Bunnan Tong (唐賓南): Business and Community Leader and his Enterprises

York Lo: Bunnan Tong (唐賓南): Business and Community Leader and his Enterprises

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Left: Bunnan Tong; Right: Bunnan Tong and his brother and clansmen welcome Lee Chik-nung in 1957 at the Tong Chun Yeung Tong Clansmen Association. Left to right: Kannan Tong, Bunnan Tong, Lee Chik-nung, Tong Pik-chuen, Ho Yum-suen (WKYP, 1957-5-25)

From the 1940s to the 1970s, Bunnan Tong (1903-1976) was a leading business figure and philanthropist in Hong Kong and today most HK people probably recognizes his name from the Carmel Bunnan Tong Memorial Secondary School in Tuen Mun, which was founded in 1982 with donations from his family. His eponymous firm Bunnan Tong & Co (高技洋行), which succeeded the German trading firm of A. Goeke& Co, was one of the leading trading firms in Hong Kong at one point and a major player in industrial exports to the West after the War and he was also a director of HK Chinese Bank, Far East Insurance and supermarket giant Wellcome.

From A. Goeke to Bunnan Tong & Co

A native of Tong Ka Wan in the Chungshan district in Guangdong, Bunnan Tong was born in Hong Kong in 1903. His father Tong Dock-hing (唐鐸卿) whose alias was Chi-wai (子惠) was a successful merchant who died in HK in 1941. Afterstudying at the Ellis Kadoorie School for Boys (now Sir Ellis Kadoorie Secondary School) and Queen’s College, Bunnan joined the HK government at the age of 19 but later moved into the private sector working for Jardines while teaching English at night.

In 1935, Bunnan Tong took over the operations of the German trading firm of A. Goeke& Co. at China Building and renamed the firm Bunnan Tong & Co but keeping its Chinese name of “Ko Kei” (a phonetic translation of Goeke which could mean “high tech” in Chinese)

According to Three Mackerels, the history of Jebsen& Co, A.Goeke was a firm which specialized in the export of Chinese goods and was absorbed by Jebsen sometime before the outbreak of World War I in 1914 but other records indicated that it was run by Alwin Goeke, likely the founder of the firm, in the 1920s and early 1930s. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, A. Goeke was listed as the distributor of the Italian automobile FIAT with a garage located at 350 Hennessy Road in Wanchai. (See the two ads below)

In the 1931 Jurors list, there were 11 individuals associated with A. Goeke& Co including Alwin Goeke, compradors – Chan Tsz-yuen, Louy Po-sang, Mok Wai-leung, assistants – Leung Tack-chuen, Wilhelm Hachfeld, Ching Sik-wing and Lau Sui-ming and bookkeeper Maxdos Remedios and staff member Walter Foraita, clerk Lam Chun-sang

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Left :Fiat ad by Goeke in 1926. (HK Telegraph, 1926-8-5); Middle: the Four Gold Coins Chinese trademark registered by A. Goeke & Co in 1932 (HK Government Reports); Right: Fiat ad by A. Goeke & Co in 1931 (HK Telegraph, 1931-12-26)

According to Bunnan Tong’s biographical entry in HK Yearbook, Bunnan Tong & Co started out as a partnership but became a sole proprietor solely controlled by him sometime before the outbreak of the Pacific War and already conducted business across the globe by that time. When the Japanese occupied Hong Kong in 1941, Tong left for Kwelin.

Assisted by his younger brother Tong Kannan(唐赓南) and brother in law Kam Wah-kui, Bunnan Tong re-established his trading firm after the War at the Marina House (part of the current Landmark) in Central. In the 1950s, Bunnan Tong & Co rode the post-War industrial boom and quickly became a major player in the exports of shoes, garments and others to the West, particularly the UK. One of its biggest clients starting from the 1940s was F.W. Woolworth, the UK subsidiary of the American retail giant of the same name.

In 1954, Bunnan Tong & Co shipped over HK$15 million worth of rubber shoes, HK$3 million worth of shoes, HK$3 million of umbrellas to the UK which was double the amount the previous year and discussions were also ongoing on toys. According to Tong, the buyers from Woolworth came to HK the prior year and was impressed by the cost and quality of its products.(WKYP, 1954-9-25)

In March 1955, Bunnan Tong told the press that his firm received orders for over 800,000 pairs of rubber shoes and boots that year from the UK. He highlighted the fact that the weekly wages for a rubber shoe worker in HK was HK$30 compared to HK$80 for a UK worker and HK workers also worked longer hours which represented significant cost advantage over UK-made products. (TKP, 1955-3-20)

In October 1956, Bunnan Tong told the press that orders from the UK for his firm was strong with shirts and pants up a third from HK$5 million the previous year to over HK$7 million with order delivery date in February of next year while shoes orders were largely flat. (TKP, 1956-10-10)

