David L.F. Sung (孫麟方) and Hong Kong Flour Mills (香港麵粉廠)

York Lo: David L.F. Sung (孫麟方) and Hong Kong Flour Mills (香港麵粉廠)

David LF Sung And HK Flour Mills Image 1 York LoLeft: The Hong Kong Flour Mills in Kwun Tong which operated from 1978 to 1995; Right: Golden Statue brand wheat flour made by HK Flour Mills (Ipoh World)

In the history of the flour industry in Asia, the Sung/Sun family of Anhui can probably be considered as the most important players as they have established the first and largest modern flour mill in three separate markets – China (Fou Foong Flour Mill, 1898), Hong Kong (HK Flour Mills, 1954) and Malaysia (Malayan Flour Mills, 1966). The last two were the accomplishments of David Sung Ling-fang (1908-1970), one of the top industrialists and racehorse owners in Hong Kong in the 1950s and 1960s.

Family of the Imperial Teacher

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Left: Fou Foong Flour Mill in Shanghai in 1917 (Virtual Shanghai); Right: Fou Foong’s Bicycle brand flour

The Sungs/Suns of Shouhsien (壽州) in Anhui are also known as the “family of the imperial teacher” as Sun Chia-ting (孫家鼐, 1827-1909) was a high-ranking mandarin and one of the teachers of the Ching Emperor Kuang-hsu. Many of his relatives also entered government service and the family had multiple marital ties to the families of fellow mandarins of Anhui descent such as Viceroy Li Hung-chang and Viceroy Chou Fu (周馥). As a nation of noodles and dumpling lovers, China has always had an insatiable demand for flour but in the late 19th century the flour market in China was dominated by Californian flour, most of which imported through Hong Kong. Two of Chia-ting’s grand-nephews Sun Tao-sin (孫多鑫, 1865-1906) and Sun Tao-sun (孫多森, 1867-1919) were determined to change that by establishing the first modern flour mill in China – the Fou Foong Flour Mill (阜豐麵粉廠) in Shanghai in 1898. The mill opened in 1900 with imported machinery from Edward P. Allis Co of Milwaukee in the US (Charlie Soong, the father of the famous Soong sisters, assisted with the purchase as English secretary of Fou Foong). Fou Foong remained one of the largest flour mills in China for the next four decades and was well known for its Bicycle brand of flour. In addition to Fou Foong, the Sun family also founded Chung Foo Union Bank (中孚銀行) in 1916, which became one of the leading commercial banks in Shanghai under his leadership of Tao-sung’s sixth brother Clarence Sun Tao-yu (孫多鈺, 1882-1951), a civil engineering graduate from Cornell and grandson in law of Li Hung-chang. David Sung’s father K.Y. Sung (孫鏡蓉) was a distant cousin of Clarence Sun and worked for Fou Foong where he managed the grain warehouse. After disagreement with his cousin Russell Y. Sun (孫豫方, also known as Chung-li 仲立) who took over the management of Fou Foong from his uncle, K.Y. struck out on his own and established Shen Ta Flour Mill (信大麵粉廠) in the early 1920s, which had daily production capacity of 2000 bags of flour. K.Y. operated Shen Ta until 1936 when he leased the mill to Fou Foong and the firm was renamed Shen Ta Fou Kee.

David Sung in China: From Flour to Trucks and Bank and Back to Flour

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Left: ad for National Reconstruction Bank in Shanghai; Right: National Reconstruction Bank in Chungking built in 1944 which still stands today

