China Dispensary: Maker of Pinocine (白蘿仙) and Dermoline (丹杜蓮)

York Lo: China Dispensary: Maker of Pinocine (白蘿仙) and Dermoline (丹杜蓮)

China Dispensary Signage Of CD At The Front Entrance Of The Pinocine Building In The 1970s York Lo

Signage of China Dispensary at the front entrance of the Pinocine building in the 1970s.

For almost half a century, Pinocine Building stood in the heart of Central business district at 80-82 Queen’s Road Central and was known for the many medical practices that were tenants.

The building was developed in 1964 by China Dispensary (中華大藥房), a leading local manufacturer of Western medicine in Hong Kong and was named after its famous product – the Pinocine brand of cough medicine.  Aside from Pinocine, China Dispensary was also known for its Dermoline skin lotion, and the advertisements of the two brands could often be found in old newspapers from the period.

China Dispensary was incorporated in 1922 and its full name was China Dispensary (Y.C. Wong & Co) Ltd The 1925 Comacrib directory already listed the firm’s address as 82 Queen’s Road Central with Wong Hing-kwong (a person with the same name was the proprietor of China Distillery/Wong Kwong Sin Tong on Wing Lok Street and a 1918 economics graduate of HKU) as manager and Y.C. Wong, C. Mackenzie and Cheuk Mun-kui as chemists. Y.C. Wong might be the same person as Wong Yan-chiu (黃恩照), who was later involved with Ko Cheuk-hung (best known as chairman of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce) in World Drug Co in the 1930s and Glory Medicine Co after the War.

Any information about YC Wong and his family would be much appreciated.

China Dispensary (2)

China Dispensary ad in 1959 (HK Panyu Association) 

The trademarks of Dermoline and Pinocine were first registered in 1924 and 1927 respectively by China Dispensary. (Source: HK Government Reports) In the 1930s, a registered chemist and druggist by the name of Arthur Rowan was listed as working for the company. By the 1930s, Pinocine and Dermoline was quite popular and in 1939-1941, the firm even sponsored a series of sports tournaments under the name of Pinocine Cup.

China Dispensary Li Po Kwai Source Shanghai Library 1925 York Lo

Li Po-Kwai (Source: Shanghai Library; 中華今代名人傳, 1925)

Although there were still two individuals with the last name Wong (both possibly relatives of YC Wong or Wong Hing-kwong) on the board of China Dispensary in 1949 – Wong Oi-kut (also the firm’s sub manager) and Wong Kwan-pui (黃君沛, the head of product of the firm, he left the company in May 1954, WKYP 1954-5-17 p.6), the control of China Dispensary after the War had shifted to the families of one of the firm’s founding shareholders – the respected Chinese business and community leader Li Po-kwai (李葆葵,1872-1963) and a number of Western doctors of Chinese descent with Po-kwai’s son Li Ping-kuen (李秉權, 1901-86 also known as Li Ming-tat) leading the firm as its chairman and Dr. Shin Kwai-shang (單季生, brother of Shin Lok-shang who was also a doctor and Shin Tak-hing 單德馨,1893-1980, MBE JP who was the first Chinese secretary of the YWCA) as manager.

Li Po-kwai was the nephew of Li Sing (李陞), the richest man in Hong Kong at the turn of the century (for details about the life of Li Sing and his sons Li Chi-tang and Li Po-chun, please refer to the entries written by the author in the Dictionary of Hong Kong Biography). Li Chit Street (李節街) in Wanchai is named after his father Li Chit, who made his fortune from trading with America and real estate in Central & Western districts in partnership with his older brother Li Sing.

China Dispensary 1939 Pinocine Ad York Lo

1939 Pinocine ad (Source: 大公報, 1939-11-27)


Po-kwai augmented the family fortune by diversifying into rice (Po Hing Tai on Wing Lok Street with rice mill in Haiphong in northern Vietnam, then Annam), shipping (vessels to transport rice from Siam and Annam to HK), banking (Bank of Canton) and insurance (Luen Tai) and was awarded as a Justice of Peace (1916) and MBE (1959) for his many civic engagements including the founding of HKU (1910), Chinese General Chamber of Commerce (1910, he served as chairman in 1923), Confucian Society (1909), Boys Scout (1921) and Chinese Permanent Cemetery (1913) and affiliation with Po Leung Kuk (1907) and Tung Wah (1905).