In the early 1960s, Bunnan Tong & Co’s imports were listed as metals, paper, glass, provisions and general merchandise while its exports included cotton goods, gloves, rattan ware, table flatware, plasticware and all HK products. (Chungshan Merchants Association Golden Anniversary Booklet, 1961)

HK Chinese Bank (香港華人銀行), Far East Insurance (遠東保險) and Wellcome(惠康)

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Left: The first branch of HK Chinese Bank in 1955 (WKYP); Right: Bunnan Tong and fellow directors of the HK Chinese Bank congratulating S.N. Chau on his knighthood in 1960. Left to right: Ma Kam-chan, K.Y. Chau(周啓賢), Sir S.N. Chau, C.L. Hsu, Lo Meen-nung, Ngan Shing-kwan, Chan Kee-tong, Bunnan Tong, Seaward Woo, Chan Kee-wah, D.Y. Pong, H.C. Wang (WKYP, 1960-11-13)

With his profits from trading, Bunnan Tong began to diversify his business interests. In 1949, he was one of the founding directors of YauYatChuen Development Co Ltd led by the preserved ginger king U Tat-chee to develop the residential area of the same name in Kowloon although he maintained his residence at 84 Robinson Road in the Mid-Levels while many of the investors of the firm moved into YauYat Tsuen themselves. (U Tat-chee for example resided in 1 Marigold Road)

In December 1954, Bunnan Tong and a group of Chinese businessmen led by Sik-nin Chau (周錫年) formed the Hong Kong Chinese Bank with HK$10 million in registered capital. Aside from Tong and Chau, the initial group of shareholders included D. Y. Pong (龐鼎元, Chau’s partner in the Dunlop shoe venture, see article), Burmese Chinese tycoon Chan Kee-wah (曾紀華, see article on HK Cement) and his brother Chan Kee-tong(曾紀棠), Helene Curtis distributor Seaward Woo (胡兆熾, see article on Eternal Enterprises), China Motor Bus founderNgan Shing-kwan (顏成坤), BAT comprador Lo Min-nung (勞冕儂, see article on Yau Yue Bank), Diaward Steel Works founder C.L. Hsu (徐季良), Tai Sang Bank founder Ma Kam-chan (馬錦燦), Goodyear Group founder Pang Kwok-chan (see article), shipping magnate Hui Oi-chow, Chiuchow banker Chan Ping-fung and Wong Fook-hong. (WKYP, 1954-12-21) The bank formally opened its door with 20 staff members on the ground floor of the HK Hotel in Central on August 2, 1955 in a ceremony officiated by the Finance Secretary Arthur G. Clarke. (WKYP 1955-7-15) In May 1957, the Chinese Bank relocated to 8 Duddell Street as its original location was being re-developed into the Central Building. The bank eventually became a subsidiary of the Lippo Group controlled by Indonesian Chinese financier MochtarRiady which in turn sold it to CITIC Ka Wah Bank in 2002 for HK$4.2 billion and as a result, its name had faded into history.

In the 1950s, Bunnan also joined the board of Far East Insurance which was incorporated with $506,000 in capital in January 1950 by a group of merchants led by S.N. Chau including Tse Wai-ting, Lau Cho-yan, Ng Sui-cheong, Hui Oi-chow, Ma Kam-chan, Chow Cham-kwong, Lee Sai-wah, Ko Fook-sun, Yeung Wing-hong, Chan Chi-ng and Chui Ting-tung with Chui Ping-sai, the financier who managed the Ko family’s banking interests in Shanghai as managing director. (KSDN, 1950-7-1) Like the HK Chinese Bank, Far East Insurance was primarily ran by the Chau family and was dissolved in April 2004.

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Directors of Far East Insurance including Bunnan Tong (fourth from the right, back row) and their spouses congratulating in S.N. Chau on his knighthood in September 1960 (WKYP, 1960-9-22)

Aside from the two firms mentioned above, Bunnan Tong was also a director of Asia Insurance (founded by Chin Sophonpanich and others) and Wellcome – the provisions firm founded in 1945 by former Wing On employee Wu Chung-wai (吳宗偉), Lau Lim (劉濂) and Ko Yin-yue (高燕如) which evolved into the supermarket giant afterit was acquired by Dairy Farm in 1964.

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Directors of Wellcome with managing director of Grant’s whisky in 1962 (WKYP, 1962-4-13)

Philanthropy and Family

Outside of business, Bunnan Tongwas a member of the Court of the University of Hong Kong, director of the YauYatChuen School, chairman of the Po Leung Kuk (1951-52) and the Tong Chun Yeung Tong Family Society, vice president of the Queen’s College Old Boys Association, member of various tribunalsand director of the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce. He was appointed Justice of the Peace in 1957 and awarded the MBE. (HK Album, 1967)

In July 1976, Bunnan Tong died at the age of 76, He was pre-deceased by his wife Chan Shook-ying (also a director of Po Leung Kuk) in 1968 and survived by his wife Ng Yuk-mei, 6 sons and 9 daughters while a son and a daughter predeceased him. The pallbearers at his funeral at the HK Funeral Parlor included R.C. Lee, Dr. Li Shu-pui, Ngan Shing-kwan, Cheng Tung-choi, Mak Lai-yim, Chan Moon-tong, Szeto Chi-yan and Cheng Chung-shu and he was buried at the Aberdeen Chinese Permanent Cemetery. (KSDN, 1976-7-9)

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Picture of David Chiu who was flying to Frankfurt and Nuremberg with his brother in law T.K. Tong in 1971 (WKYP, 1971-2-6); Right: Kannan Tong (first from right, back row) with his wife and daughter Tong Pui-yuk (唐佩玉, seated center) and her teacher painter Pau Siu-yau (seated first from right) in 1959 (WKYP, 1959-3-15)

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Bunnan Tong and family at the Kai Tak airport welcoming his eldest son T.K. Tong back from studies in the UK in 1954 (WKYP, 1954-3-13)

Bunnan Tong was succeeded at his firm by his eldest son T.K. Tong (唐大鈞) as chairman and his son in law David Chiu (趙大偉, who married Tong Pik-hing) as managing director. T.K. was a graduate of HKU and University of London and had been involved with the family business since the 1950s. In March 1973 at the peak of the stock market bubble, David Chiu bought a seat on the Kam Ngan Stock Exchange and opened David Chiu Securities at 9 Lee Yuen West Street with his wife as the manager. Outside of work, Chiu was vice president of the Lions Club of HK. (WKYP, 1973-3-10)

Around this time, Bunnan’s eleventh son Tong Tai-sing (唐大星) also opened T.S. Tong & Co at D’Aguilar Street in Central which became a member of the Far East Stock Exchange but when the market collapsed in 1973, the firm incurred significant losses and closed its door in 1974. According to news reports, T.S. lost his mind and was briefly checked into the Castle Peak Hospital. He opened a trading firm at the Prince’s Building in Central but committed suicide at his residence at 7 Lyttleton Road in March 1977 at the age of 31, leaving his wife, a 7 years old daughter and a 5 years old son. (WKYP, 1977-3-23) Bunnan’s fourth son Tong Tai-yuen married Lam Wing-chong, the daughter of Lam Ka-keung (1914-1994) of Wang Lee Securities.

Under the leadership of T.K. Tong and David Chiu, Bunnan Tong & Co continued to grow in the 1970s. In December 1976, the UK retail giant Woolworth which had 1200 branches at the time and had been working with Bunnan Tong & Co since the 1950s appointed the firm as its major sourcing partner in the Far East for its clothing department. (WKYP, 1976-12-30) The Woolworth relationship also extended to its US parent but a landmark lawsuit in the 1980s turned the former partners against each other.

In October 1978, 4 years old Telina Nelson from Wisconsin was severely injured when she ignited a flannel shirt purchased from Woolworth she was wearing with a butane lighter. The shirt was one of 4000 dozen Woolworth ordered through Bunnan Tong in 1976 and was manufactured in HK by United Garment Manufacturing Co Ltd (英業製衣) operated by Choy Yee (蔡義). In 1982, Nelson through her guardian brought a lawsuit against Woolworth, Bunnan Tong, United Garment and the lighter maker Park Industries and eventually the plaintiffs settled with Woolworth for US$1.3 million and Bunnan Tong for US$7500 but Woolworths filed a cross claim against Bunnan Tong to recoup the settlement amount although the US Court of Appeals found for Bunnan Tong in 1986.

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The wedding notice of Bunnan Tong’s fifth daughter in 1960. Bunnan Tong was third from the left on the front row. (WKYP, 1960-1-10)

Among Bunnan’s daughters, his third daughter Tong Pik-chun married Hui Yin-him, the eldest son of Hui Ngok of China Bros Hat Manufacturing (see article) in November 1956 while his fifth daughter Tong Pik-yuen graduated from HKU with a B.A. and married Fung Yuen-but (馮元弼), the son of merchant Fung Chak-wan (see article on Wai Yuen Cheong) and a HKU medical graduate who worked at the Queen Mary Hospital in a ceremony officiated by Chan Ching-to (see article on Wah Mei Electric) at the Peninsula Hotel in 1960. (WKYP, 1960-1-10) His eight daughter Tong Pik-wah married Dr. Lee Yiu-ting who was a 1962 MBBS graduate of HKU in 1965.

Between 1979 and 1985, T.K. Tong sold 42 properties which generated HK$10.8 million. As a firm, Bunnan Tong & Co was incorporated in 1959 and dissolved in 1996.

Sources (other than those cited above):


This article was first posted on 17th September 2021.

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