K.Y. Sung had 8 sons, of which only the eldest son and second son worked with him at Shen Ta and all three led relatively frugal lifestyles. Born on 21 May 1908 in Shanghai, David Sung was K.Y.’s fourth son and was particularly close to his sixth brother Chi-Fang Sung (孫麒方, 1912-1974), a 1935 graduate of the University of Shanghai, who was also his business partner and brother in law as they married the Lee sisters of Nanking (whose mother was a descendant of the Li Hung-chang family). David went to Tung Chi University in Shanghai before going to Germany to study engineering at the Technical University of Berlin. After his graduation in 1932, he returned to China where he was involved with construction projects in Chengdu (including the campus of the National Sichuan University) and started a paper mill. As a young man, David loved to drive and played tennis competitively. After the Sino-Japanese War erupted in 1937, he moved inland with the KMT regime where he established China Development Corporation Ltd (中國企業) in 1939 to provide trucking service to transport much needed resources to the wartime capital of Chungking from Kunming, which received the supplies by trains from Indochina. With the backing of Sin Hua Bank, his fleet of trucks grew from 12 to 200 and his branch network included offices in all major cities in the Southwest and Rangoon, Burma. As the trucking business became more difficult as the War progressed, Sung invested in other businesses such as a chemical plant in Guiyang but his most ambitious venture was National Reconstruction Bank (建國銀行, hereafter refer to as NRB), which he formed in Chungking in 1941 with Dr. Pang Ping-ching (彭秉澄), a Hakka native who had earned his PhD in economics from Germany and worked in the Ministry of Finance. Also involved in NRB were prominent accountant Yulin Hsi (奚玉書) and his son in law David Yen (whose uncle Samuel Yen operated East Sun Textile in HK, to be covered later) and individuals connected to the military such as Liu Chin-tang (劉芹堂,representative of General Sun Lien-chung 孫連仲), Chen Mien-hsiu (陳勉修,brother of General Chen Cheng) and General Lung Cheng-tsu (龍繩祖, the second son of Yunnan Governor Lung Yun). After the War, NRB grew rapidly, opening branches in Shanghai, Nanking and other cities. In 1947, NRB went into liquidity trouble and collapsed, allegedly due to misappropriation of funds by a manager (around the same time Dr. Pang’s Tsen Ho Bank also collapsed due to losses in speculation which might be connected). As the Civil War situation deteriorated, David Sung liquidated his real estate in Shanghai and came to Hong Kong with US$50000 to start all over.

David Sung in HK: Hong Kong Flour Mills

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David and Dora Sung’s horse “Jingle Bell” won the HK Derby in 1954. Left to right: SIk-nin Chau, jockey H.K. Chuang (莊洪康), Mrs. Chau, Dora Sung, David Sung, Jockey Club chairman Donovan Benson.

In Hong Kong, David Sung established United Engineering Corporation (協興機器工程) in 1949 which operated out of David House in Duddell Street and was engaged in importing machinery. The massive influx of refugees from the mainland created soaring demand for flour in HK which by the early 1950s was over 100,000 bags per month. Throw in the Korean War embargo which reduced the import of Western flour and export of mainland flour, David Sung saw it the perfect time to build a new flour mill in HK, where there has been no local production of flour for close to half a century since the spectacular collapse of Alfred Rennie’s short-lived Junk Bay Flour Mill in the 1900s (see related article). He incorporated HK Flour Mills (hereafter refer to as HKFM) in January 1954, although construction had begun in late 1953. For the site of the mill, David picked 442-444 Des Voeux Road West by the waterfront in Sai Wan which enabled easy drop off by ocean liners carrying wheat from afar. For construction of the mill, David hired Sven Erik Faber, the second president of the Engineering Society and RAF veteran who was consulting engineer to China Light & Power and the HK government (later he was involved in the construction of Ocean Terminal in the 1960s)

In January 1954, David Sung announced that the plant would open by May with production capacity of 6000 bags per day (or 180,000 per month). In mid-year, large quantity of wheat purchased from the US, Canada and Australia arrived but the opening was pushed from May to August to September. On September 21, 1954, HKFM was officially opened by Sir Shouson Chow. The new plant, a six-storey building with state of the art equipment from the UK and a wheat silo in the basement, was capable of producing 5000 bags per day (or 150,000 bags monthly, slightly less than the original announcement). The manufacturing process was 100% automatic (because of that they only needed 70 workers) and by remote control, the pneumatic conveying system sent wheat through different departments to the milling station to be ground into flour. In his speech at the opening ceremony, David Sung said, “Being the first and only modern flour mill in Hongkong, we consider it our privilege, as well as our duty to serve the Colony and we believe that the quality of our products will be as good as the best flour from abroad.” (FEER, Sep 30, 1954)

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David Sung (right) with P.C. Woo (left) and Sir Shouson Chow (centre) at the opening of the HK Flour Mills in 1954 (Kung Sheung Daily News, 1954-9-22)

