Peng Chau Island industry – considerable further information from 1959 essay
Fung Chi Ming has sent a 1959 essay “Ping Chau”, an alternative name for Peng Chau, by Wei Kit Ling, Minnie, 1959, deposited at HKU Main Library. Wei Kit Ling writes about the Lime Industry, the Match Industry ie the Great China Match Factory, Porcelain Decoration, Rattan Ware, the Tanning Industry, and the making of Shrimp Sauce. All of these are shown below under their subtitles with the source (6).
This article is the result of initial research into industrial development on Peng Chau Island. Many subjects need verification.
If you can provide information on any of the subjects below, or add to the list, it would be good to hear from you. I can then gradually add to this framework to provide a fuller picture with an acknowledgment of your contribution.
Tony Fung contacted the group. He has a facebook site about the history of Peng Chau including its industries linked below. It’s in Chinese and I am sure will be of great interest to those who read the language. He has also sent a newspaper article from 1948 about the Great China Match factory included here.
As you will see a valuable source about the island in the 19th Century is James Hayes’ article published in the Royal Asiatic Society (HK Branch) Journal of 1964. James has very kindly given permission that extracts from this can be included here.
HF Hugh Farmer
FCM Fung Chi Ming
TF Tony Fung
JH James Hayes
MHY Mak Ho Yin
TN Thomas Ngan
General Information about industry on Peng Chau
By the 40s Peng Chau entered another stage of industrial development. Peng Chau’s residents were fully employed by local firms and residents of other islands, including Hong Kong Island, came to Peng Chau to find work… Small Peng Chau at its most flourishing had a hundred factories of various sizes, making it Hong Kong’s only industrial island. (1)
1959 Though the industries are on a small scale, nevertheless, they form an important part of the economy of the island in providing many workers with a permanent income and a source of extra cash for the part-time workers. The availability of cheap labour, of cheap rent and low cost of living are the main features of attraction leading to the establishment of large industrial concerns like the match factory and other small-scale industries. The following are some of the more important industries of Ping Chau. (6) See Lime Industry, Match industry, Porcelain Decoration, Rattan Ware, Tanning Industry, Shrimp Sauce.
“After that, there were factories doing bowl embellishment, light bulbs and rattan goods.” (4)
‘After the match factory closed down, the calfskin factory came – but that went into decline because of the pollution [it caused],’ (4)
By the 40s Peng Chau entered another stage of industrial development. Peng Chau’s residents were fully employed by local firms and residents of other islands, including Hong Kong Island, came to Peng Chau to find work. In addition to the Great China Match factory, there was… a cane factory…(1)
By the 40s Peng Chau entered another stage of industrial development. Peng Chau’s residents were fully employed by local firms and residents of other islands, including Hong Kong Island, came to Peng Chau to find work. In addition to the Great China Match factory…there was a unique pipe mill, a ceramic processing factory that was renowned in Hong Kong and abroad…(1) see Porcelain Decoration
HF: The island’s disused cinema, at 15 Wai Tsai Street, obviously has tenuous industrial links. However, I think it is of general historical interest. It opened on 6th February 1978 and closed in the late 1980s.
Further information about it:- photographs – especially of the interior, persons involved, alternative uses welcomed. These photos were taken on 2nd March 2015 by HF and show only the building’s exterior, with one of the foyer and booking office, and its use presumably post-cinema as a karaoke lounge.
Mike T: The karaoke bar would have had to be open as late as the mid-1990s, as it has a modern eight-digit phone number with two prefix. Wikipedia says that change happened in the mid-90s, which matches my recollection.
By the 40s Peng Chau entered another stage of industrial development. Peng Chau’s residents were fully employed by local firms and residents of other islands, including Hong Kong Island, came to Peng Chau to find work. In addition to the Great China Match factory, there was…a glove factory…(1)
Great China Match Company Ltd
The Great China Match factory was built by Shanghai’s match king Lau Hung Sang. [During] The internal disorder and foreign invasions of 1930s China, Lau realised that investing all of his funds in China was extremely dangerous. Therefore Lau decided to invest some of his money overseas and decided that Hong Kong, then under British rule, would be comparitively calm and secure. According to local legend, Lau’s decision to build the factory on Peng Chau was due to opposition on Cheung Chau because of fears of a major fire at the match factory.
