Hong Kong’s Preserved Ginger Industry – Dan Waters discovers and recollects

Dan Waters writes: My first recollection of the name, ‘Hong Kong’, was as a teenager in the early 1930s. My uncle was a warrant officer in the British army and, for a time, he was stationed in India. Every Christmas a large, colourful blue-and-white porcelain jar of preserved ginger would arrive at our home in Norfolk, England. This had been despatched from Hong Kong and it was arranged by my uncle and aunt.

According to the book, Hong Kong, written by Harold Ingrams and published by Her Majesty’s Stationary Office in 1952, the oldest industry in Hong Kong exporting products to Europe, is undoubtedly the Preserved Ginger Industry. This is the first book I read giving details about Hong Kong.

The tale by Ingrams goes as follows: at the beginning of the nineteenth century a poor hawker of foodstuffs lived in Canton (today Guangzhou). He was named Li Chy and he had imagination and noticed that while his fellow citizens were not so fond of sweet things every one of the foreign devils had a ‘sweet tooth’. From then on he started boiling ginger in syrup. A great deal of ginger is grown in Guangdong Province. When foreign visitors were returning to Europe they often decided to take with them a jar of preserved ginger.

Li Chy built a factory in Canton and, in 1846, this was moved to Hong Kong. It was named Chy Loony the latter word meaning prosperous. Someone, so the story goes, gave some to Queen Victoria and she liked it so much she gave orders it was to appear as desert at every royal banquet. It was she who suggested the trade mark ‘Cock Brand’. It was registered in London in 1851. Foreign courts caught on and soon it was the fashion in most courts of Europe. Other factories followed but they never caught up with Li Chy. By 1938 there were 11 factories in the preserved-ginger business with dates of establishment varying from 1840 to 1915.

Middle - U Tat Chee Second from left - Herbert Wong Far Right - Christopher Kong

Middle – U Tat Chee
Second from left – Herbert Kong
Far Right – Christopher Kong
Courtesy of Fujian Xinxian Co Ltd

According to Ingrams, U Tat Chee the ‘Ginger King’, formed a syndicate to bring them together, to regulate exports and to improve quality and standards. In 1949 Hong Kong exported 5,260 tons of ginger of which 4,340 went to the United Kingdom, Nevertheless Queen Victoria was not the first monarch to be interested in preserved ginger. It was said to have been introduced, surprisingly, into England as early as the 15th century by the East India Company and used for making gingerbreads which were valued for their medicinal qualities. There they were used to treat coughs, colds, indigestion, dizziness, headaches, vomiting, flatulence and other ailments. King Henry VIII is said to have included ginger in a recipe he sent to the Lord Mayor of London. I remember, as a child, my great-aunts in Norfolk used to keep a ‘biscuit barrel’ full of gingerbreads.

The establishing of the ginger business, like many other industries, owed its prosperity largely to Chinese enterprise.

This article was first published on 8th January 2014.

HF adds: you will find more on the Hong Kong/China ginger industry here:

  1. For more information on U Tat Chee + Herbert Kong who co-founded a ginger company in HK in the 1920s and Herbert’s son, Christopher Kong (current Chairman of Fujian Xinxian Food Co., Ltd) see kingsonginger.com 11/2016 this domain name appears to have expired
  2. Hing Loong Ginger Factory
  3. Choy Fung Ginger Factory
  4. Man Loong Ginger Factory
  5. Messrs. L.M. Alvares & Co, Ginger + Feathers c1908
  6. Chinese Preserved Ginger shipped through HK 1913

8 Comments

  • lawrence tsui

    I think it should be Christopher Kong (not Wong) and his father at Fujian Xixian Food Coy.

  • Anthony LAU

    There are some more photos on making of preserved ginger: http://www.uwants.com/viewthread.php?tid=16848385&extra=page%3D1&page=39

    I had a working relation with Mr, Henry U, the son of Mr. U Tat Chee who was once the Chairman of Kwun Tong Rotary Club. He was the boss of a travel agency at that time and he did not involved in any factory business.

    By the way, sometimes preserved ginger industry related to soy sauce industry. Do you have any information on this industry especially in relation to the Soy Street at Mong Kong? Seems nothing can be found from internet on Soy Street.

    • Thanks Anthony. Interesting photos showing various stages of the process. Do you know where the location of this place was? Or the name of the company?

      Regarding soy sauce/soy beans. I have no information about specific locations, companies or people involved in this industry. However I do have this quote from one of the Jason Wordie Street books, “Soy bean processing works were also well established in Tsuen Wan. One bean curd works was described in an 1898 Government Report as having operated at Tsuen Wan ‘for at least fifty years’. One of the reasons these industries developed around Tsuen Wan was the proximity of secure and growing markets in Hong Kong island and Kowloon, with easy access to them either by boat or on foot. Another was the district’s relative isolation from urban areas; soy bean processing in particular is a notoriously foul smelling occupation, and was best conducted as far away from urban areas as possible to minimize the stench nuisance.”

      • Lawrence Tsui

        One of the best known well-established soy sauce companies is Amoy Canning otherwise known as To Fa Tai Loong 淘化大隆. It was operated by Wong Tuk-sau 王篤修 in the 50s. The company also produced the local soft drink – Green Spot 綠寶 orange drink, which is no longer marketed.

        I remember a soft drink production company in the early 50s in the To Kwa Wan area where one could watch the production line from the street through a huge window. I think it was the Green Spot factory. It was quite an entertainment for a small kid.

        It is said that ginger candies became popular export to European countries because the ‘Heat’ of ginger balances the ‘Cool’ to the body ecology stemming from habitual beer drinking – one of those Yin & Yang approach.

  • Viviane

    Hi Dan Waters,

    I’m interested in those porcelain jars that you have mentioned. Do you perhaps have a picture of it? Or do you know where I can get a picture of that?

    • Hello Viviane

      Thank you for your comment about the porcelain jars mentioned in the article by Dan Waters. I am very sorry to have to tell you that Dan recently passed away at the age of 95.

      Hugh Farmer

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