David Sung served as chairman of HKFM while his brother C.F. Sung was managing director. Other key staff include Wei-chu Chang (張惠祖) who was factory manager, Tom Schofield, a flour mill engineer from Manchester was chief engineer and Wilkie Yu, who graduated from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor with a B.S. in engineering in 1925 and worked for HKFM for 2 decades until his retirement in 1974. In the beginning, HKFM was making 6 different types of flour that were sold by 24 designated distributors in HK and Macau. By offering flour that was superior in quality but cheaper than imported ones from the US, Canada and Australia, HKFM grabbed 50 percent market share within months of opening with 100,000 bags of flour meeting local demand and 50,000 bags being exported.

By 1956, monthly production was 180,000 bags (each bag weighing 150 pounds) per month and additional equipment was acquired to expand capacity to 270,000 bags per month. The same year, it introduced the Yin Yang brand, a 150 pounds bag of Australian wheat flour which was sold $2 cheaper than imported equivalent at $32 a bag. (WKYP, 1956-3-8) In 1959, HKFM launched its two most popular brands – Golden Statue and American Rose.  In need of expansion, David Sung purchased the neighboring site to the Sai Wan mill for HK$2.12 million at a government land auction in 1962, which was 80% higher than the asking price (WKYP, 1962-9-4). By the late 1960s, the success of HKFM had attracted three more competitors – Kowloon, Far East and HK Food Products Manufacturing (to be covered later) into the market but HKFM maintained over 50% market share. In 1968, it launched Gold Fish brand, a 50 pounds bag of Australian wheat flour which sold for HK$12 per bag and was cheaper than the Rose brand by 70 cents per bag and much cheaper than similar size flour from Canada ($19) and even Taiwan ($13.50). (Kung Sheung Daily News, 1968-11-1)

After achieving tremendous success with HKFM in the 1950s, the entrepreneurial David Sung set his sights on bigger opportunities – specifically industrial opportunities in Malaysia, which gained independence from the British in 1963 and was eager for foreign capital to help develop its economy.

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The original HK Flour Mills plant on the left in Sai Wan waterfront in 1976 (HK Info Service Dept)

David Sung in Malaysia: Malayan Flour Mill and Taiping Textiles

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David Sung (first from right) and CF Sung (first from left) with Abdul Rahman Mohamed Yasin chairman of the Malaysian Senate (second from right) and his secretary in 1962 (WKYP, 1962-3-29)

Starting in the early 1960s, the Sung brothers began building relationships with Malaysian politicians and hosted Abdul Rahman Mohamed Yasin, the president of the Malaysian Senate (aka Dewan Negara) in HK in 1962. In 1964, David Sung set up Eastern Industrial Developments Ltd (東方實業) to invest in industrial projects in Malaysia, specifically Malayan Flour Mills (馬來亞麵粉廠, hereafter refer to as MFM) and Taiping Textiles (太平紡織) in the province of Perak in northwest Malaysia.

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David Sung with Tunku Abdul Rahman, the first prime minister of Malaysia at the opening ceremony of Malayan Flour Mill in 1966. (MFM website)

MFM is strategically located in Lumut off the Dindings River and the Sung brothers hired the English firm of Henry Simon Ltd to design the mill and supply the equipment. As part of the mill construction, several miles of roads were built (named Jalan David Sung in Sung’s honor) and wharves were built to accommodate wheat carrying vessels. The mill, which was officially opened in October 1966 by the Malaysian prime minister, produced 545 tons of wheat flour a day and was able to meet the entire Malaysian demand of 166,000 tons a year. David Sung served as chairman of MFM while C.F. Sung was vice chairman and the family retained 36% ownership after the company went public.

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Left: Street sign of Jalan David Sung in Lumut; Right: aerial view of the MFM plant in Lumut

Taiping Textiles was incorporated in 1965 in partnership with Ipoh tin miner Chan Kwong-hon (who was chairman of Selangor Dredging) and former Minister of Commerce and Industry Dr. Lim Swee-Aun served as its chairman. It commenced operations in Kamunting Industrial Estate in Taiping in 1968 to weave calico flour bags for the nearby MFM mill and grew to become one of three largest weaving mills in Malaysia supplying a variety of fabrics and yarn. The Sung family retained 46% of the firm.