At that time many Peng Chau residents were unemployed due to the decline of Hong Kong lime ash industry. The ash kiln at Bak Wan (North Bay) had just gone out of business, and the land was sold to Lau Hung Sang for a residence. Lau then bought a major part of the northeast side of Peng Chau, which then became the home of the Great China Match factory. Boundary stones were placed to mark off the property. Some of these can still be seen and some are lurking in the vegetation that has reclaimed some of the property. The Peng Chau Rural Committee did not oppose the construction of the match factory because of the local unemployment and trust that the factory managers would work to overcome safety issues. When the factory officially opened in 1939, Peng Chau residents were given first priority for jobs and the administrative personnel were all Zhejiang officials. (1)
1959 Essay. The match factory is the largest factory in Ping Chau, and has been established since 1937. The site is a favourable one for it is at a corner of its own and away from the populous area. The source of timber was from Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, India and Burma before, now it comes mainly from Mainland China. Where the match was formerly exported to Indonesia, now it is mainly taken to Hong Kong for local consumption and some to Singapore.
This factory plays a very important part in providing work for many. In 1946 and 1947, it employed as many as 1000 workers, but unfortunately, this industry has declined quickly till now it uses only 300 workers. Of these, only 50 are on permanent basis and the rest are working on part-time. The pay of the worker is piece-rate and also depends on the kind of work required, a higher pay for a more difficult kind of work. The maximum pay is $5.00 to $6.00 a day and the minimum 80 cents to $1.00
Whether this industry will flourish or decline in future depends largely on world situation, on the demand of foreign countries and the sources of supply of timber. (6)
TF: has sent this newspaper report:
Now, all that remains of the Great China Match Factory, which was Hong Kong’s biggest [match factory] , are the large numbered stones that marked its boundaries. Due to safety concerns, there was a ‘line in the sand’ through which non-staff members weren’t allowed to pass. In the 1970s, the advent of affordable lighters made the factory obsolete. (2)
All that remains to mark the site of the Great China Match Plant are boundary stones which are visible in some places including this one hidden in the undergrowth alongside a footpath near Nam Wan San Tsuen (3)
FCM: As of 2015, the Antiquities Advisory Board, HK has listed the Great China Match Factory as Grade 3.
By the 40s Peng Chau entered another stage of industrial development. Peng Chau’s residents were fully employed by local firms and residents of other islands, including Hong Kong Island, came to Peng Chau to find work. In addition to the Great China Match factory, there was… a knitting mill…(1)
“Chung Yuet-ngor’s life echoes the changes that have swept over Peng Chau in recent decades. Born and raised on the island, the 57-year-old worked at an island knitwear factory during her teens.” (4)
By the 40s Peng Chau entered another stage of industrial development. Peng Chau’s residents were fully employed by local firms and residents of other islands, including Hong Kong Island, came to Peng Chau to find work. In addition to the Great China Match factory, there was… a leather factory…, (1)
FCM: As of 2015, the Antiquities Advisory Board, HK has listed the Leather Factory as Grade 3.
By the 40s Peng Chau entered another stage of industrial development. Peng Chau’s residents were fully employed by local firms and residents of other islands, including Hong Kong Island, came to Peng Chau to find work. In addition to the Great China Match factory, there was…a light bulb factory…(1)
“After that, there were factories doing bowl embellishment, light bulbs and rattan goods.” (4)
The lime ash industry holds an important status in Hong Kong’s modern history.The history books don’t record exactly when the lime ash kilns became the largest of the four primary industries on Peng Chau, but at the beginning of the 1800s there were more than 11 workshops here, which made Peng Chau’s lime ash industry the largest in Hong Kong.
According to the historical record, as early as the 7th to 10th centuries AD, Han people living in the islands of Hong Kong during the Tang Dynasty used the lime produced from burning shells and coral for building materials and as a fertiliser (balance the soil pH and add oxygen to the soil) and as a pesticide, an herbicide, in paper making and as a dye and for many other things.
The decline of the lime ash industry: In the middle of the 19th century imports of cement and lime from China and Japan start to dominate the Hong Kong market due to lower production costs. The competition eventually forces the lime ash kilns in Peng Chau to all close. (1)
1959 essay. The lime production in Ping Chau is an interesting example of the way in which the relatively meager local natural resources have been turned to industry. At present, there are only three of the five kilns left, situated close to one another on the south-west of the island.
The source of coral supply is from the beaches and the base of cliffs around the north-eastern shores of Lantao and the nearby islands. Every large storm provides a renewal of this material so that little is obtained from the sea. Local fishermen find it no problem to carry the shelly mud in their sampans and sell it to the kilns in Ping Chau for H.K. $1 per 250-300 catties while the purer coral costs H.K. $1 per 200 catties. There is little danger of the supply of raw material running short at the present scale of production.
