banks, all emulating Kincheng, were established in north China.
In 1923 the Kincheng Banking Corporation, the Yien-yieh Bank, the China and South Seas Bank, and the Continental Bank pooled their resources to establish a Joint Savings Society and Joint Treasury. Chou Tso-min served as an executive director of the joint operation. These four banks came to be known as the pei ssu-hang [four northern banks]. Chou also became a member of the board of directors of the Bank of China and of the Bank of Communications. In addition, he served as chairman of the Peiping Bankers Association and the Peiping Chamber of Commerce.
By 1937 the Kincheng Banking Corporation had increased its capital to CN$7 million and its deposits to CN$170 million; it had become a leading private commercial bank in north China. Its volume of deposits compared favor-ably with the Shanghai Commercial and Savings Bank, directed by K. P. Ch'en (Ch'en Kuang-fu, q.v.). In the years before 1937 the bank had established 65 branches in China, of which some 60 percent were located in north China. The Kincheng Banking Corporation contributed to the economic development of China by investing in industrial, mining, and transportation enterprises; loans in these three fields comprised about 40 percent of the bank's total loans during the period before the outbreak of war in 1937. In the industrial field, it cooperated closely with the Yung-li Chemical Works of Tientsin, the largest chemical enterprise in republican China, and with its affiliates, the Chiu-ta Refined Salt Company and the Golden Sea Industrial Research Institute. Textile mills financed by the Kincheng Banking Corporation included the Yu-yuan and Peiyang cotton mills at Tientsin, which together operated some 80 percent of China's spindles, and the Sing-yu Mill at Shanghai, operating about 5 percent of China's spindles. In the shipbuilding field, the bank gave financial support to the Chung-hua Shipbuilding and Engineering Company at Shanghai. The Liu-ho-kou Coal Mining Company, located at Anyang, Honan, also received loans from the Kincheng Banking Corporation. The fifth largest colliery in China, Liu-ho-kou produced about 1,000,000 tons of coal annually before the war. After the reorganization of the Chung-hsing Coal Mining Company in Shantung after 1929 (see Ch'ien Yung-ming), the Kincheng Banking Corporation became a member of the consortium that made a substantial loan to modernize Chung-hsing's operations and to restore production. Kincheng investments in railroads and railroad improvements in China also were significant.
Although it was a commercial bank, the Kincheng Banking Corporation was a pioneer in the field of agricultural credit in north China. In 1934 the bank lent funds to establish the North China Agricultural Improvement Institute, with the objective of improving cotton production. The institute was established in cooperation with Nankai University at Tientsin (see Chang Po-ling) and the Mass Education Promotion Association headed by James Yen (Yen Yang-ch'u, q.v.). Other universities, including Tsinghua and Cheeloo, soon came to support the organization. In 1935 the Cotton Improvement Association of Hopei province also joined the institute. Through the initiative of the Kincheng Banking Corporation, a joint rural credit group was established to extend loans to agricultural production and marketing cooperatives in the provinces of Hopei, Shansi, Shensi, Honan, and Anhwei. In this undertaking, the Kincheng Banking Corporation assumed responsibility for all cotton loans in Hopei province, where funds were advanced to more than 300 cooperatives.
Chou Tso-min was also a pioneer in the field of insurance in China. In 1929 he established the Taiping Insurance Company as a subsidiary of the Kincheng Banking Corporation with an initial capital of CNS500 thousand. The company specialized in fire, marine, and automobile insurance. Four years later, the company was enlarged, with the Bank of Communications, the Continental, the China and South Seas, the Kuo-hua (China State), and the Tung-lai banksjoining in the financial operation it increased its capitalization to CN$3 million and added life, war risk, and casualty insurance. The Taiping Insurance Company, with Chou Tso-min as its general manager, became a leading Chinese insurance company of the pre1937 period. In addition to his other responsibilities, Chou was the leading figure in the organization of the Tung-chen Produce Company in 1920, and he later served as its general manager. Operating three departments—trading, storage, and shipping—that company dealt in cotton, coal, and cereals. It owned ten small steamers and had warehouses in the principal commercial ports of China.
After the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war in 1937, the Kincheng Banking Corporation gradually established 30 new branches in the provinces of west China and continued to provide financial assistance to industrial, mining, and transportation enterprises in the interior. Particularly notable was the aid provided to the Ming-sung Industrial Company of Szechwan, operated by Lu Tso-fu (q.v.), and to its related enterprises, including the Ming-sung Machine Works, the Ta-ming Textile Company, and the T'ien-fu Coal Mining Company. After the Japanese surrender in 1945, Chou Tso-min and Lu Tso-fu collaborated in establishing the Pacific Steamship Company, which bought and operated three ocean-going vessels for the China coastal trade.
When the Chinese Communists occupied the mainland in 1949, Chou Tso-min was in Hong Kong. As the banking business declined under the new dispensation, labor demands rose. In an attempt to save the situation, Chou returned to the mainland in 1950 to resume charge of the operations of the Kincheng Banking Corporation, to which he had devoted more than three decades of his life. However, in September 1951 the private banks of north China were amalgamated. In November 1952, all private banks in the People's Republic of China were converted into joint state-private enterprises, and the Kincheng Banking Corporation lost its legal and financial identity. Chou Tso-min then retired. He died in Shanghai on 8 March 1956 after suffering a heart attack.