From Ships in Cheung Sha Wan to Shoes in Sham Shui Po – the Chan family, Wing On Shing Shipyard and Po Shing Shoe Company
York Lo: From Ships in Cheung Sha Wan to Shoes in Sham Shui Po – the Chan family, Wing On Shing Shipyard and Po Shing Shoe Company
Left: Po Shing Shoe in the Posco building at 165 Un Chau Street (Source: Flickr). Right: The original Po Shing building in 231-247 Un Chau Street in the 1950s. (Source: Facebook)
The Group has two articles posted earlier about Wing On Shing Shipyard (永安盛船廠) in Cheung Sha Wan – one about its activities during the Japanese occupation from the BAAG archive and the other about MV Tai Loy, the steel vessel it built after the War for the HK-Macau route. It turns out that the owner of the historic shipbuilding company – the Chan family – also founded the Po Shing Shoe Company (步陞鞋業, aka Posco), a leading local shoe manufacturer in the 1950s and 60s which still sells its shoes out of its ground floor store in its own building in nearby Sham Shui Po.
From the 1930s through the 1980s, the two businesses prospered under the management of the four Chan brothers (in order of age): Chan Wing-kan (陳榮根), Chan Pui-kan (陳沛根), Chan Sik-kan (陳錫根) and Chan Tsan-kan (陳鎮根). Although in recent years the shipyard has faded into history and only the Posco store in SSP remains, several of the family’s descendants achieved success in different fields outside of the family business.
Wing On Shing Shipyard
Little information is available about the early years of Wing On Shing. According to an article about the shipyard in 1950, it was founded half a century before (1900) by two Chinese – one was a secretary with Kowloon Wharf and another was a carpenter with the Kowloon Dock. Presumably one of these two co-founders was the father of the four Chan brothers. The shipyard started out with a dozen workers in a small site of 2000 square feet in Cheung Sha Wan and focused mostly on repairing wooden vessels and tug boats for Kowloon Wharf.
By the 1930s as the four brothers joined the family business, the yard began making its own tug boats achieving the record of building ten tugboats at the same time and also branched out into building of yachts with orders coming in from the US and the UK.
One of its pre-War yacht orders came from Rhode Island textile millionaire Frederick L. Jenckes who commissioned the 60 feet long “Orient” from Wing On Shing in 1938. Another yacht also launched in 1938 was the 47 foot cutter “Golden Dragon”, designed by H.S. Rouse, the vice commodore of the HK Yacht Club which sailed from Singapore to London.[i]
The most prominent of the pre-war yachts built by Wing On Shing however was Madame Peace which took eight months to build in 1940 and was featured on the cover of the March 1947 issue of Yacht Magazine. [ii] During the Japanese occupation, Wing On Shing was occupied by the Japanese, details of which are covered in the BAAG article which I will not repeat here.
Left: Name plate of Memsahib built in 1961 by Wing On Shing for ER Cutting. Source: https://memsahibsstory.wordpress.com/about/; Right: Launching ceremony of MV Tai Loy at the Wing On Shing Shipyard
After the War business boomed and Wing On Shing ventured into the manufacturing of larger vessels such as the 300 ton cargo ship Hudson which transported goods between Hong Kong and Macau and MV Tai Loy (renamed Chung Shan in 1968), the passenger vessel (allegedly the first steel vessel built after the War in HK) commissioned by Fu Tak-yum, the Macau casino mogul to transport HK gamblers to his gambling establishments in Macau.
By 1950, the shipyard encompassed 111,000 square feet with its own lumber yard and 200 skilled workers (ramped up to 500 during peak times).
In the 1950s, Wing On Shing was also active in the yacht export trade but not high in terms of volume. According to the Far Eastern Economic Review, Wing On Shing had “5 yachts under construction varying from 30 to 40 feet, 4 of which were for local owners and 1 for export to the US” in 1957 and it completed 6 yachts which were dispatched to American buyers in 1959. Some of the post war yachts built by Wing On Shing include China Clipper (1963, designed by Sparkman & Stephens), Traveller III and IV (both designed by Ted Brewer), the 48 foot motorsailer Wing On (1962, designed by Eldredge McInnis of Quincy MA for Charles Burt, commodore of Boston Yacht Club). [iii] In 1961, it built Memsahib for a Boston attorney by the name of E.R. Cutting and built a yacht for the Dean of HKU School of Medicine. [iv]
The most famous of the Wing On Shing yachts built in the post war period however was Morasum thanks to a maritime incident involving the yacht which grabbed international headlines in 1969. The yacht was commissioned by Simeon Baldwin, a former Flying Tigers pilot during WWII whose Airstocks Ltd was the HK-based representative of Sikorsky helicopters, Pratt & Whitney jet engines and Bendix Aviation in the Far East and was launched on his birthday in 1958. [v] An avid sailor, Baldwin was sailing Morasum to Macau along with 2 yachts of fellow Royal HK Yacht Club members, Hector Ross (British colonial government official, son in law of Ford dealer Wallace Harper) and C. F. Von Sydow (Swedish merchant) in February 1969 when they encountered the People Liberation Army and all 3 yachts plus the 15 foreign nationals aboard were seized and detained in Guangdong. While 13 of the detained were released within 7 weeks, Baldwin was only released after 10 months of solitary confinement on the mainland.
For six decades, the Wing On Shing shipyard was located on the waterfront of Cheung Sha Wan but as land supply became scarce in the 1950s, the government was keen on expanding the shoreline via reclamation. By 1957, reclamation work already restricted the shipyard’s business and in 1964, the shipyard was finally forced to relocate to Tsing Yi Island due to reclamation. After that the volume of production decreased and the firm was ultimately dissolved in 2013.