To manage MFM and Taiping, the Sung brothers enlisted the help of two nephews – Tso-shing Ho (何祚炘, 1911-1982) as managing director and nephew Martyn Sun I-chuan (孫以荃, 1922-) as deputy managing director. Ho was a graduate of Kuang Hua University in Shanghai and ran BES Engineering which was involved in construction projects across Asia including Okinawa and Taiwan while Martyn was a graduate of St John’s in Shanghai and had a PhD from University of Wisconsin and MBA from Northwestern University and had worked for Wyler Textiles and Phoenix Textiles in Hong Kong.

In addition to MFM and Taiping, the Sung brothers were also involved with the formation of the Malayan Glass Manufacturing Corporation in 1961 and Borneo Cement Manufacturing Corporation in 1963.  Borneo Cement received the approval in 1964 from the Sarawak government to build a cement plant that could produce up to 150,000 tons of cement a year. However, the constitutional crisis in Sarawak from 1965-66 threw the area into a state of emergency and as a result the project never got off the ground. For his contributions to the Malaysian economy, David Sung was awarded the title of Datuk by the Sultan of Perak in September 1969.

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Article about David Sung receiving the title of Datuk from the Sultan of Perak (WKYP, 1969-10-3)

Death of David Sung and the Next Generation

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Obituary of David L.F. Sung in 1970 (WKYP, 1970-1-4)

Outside of work, David Sung listed reading and tennis as his hobbies and he was a member of tennis clubs in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. However, he was perhaps best known for owning racehorses including “Jingle Bell” (金谷鈴) which won the HK Derby in 1954. According to a 1969 article, his stables in HK, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and the UK had a total of 54 horses. On January 2, 1970, David Sung died suddenly in Hong Kong at the age of 61. His eight pallbearers include longtime lieutenant W. C. Chang, legislator P.C. Woo, two British executives from the Chartered Bank, a Malay senator and three doctors Hans Tang (湯於瀚, husband of actress Nancy Chen and co-owner of Pedder Building), Lo Kwong-tsai (羅光采) and Chang Tan-chi (張覃啟, noted art collector and physician of CY Tung).

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Article about Dora Sung becoming the first female Datuk in 1970 (Kung Sheung Daily News, 1970-11-6)

David L.F. Sung was survived by his wife Dora Kung-wei Lee (李孔暐, 1918-2004) and two sons – David Ye-Lun Sung (孫以倫) and Jerry Ye-Ven Sung (孫以文). Born in Nanking, Dora received her B.A. from St John’s University in Shanghai. Aside from being a director of the mills, she was involved in many philanthropic activities and enjoyed Chinese literature, calligraphy and music. She had giant busts of her late husband made and in November 1970, she became the first woman to be awarded the title of Datuk in Malaysia in three centuries.

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Left: David Y.L. Sung; right: Article about David YL Sung’s funeral at St John’s Cathedral (Kung Sheung Evening News, 1974-2-13)

In the early 1970s, David Y.L. Sung who was married to Barbara Ma, the daughter of Sincere Co executive Ma Wing-hon, was a prominent figure in the business circle and high society in HK and Malaysia as a director of the various family enterprises and a major racehorse owner. In February 1974, the 29 years old David Y.L. Sung was gunned down outside a restaurant in Kuala Lumpur in a failed kidnapping attempt which sent shockwaves across Asia.

Tragedy struck again for the Sung family later the same year when C.F. Sung died suddenly on November 2, 1974 at the age of 62 in Los Angeles where he and his wife were visiting their eldest and second daughter. Aside from managing the family enterprises, C.F. was vice chairman of the Federation of HK Industries and director of HK Trade Development Council and United College at Chinese University. He was buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California where his brother David was also buried. Both brothers were permanent honorary chairmen of the two industry groups – HK & Kowloon Vermicelli & Noodle Manufacturing Industry Merchants’ General Association (港九粉麵製造業總商會) and Confectioners & Bakers Association of HK & Kowloon (港九糖菓餅乾麵飽西餅同業商會).