China Dispensary The Former Li Po Kwai Residence At 1 Seymour Terrace Its Redevelopment York Lo

The former Li Po-kwai residence at 1 Seymour Terrace before its re-development

According to the Li family tree published in 1962, it was Li Po-kwai’s eldest son from his principal wife Yip Sze, Li Shiu-ching (李韶清,1895-1931) who was involved in the founding of China Dispensary in 1921. A director of Tung Wah and Po Leung Kuk, Shiu-ching attended DBS, St Paul’s and St Stephen’s and was also involved in the pawn shop and shipping business. After Shiu-ching’s early death in 1931, his younger brother Ping-kuen (Po-kwai’s son by his concubine Au Sze) took up the baton at China Dispensary.

China Dispensary 1956 Ad Promoting Both Pinocine And Dermoline

Pinocine and Dermoline ad

Born in HK in 1901, Ping-kuen studied at Lingnan University in Canton after graduation from Queen’s College, and joined the family businesses after school. Aside from Ping-kuen and his father and Dr. Shin, directors of the firm in the late 1940s also included prominent physicians Dr. T. C. Yip (葉大楨,head of Central Hospital and dermatologist to Madam Chiang Kai-shek, father of Dr Yip Shing-yiu, famous collector of Ming dynasty furniture) and Dr. Iu-Ki Pang (彭耀基), Li Kwok-ying and Chinese accountant Jackin Poon (潘則乾, president of St Stephen’s College Alumni Association).

In 1960, China Dispensary succeeded in gaining approval from the government to tear down the 70 year old building which it occupied on 82 Queen’s Road and re-developed the site into the 10 story Pinocine Building which opened in 1964.

China Dispensary Pinocine Building Before Its Demolition York Lo

Pinocine Building before its demolition

In December 1986, Li Ping-kuen died at the age of 85 and was buried at the Eurasian Chiu Yuen cemetery. Outside of business, he was chairman of the Central District Kaifong Welfare Association and supervisor of HK Medicine Dealer’s Guild (香港藥行商會). His eldest son Dr. Thomas Li Wang-chung (李宏中), who earned a pharmacy degree from the University of California San Francisco, worked for China Dispensary as a chemist. Thomas was also married to Loretta Ip Man-lui (葉文侶), the second daughter of construction tycoon Ip Ching-ping (葉正平, also the father in law of legislator Regina Ip). Li’s second son Dr. Franklin Li Wang-pong (李宏邦) graduated from HKU School of Medicine in 1956 and is the pioneer of plastic surgery in Hong Kong.

China Dispensary 1987 Chinese Obituary Of Li Ping Kuen

1987 Chinese obituary of Li Ping-kuen

According to HK$ Directory, China Dispensary’s board of directors in 1987 was comprised of three families – Dr. Franklin Li and his mother Tsui Chung-shing and wife Veronica Lau Wei-chue (chairman of Po Leung Kuk 2002-03); Dr. Shin Ka-chuen (單家傳, son of Shin Kwai-shang who succeeded his father as manager of the firm; Hop Yat Church Shin Ka Chuen Memorial Kindergarten in Ma On Shan is named after him) and Mrs. May Shin; Dr. Poon Kwong-chiu (潘廣照) and Poon Kwong-hung (潘廣洪 ) who are sons of Jackin Poon.

The firm was dissolved in 1991 after nearly seven decades in business although Pinocine and Dermoline continues to be manufactured today by American Unicorn Laboratories Ltd which was formed in 1992.

As for the Pinocine Building, it was torn down in recent years after Henderson Land successfully secured the site and nearby properties after almost three decades of negotiations and acquisitions and will re-emerge as H Queen’s in 2017.

This article was first posted on 16th June 2017.

Additional Sources:

  1. 華僑日報, 1957-09-07
  2. 華僑日報, 1960-06-26
  3. 華僑日報, 1987-1-1
  4. 李氏居安堂家譜 (1962)


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