Cheung Lai Chun Jewellery and Shing Chai Tong Herb Co.

York Lo: Cheung Lai Chun Jewellery and Shing Chai Tong Herb Co.

Cheung Lai Chun Jewellery Image 1 York Lo

Left:Cheung Lai Chun Jewelry (left) and Shing Chai Tong Herb (center) from an old picture of Queen’s Road Central. Right: picture of HK Jewellery Building (center) at the same location today

Cheung Lai Chun Jewellery and Shing Chai Tong Herb Co were two famous firms with a long history which were neighbors as shown in above picture at 178 and 180 Queen’s Road Central. In the early 1980s both businesses closed their doors, and the site was re-developed into the 20-story HK Jewellery Building in 1984. Below are the profiles of the two historic firms (The other three businesses to the right of Shing Chai Tong: Yee Tin Tong, Nam Shing Goldsmith and Wing Wah Jade will be covered later):

Cheung Lai Chun Jewellery ()

Cheung Lai Chun Jewellery Image 2 York Lo

Left: article about forex manipulation charges against Cheung Lai Chung in Canton in 1948 (KSDN); Right: Gold coins issued by Cheung Lai Chun’s Canton branch in the early 20th century. 

A Hakka native from Nanhai in Guangdong province, Cheung Lai Chun’s eponymous founder operated stores in Canton and Shiu Kwan before settling in HK after the Communist takeover of the mainland in 1949. The Canton branch was located at 100 Sheung Kau Road.

During the chaos of the Chinese Civil War in 1948, Cheung Lai-chun closed his store during the panic buying to return to his hometown for a family funeral. In October 1948, Cheung Lai Chun’s Canton branch was charged with foreign currency manipulation by the KMT government in Canton and after three summonses, the firm sent a staff to testify in court denying the charges and Cheung himself was requested to show up for trial.  (KSDN, 1948-10-27)

By the 1950s, Cheung Lai Chun was led by Cheung Chak-hing (張澤卿) in HK. An ardent supporter of the KMT regime in Taiwan, Cheung led a delegation of 11 from HK to Taiwan to celebrate the birthday of Chiang Kai-shek in 1957 during which Chiang told them he was confident to able to retake the mainland and Cheung was also impressed with the transition from agriculture to industries under the KMT regime on the island. (WKYP, 1957-11-22) Cheung also served as chairman of the HK Northern Kwangtung Industrial & Commercial Association, whose honorary president was the KMT General Chang Fa-kui.

Cheung was also active in the preservation of Sun Yat-sen’s legacy and served as honorary vice president of the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Association. In 1965, Cheung and fellow Sun Yat-sen expert Pang Kwong-nga (彭光亞) went to Taipei for the centenary celebration of Sun’s birth. (KSEN, 1965-11-8) In November 1967, Cheung went on a 6-months round the world tour visiting South Africa, France, London, South America, New York, San Francisco and Japan to promote the Association’s efforts to preserve the legacy of Sun Yat-sen to overseas Chinese. (WKYP, 1967-11-23)

Cheung Lai Chun Jewellery Image 3 York Lo

Left: Cheung Lai Chun owner Cheung Chak-hing delivering a speech as chairman at the Northern Kwangtung Industrial & Commercial Association (WKYP, 1958-3-17); Right: police detective coming out of Cheung Lai Chun in December 1975 during burglary investigation (KSEN, 1975-12-28)

The Cheung Lai Chun building at 178 Queen’s Road Central was five story tall with the store on the ground floor and staff quarters and offices on the higher floors. Over the years, the store like many other jewelry and watch shops had been the target of burglars and robbers.

In November 1975, three masked robbers stormed into Cheung Lai Chun trying to rob the store but fortunately, a staff member was quick enough to dial 999. The robbers fled the scene but a 62 year old member of staff who was trying to stop them was slightly injured.  (WKYP, 1975-11-13) The next month (December 1975), burglars entered Cheung Lai Chun by the back door at night and stole several hundred taels of gold and some diamonds worth over $700,000 while a staff member living at the store was asleep. (KSEN, 1975-12-28) In November 1976, three burglars tried to burglarize Cheung Lai Chun again, this time by drilling a hole through its wall in the middle of the night but fortunately this activated the security alarm and police managed to arrive in time and chased them off. (WKYP, 1976-11-8)

In 1980, five armed robbers entered Cheung Lai Chun, threatened the 7-8 staff on duty with guns and knives and walked away from jewelry worth over $400,000.  (WKYP, 1980-9-5) Not long after this, the store was closed and made way for its re-development into the HK Jewellery Building.