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Left to right: James Wu of China Cold Storage, FHKI chairman T.K. Ann, CMA chairman Chuang Chong-wen of Chuang’s Cutlery, C.F. Sung and Hung Cheung-pui of Hop Hing cooking oil at the 28th HK Products Expo

In May 1976, the Sung family sold their stake in MFM to Teh Liang-teik, a major importer of wheat in Malaysia whose family expanded the operations of MFM to feed mill, breeder farm, broiler farm and poultry processing plant in addition to building 2 flour mills in Vietnam. Meanwhile back in Hong Kong, HK Flour Mills under the leadership of Jerry Sung acquired the Kwun Tong flour mill of HK Food Products Manufacturing in April 1976 and renamed it HK Flour Mills Kowloon Mill. The combined capacity of the two mills exceeded 360,000 bags which equaled the entire HK market demand at the time. In addition, HK Flour Mills purchased the plot next to the Kowloon mill for expansion and acquired additional machinery from Switzerland to further increase capacity. In 1978, the Sai Wan mill was closed and all operations were moved to the new and expanded Kwun Tong mill which had production capacity of 400 tons per day. In 1980, financier Azman Hashim acquired 40% of Taiping Textiles and eventually took over the firm from the Sung family. As a result of the divestment of MFM and Taiping, Eastern Industrial was dissolved in 1987.

In August 1987, the Lam Soon Group (best known for its Knife brand cooking oil and Axe brand cleaning detergents) acquired HK Flour Mills from the Sung family for HK$192 million. In 1989, HK Flour Mills celebrated its 35th anniversary celebration at American Club and by then the management team was all new with Thomas Poon Pik-kin (潘壁堅) as managing director. Over the years, HK Flour Mills maintained over 45% market share in the HK flour market and in 1995, Lam Soon closed the Kwun Tong mill when its flour mill in Shekou was completed – the new mill became the largest foreign owned flour mill in China, processing 1200 tons of wheat per day. In 2002, Lam Soon acquired a flour mill in Jiangsu that has production capacity of 700 tons. With additional flour mills that opened in Shandong in 2009 and Szechuan in 2013, Lam Soon built a nationwide network with total capacity of 4700 tons per day so the flour mill empire that was started by David Sung keeps growing.

As for Jerry Sung, he spends most of his time in Singapore and Malaysia where he remains active in the horseracing circle as the owner of the Auric Stable based in Penang which dominated the local racing scene in Singapore for twelve seasons from 1974 to 1991 and served as committee member of the Singapore Turf Club from 2006-2007. His name hit the HK headlines in 1999 when his Mercedes parked at his Kadoorie Avenue residence was torched and when Willy Kan became the first female jockey at the HK Derby riding “Man of Honour”, a horse which belonged to Jerry and his mother Dora.

Additional Sources:

http://www.scmp.com/article/293187/car-torched-home-flour-barons-son

http://www.shuku.net/novels/history/shdhmjm/shdhmjm29.html

http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_78662fa70102whd5.html

http://www.mfm.com.my/about-us/company-background/company-history/

http://www.hkflourmills.com/hk/flourmills_Business.html

http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/nysp19661015-1.2.35?ST=1&AT=search&k=%22%E5%AD%AB%E9%BA%9F%E6%96%B9%22&QT=%22%E5%AD%AB%E9%BA%9F%E6%96%B9%22&oref=article

http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/printheritage/image.aspx?id=b20d17fb-ccce-48ca-b847-a32468be2717

香港工商日報, 1970-01-04, 1974-11-23

工商晚報, 1954-01-21, 1974-02-10

華僑日報, 1970-01-06, 1976-4-9, 1989-06-29

大公報, 1987-08-07

Who’s Who in Malaysia, 1967, 1971

http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/printheritage/image.aspx?id=b20d17fb-ccce-48ca-b847-a32468be2717

金谷鈴

http://www.shtong.gov.cn/node2/node2245/node4447/node55214/node60610/index.html

This article was first posted on 22nd June 2018

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  2. The Hongkong Milling Company (Rennie’s Mill)
  3. Alfred Herbert Rennie
  4. Alfred Herbert Rennie – additional information
  5. Alfred Herbert Rennie – Rennie’s Mill
  6. The Hongkong Milling Company – the flour mill site after closing – Kuomintang refugees

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