The corals and shells brought over are taken to the kilns and dumped in front of the buildings, the two grades being kept separate. The kiln is along half-open shed with a brick wall at the rear and sides and a passageway down the centre separates the sifting bins to the rear from the furnace on the open side. The long furnace, open to the sky, is built under a series of compartments in which the lime is burnt. When burning is started, the compartments are filled with corals and shells and the furnace stacked with grass and scrub from the hillside. A diesel engine at one end of the kiln provides a draught ofair which keeps the fire burning furiously, and once warmed up, the furnace is kept burning for eight hours with grass, cinders and any combustible waste. When the fire is out, the cooled material is sifted, the fine lime into the rear bin and the coarse fragments onto a heap of waste. The lime is then put into bags, stored and awaits transport, while the residue is made into rough bricks by compaction. These are mainly for local use and even when sold, little gain is obtained from this by-product. The remaining material is thrown onto the foreshore and is built into a small protecting beach by wave action. The total average production from the three kilns in Ping Chau is 11,000 piculs (1 picul – 133 lbs) of lime per month, though they are able to produce double that amount. Each firm has a small permanent staff of local people who have been working on the kilns for many years, and about 120 part-time workers are employed and when work is available. The permanent employees are paid monthly, earning between $30 and $200 when food and accommodation provided, but the others are under piece work conditions with variable wage rates. In this way, the industry plays an important part in the economy of Ping Chau, provides permanent income for some fifty people, and extra cash for many families working part-time or supplying the raw materials.
Of the five kilns on the island, two had to close down and it is said that the three are working at a low profit. The reasons for this are the low prices of the imported material which makes competition difficult and the small-scale production which has a limited range of buyers. But in view of the future development of Lantao, it is possible that the industry may be given a much needed boost with a reduction in the transportation costs.
The location of the industry on Ping Chau was not wholly accidental, for here corals and shells were obtainable, cheap flat land could be procured and a good supply of cheap labour available. Besides, it was advantageous that the spot was between the sheltered waters of Lantao and Hong Kong and remote enough to avoid the smoke nuisance.
At present, other types of industry are being attracted to Ping Chau which is on the ferry route to Hong Kong. With the construction of the pier transport difficulties have been eased and the only major obstacle to future development is the lack of reliable water supply. If this difficulty could be overcome, the sites of the present kilns might be used more profitably in some type of industry. (6)
FCM: As of 2015, the Antiquities Advisory Board, HK has listed the Sing Lei Hap Gei Lime Kiln Factory as Grade 3.
By the 40s Peng Chau entered another stage of industrial development. Peng Chau’s residents were fully employed by local firms and residents of other islands, including Hong Kong Island, came to Peng Chau to find work. In addition to the Great China Match factory, there was …a pomelo lumber mill…(1)
Marine Service Shops
By the 40s Peng Chau entered another stage of industrial development. Peng Chau’s residents were fully employed by local firms and residents of other islands, including Hong Kong Island, came to Peng Chau to find work. In addition to the Great China Match factory, there [were]… marine service shops…(1)
By the 40s Peng Chau entered another stage of industrial development. Peng Chau’s residents were fully employed by local firms and residents of other islands, including Hong Kong Island, came to Peng Chau to find work. In addition to the Great China Match factory, there was a unique pipe mill…(1)
This industry is quite important in Ping Chau, and there are five such factories there. The porcelain comes from Japan, and occasionally from Kiangsi. When the goods arrive, there are no designs on them, and the pieces are unpacked so that designs are painted on them by hand and later taken to the clints to seal them on. After this has been done, the decorated porcelain is ready to be taken out to the enamelware companies in Hong Kong where it is exported to different countries such as Europe, Brazil, Italy and South America.
The biggest factory — the Kwong Yee Company has been set up in Ping Chau for only seven years chiefly because rent is low compared to that of Hong Kong and the surrounding is good here, and easy to rent the clints. The workers come from Canton and Hong Kong, and not the local inhabitants of Ping Chau. Technique in drawing designs is not taught to others, for those who want to learn can do so from the unions. There are approximately 120 workers in the island and they get an average of $7.00 to $8.00 per day, the wage varying from $16.00 to $5.00 depending on the skill in painting and the size of the vessel painted upon.
Because of the great skill that is required from the workers, the greatest problem to its development is the availability of skilled labour since technique is not passed on to others. (6) see Ceramics
“After that, there were factories doing bowl embellishment, light bulbs and rattan goods.” (4)
There is no particular factory for this industry, and I paid my visits to the homes of the sub-contractors, so that seemingly this is mainly handicraft work for the women and children, and does not have much importance. Still on inquiry, I found that as many as 300 permanent workers are employed besides part-time workers who gather when orders come.