Po Shing Shoe
Left: 1950s advertisement of Po Shing Shoe when its address was still in 302-304 Lai Chi Kok Road; Right: an old Po Shing shoe shopping bag
While the Po Shing Shoe Company was incorporated in 1954, it was founded before the War, probably in the early 1930s as the name first appeared in HK Government Reports as early as 1939 when fourth brother Chan Tsan-kan listed as “manager of Po Shing Shoe” under occupation in the juror list of that year and the address of the firm was listed as 202 Cheung Sha Wan Road. According to a complaint filed after the War by Tsan-kan, during the War the firm refused to collaborate with the occupier and as a result the firm’s machinery ended up in Canton which was then taken over by the Chinese Military Administration after the War. [vi]
According the FEER in 1955, the firm was listed as a maker of “boots, shoes, sandals and slippers of leather, cloth and embroidered plastic and canvas footwear” with HK$2 million in paid up capital. Its products were exported (especially to countries within the British Commonwealth where the firm enjoyed preferential tax treatment) and marketed locally through its stores and it also manufactured shoes and boots for security guards and factory workers. In addition to Chan Wing-kan and Tsan-kan, Lok Ping-cheong (駱秉昌 1902-1991) was also involved with the firm as a long-time director.
In 1960, Po Shing Shoe established a joint venture called Burma Shoe Ltd in Burma with the state owned Defense Services Institute (DSI, the largest import export organization in the country) to manufacture combat boots and civilian footwear. It is important to note that many of Wing On Shing’s yachts from that time period were made out of Burmese teak so the Chans were familiar with Burmese trade. Unfortunately, all businesses were nationalized in Burma after General Ne Win seized power in 1962 and Po Shing’s stake in Burma Shoe were taken over by DSI. [vii]
Back in Hong Kong, Po Shing continued to grow in the 1960s with its own Posco building on Un Chau Street in Sham Shui Po and also a branch at 210 Prince Edward Road. In November 2011, the Prince Edward Road branch was closed as the site was acquired by the Urban Renewal Authority for redevelopment.
The versatile Chan family
As the eldest of the four siblings who built Wing On Shing and Po Shing, Chan Wing-kan (陳榮根, 1907-2000) served as the chairman of both companies. As a businessman, Wing-kan was relatively low key but as a philanthropist, he and his wife Au Big Yan (區碧茵, 1907-1992) were fairly high profile especially later in their lives. Au was a graduate of the Nankai Middle School in Tientsin and also studied in Japan. From 1983 to 1986, she served on the board of Po Leung Kuk, the last year as vice chairman. In 1988, she donated over HK$2 million to convert the former Western Fire Station building into the Po Leung Kuk Chan Au Big Yan Home for the Elderly. She and her husband were also devout Buddhists and she served as Executive Director of the Hong Kong Buddhist Association. Today the Buddhist Association has two schools which are named after them – the Buddhist Chan Wing Kan Memorial School and the Buddhist Wing Yan School (榮茵學校).
Chan Wing-kan (third from the left) and at the unveiling of the porcelain portrait of his wife Au Big-yan (second from the left) at the Po Leung Kuk building on Leighton Road. Wah Kiu Yat Po, 1989-4-2
The second brother Chan Pui-kan (陳沛根) was the lowest profile of the four. According to the BAAG report, he was the supervisor of Wing On Shing during the Japanese occupation. Chan Kwan-po, the pro-Beijing scholar and head of the Fung Ping Shan Library at HKU, listed an individual with the same name as his friend in his diary.
The third brother Chan Sik-kan (陳錫根), who served as managing director of Wing On Shing, was perhaps the most outgoing of the four siblings. He joined the family business after he received his B.A. from HKU in 1935. A highly respected amateur photographer, he co-founded the Chinese Photographic Association of Hong Kong (中華攝影學會) in 1958 with a number of like-minded photographers. In 1973, Sik-kan died and amongst his pallbearers were his HKU classmate Koxik Chow (周覺識,father of Health Secretary York Chow) and the famous photographer Chan Fook-lai (陳復禮). His wife Fung Kam-to (馮錦濤), was also a HKU graduate (1942) and was a senior education officer in the HK government who had served as headmistress of a government school in Kowloon in the 1950s. They had 3 sons and 1 daughter – the eldest son was involved in Wing On Shing while the other two sons lived in the US and Canada. [viii]
Left: Chan Tsan-kan (Source: HK Album 1967) Right: Signs of the now closed Po Shing store on Prince Edward Road.
The youngest of the four siblings – Chan Tsan-kan (陳鎮根) was born in 1916 and like his older brother Sik-kan was educated at the Government Vernacular Middle School (now Clementi Secondary School). He served as Managing Director of Po Shing Shoe for many years and in 1971, he led a 15 member delegation of HK footwear manufacturers to visit Japan on a study mission.
A number of Chan family descendants achieved success outside of the family businesses. Peter Chan (陳汝仁) who joined the government’s Marine department as a surveyor of ships in 1962 and rose to become the first Chinese to head the department in 1984 before transferring to the UK in 1986. [ix] One of the Chan daughters was a headmistress and two of her children are well known in two vastly different fields – Tom Lau Ko-yuen (劉高原) as chairman of PYI (which owns Paul Y Engineering) is a major player in the construction and ports development while his younger sister Lau Ko-chung (劉高琮), better known by her stagename Suzie Wong (蘇施黃), is a popular radio DJ and host of TV cooking programme.
[ii] Kung Sheung Evening News 1950-8-4.
[iii] Various boating magazines and websites
[vi] Horne, Gerard, Race War!: White Supremacy and the Japanese Attack on the British Empire, NYU Press, 2005
[vii] Burma: national economy, 1962
[viii] Wah Kiu Yat Po, 1973-4-7
This article was first posted on 31st October 2016.
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