Shing Chai Tong Herb Co (誠濟堂藥行)

Cheung Lai Chun Jewellery Image 4 York Lo

Left: interior view of the Shing Chai Tong exhibit at the HK History Museum; Center: Shing Chai Tong ad for its infant pills in 1931 (KSDN, 1931-8-14); Right: Tong Shiu-lun (HK Album, 1967) 

Shing Chai Tong, one of the oldest Chinese medicine firms in HK, was founded in HK in 1885 by Zhongshan native Tong Sek-kwan (唐石昆). Tong maintained good relationships withChing dynasty officials and as a result, five plaques from different officials hung at its store.Shing Chai Tong also had a large store in Canton which was located at 73 Tseung Lau Street. (International Chinese Business Directory, 1913).

By the 1920s, Shing Chai Tong was led by its second generation Tong Siu-lun (唐兆麟). Born in HK in 1898, Siu-lun received his LLB degree from Webster University in Atlanta, Georgia (since closed) before returning home to join the family business and served as its chief manager.With his legal training, he was a member of the HK Lawyers Association (1943-45) and China Lawyers’ Association (1942-45) during the Japanese occupation and served as a member of the Tenancy Tribunal and a Special Juror. He was director of Tung Wah in 1921 and executive committee member of the Chung Shan Commercial Association.

An article about Shing Chai Tong in 1931 promoted its loquat syrup and said it was used by restaurants in HK such as Heng Fa Chun (杏花春) and Great China (大中國). (KSDN, 1931-7-28) However, the firm’s foray into the production of loquat syrup was not welcomed by PoonGoorSoe which specialized in the syrup and took out ads in newspapers attacking the firm.

In November 1959, inspectors tested samples of medical powder from Shing Chai Tong and found arsenic. The government pressed charges against Tong Siu-lun in February 1960 for production of poison alongside Lee Siu-kwong (李兆光) of Cho Sau Tong (佐壽堂) at 116 Des Voeux Road Central. (WKYP, 1960-2-19) Fortunately, the Central Magistrate dropped personal charges against Tong in the case during trial the next month. (WKYP, 1960-3-4)

In 1980, Shing Chai Tong shut down after 95 years of operations. The HK Museum of History managed to acquire the firm’s 100 years old furniture and fittings from its owners and recreate the entire store based on its original layout in the museum. Below is a description by the Museum of some of the furniture settings inside the store:

“Running most of the length of the store is a counter made of solid wood, called the “Long Dragon”. The head of the counter where money was collected was called the “Precious Dragon Head” (寶龍頭). Behind this part of the counter sat the chief shopkeeper. The far end is the “Dragon Tail”, on which always stood a brass mortar. Every morning a simple ritual known as “Prospering the Dragon” (旺龍) was performed to commence the day. The chief shopkeeper behind the counter head would take up his abacus and shake it to make some sound. This was echoed by the stamping sound of a pestle against the mortar on the far end of the counter, done by his deputy. This ritual was meant to evoke a prosperous business. As for religious beliefs, people working in Chinese medicine shops worship “Yaowang” (藥王) as the patron god of Chinese Medicine. The birthday festival of “Yaowang” was a time of celebration for everyone in the shops. “Patszikui” (百子櫃,a cabinet of 100 children), which usually has 100 small drawers, is used in a traditional Chinese medicine shop to store various herbal medicine. A serial of drawer from bottom to top, would be pulled out and stepped by the counter staff to reach the medicine kept near the top.”

Also inside the store is an altar dedicated to the Taoist deity Lu Tsu, which was worshipped by many Chinese medicine practitioners.


This article was first posted on 5th October 2020.

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