The rattan is imported from Hong Kong, and the workers actually supply the rattan ware companies in Hong Kong and do not sell them themselves. They have to do according to the items and the designs required, and the wares are taken to the companies and exported to United States chiefly. Because work depends on the placing of orders, so business fluctuates all the time with the result that the number of workers also changes. As for instance, at the biggest rattan ware concern, I learned that besides the permanent staff, the ware are dispatched to about 90 families at the time of my visit simply because business is flourishing and they need more hands to get the orders completed by the appointed time. The permanent staff gets an average of $3 a month, and the daily wage ranges from $1 to $5 depending on their skill and speed since it is based on piece-rate. If the design is harder, the workers will also be paid more. (6)
Shing Lei Kiln Lime Kiln
TN: The site of the Shing Lei Kiln in Peng Chau is in ruin but basically intact. I visited it in December 2013. The main building still exists but is locked up. The company sign is still there but is faded. Some windows are broken. I haven’t read anything about the current status of this lot.
HF: The Sing Lei Hap Gei Lime Kiln Factory consisted of two buildings.
The making of shrimp sauce and paste is carried out only twice a year between June and October during which the shrimps required can be caught. This small-scale industry is only carried on by two small factories with a few workers. The small shrimps are first salted, then they are ground and taken to dry under the sun. While being dried, it is turned over and over again, and when it is ready, it is flavoured and canned. The work is usually done by members of the family working together. After the sauce has been canned, it is taken out to Hong Kong shops where it is exported to United States. (6)
There are at present two tanning factories in Ping Chau. The larger one — Fuk Yuen — has been established for approximately 43 years and formerly was for oil refinery.
The raw hide is imported from Mainland China, Australia, Spain, South Africa and Singapore, but mostly from Siam and Mainland. When arrived, the hide is preserved, salted and dried. The dry kind is dumped into water to soak and soften, while the salted kind has its salt washed off and preserved with lime. The hair on the hide is plucked off and the hide is turned into leather for making shoe-cover and soles.
Those which are for shoe-cover are placed in ammonia and caustic soda to soak for about three hours in barrels after which the pieces are taken out to dry under the sun, and after about one week, they are coloured, hardened, and made smooth and are ready for sale.
For soles, the same process is repeated again. Besides making shoe-cover and soles, the leather is used for furniture, handbags, belts, suit-cases and others. The tanned leather is taken to Hong Kong where the leather for shoe-cover is sold at $1.50 per 100 sq. ins. and that for soles at $5.00 per catty. (This price is so at the time of visit). Of course, the price varies with the price of raw material the amount of which fluctuates. Therefore steady business is hard to maintain and production has to depend on the amount of raw hide available and on the orders placed. When taken to Hong Kong, the leather is made into different kinds of articles which are exported or sold on local market.
Of the 30 workers in Ping Chau, about 25 work in Fuk Yuen. The average wage for workers is $120 to $130, while some skilful workers may get about $200 and the part-time ones $70 to $80. In the past, this industry was more prosperous, and about 70 workers were employed then. It is said that the decline of this industry is due to the keen competition offered by other new factories elsewhere. (6)
Teak: The Hong Kong Teak Factory
After the [Great China] match factory closed in 1976, following a decline in demand after the advent of the cigarette lighter, the site was taken over by the Hong Kong Teak Company which produced teak wood fittings to many five-star hotels including the Mandarin and Hilton but the factory soon relocated to Tai Po in the New Territories which was more accessible and had better transportation. (3)
“Peng Chau once bristled with industrial activities. It hosted factories making more than 30 types of goods (such as teakwood furniture and textiles)…” (4)
See: RASHKB says “Anyone with an interest in the history, art, literature and culture of China and Asia, with special reference to Hong Kong, will enjoy membership of the Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, which is generally regarded as the premier Society for the study of Hong Kong and South China. Dating back over 150 years, the Society is today a very active body, organizing varied visits, talks, seminars and more.”
Tube and Metal Company, Hong Kong
MHY Indhhk article Hong Kong Tube and Metal Company, Peng Chau Island – 1960s
This article was first posted on 25th February 2015.
- Green Peng Chau Association
- Discover Hong Kong
- Hong Kong Extras
- Peng Chau: An industrial hive…SCMP article 20th July 2012
- Peng Chau between 1798-1899, JW Hayes, RASHKB Journal Vol 4, 1964
- Ping Chau [an alternative name for Peng Chau] essay, Wei Kit Ling, Minnie, 1959, deposited at HKU Main Library. Not downloadable, not photocopiable. Essay presented to the Dept of Geography and Geology, HKU. Accession number MSS 915.125 W41.
- Tony Fung’s Peng Chau history on facebook:
- TF further writes: There were some HKU geography students in the 1950s/60s writing on Peng Chau, their papers have very good b/w photos, including some of the factories; as well as good accounts of them. These papers cannot be loaned or copied but you can read them in HKU library if you are an authorised user. See the titles here:
- The Green Peng Chau Association website
Related Indhhk articles: