Dragon Seed (龍子行)

York Lo: Dragon Seed (龍子行)

Dragon Seed Image 1 York Lo

Left: the original Dragon Seed store on the right at 37 Queen’s Road Central in the early 1950s, A Man Hing Cheong was on the left.Right: Dragon Seed Building in the early 2000s when it was occupied by Yue Hwa (Apple Daily) 

From its inception in the late 1940s to the 1990s, Dragon Seed Co with its Dragon Seed department stores and affiliates was a major force in the HK retail industry. After The Sun Co. and China Emporium faded into history in the 1960s, Dragon Seed and Shui Hing took their spots and were regarded as the big four Chinese-owned department stores along with Sincere and Wing On in the 1970s.

Dragon Seed, Dragon Light and New Dragon (1946-1964)

Dragon Seed was founded in 1946 by Peter Ho Sau-hong (何壽康, 1900-1986) and Paddy Ko Bing (柯冰, 1918-2004), two former employees of Swatow Lace Co (see article) and Ho’s nephew Albert Ho Ting-sui (何廷瑞). They named their store after the best-selling book Dragon Seed by the famous American author Pearl Buck which was published in 1942 about the resilience of Chinese people during the Japanese invasion of Nanking and reflected their aspiration for the rebirth of China after World War II. (Note: the book was also turned into a movie in 1944 featuring a mostly white cast as Chinese characters led by Katherine Hepburn).

A native of Chiu Lin in the Sun Wui district in Guangdong province (same ancestral town as Tai Cheung Properties founder Edward T.T. Chan), Peter Ho was the youngest of five sons of Ho Wai-hing (何懷慶1853-1949). His three eldest brothers – Ho Sau-nam (何壽南, 1879-1962), Ho Sau-kwong (何壽光, 1885-1975) and Ho Sau-lam were all dentists while the fourth brotherHo Sau-fook was in business. (WKYP, 1975-10-11; HK Epitaphs: Kowloon) Peter came to HK at the age of 12 and was enrolled at St. Paul’s College where he was a member of the volleyball team and competed in Tokyo with foreign teams. After graduation, he joined Swatow Lace Co and was promoted by the owner Kwa Eng-lee to manager. When the Japanese occupied HK in December 1941, he moved to Kuk Kong and then later Kunming where he started the trading firm of Asia Company with his nephew Albert Ho (son of Sau-nam) and former colleague Paddy Ko. A native of Chaoyang, Ko lost his father who also worked for Swatow Lace (and likely a distant relative of Kwa Eng-lee) at the age of 10 and was a godson of Dr. Chau Wai-cheung (周懷璋), a co-founder of HK Sanatorium and president of the HK Medical Association for three terms (1928-29, 33-34, 39-40). Ko himself joined Swatow Lace after graduation from St Paul’s College in HK and worked for the firm in Peking, Shanghai and Swatow. (History of the HK Swatow Christian Church) After the War, the trio returned to HK where they founded Dragon Seed at 37 Queen’s Road Central, which was engaged in the export of Chinese silk and embroideries at launch in addition to selling imported men’s and ladies’ apparel, perfumes, jewelry and nylon hosiery. (Business Directory of HK, Canton and Macao, 1949)

Dragon Seed Image 2 York Lo

The three co-founders of Dragon Seed: Peter Ho (center) with Paddy Ko (left) and Albert Ho (right) at the opening of Dragon Seed’s new store in Central in 1957 (KSDN, 1957-11-16)

In January 1947, the Dragon Seed trio opened a sister store under the name of Dragon Light Co (龍光行) at 37 Queen’s Road Central and purchases over $300 received a pair of free nylon stockings. (KSEN, 1947-1-17)In addition to the three founders of Dragon Seed, the directors of Dragon Light included Ng Iu-cheung, who was covered earlier in the articles about Ching Loong Bakery and Kwong On Bank and Paddy Ko’s godfather Dr. Chau Wai-cheung.In 1949, Dragon Seed and Dragon Light opened a branch on Wing Kut Street in Sheung Wan and the occasion was celebrated at a banquet for 300 guests at the Kam Ling restaurant where Paddy thanked their suppliers and Peter gave a speech in English to the foreign guests. (China Mail, 1949-7-11) The firm also established New Dragon Co (龍華行) at David House at 67BQueen’s Road Central in the 1950s and all three companies with “Dragon” in its names and selling similar products jointly advertised in the 1950s and early 1960s. Both New Dragon and Dragon Light were dissolved in 1964.

In the mid-1950s, 37 Queen’s Road Central was being re-developed into Yu To Sang Building by its landlord, the Yu family which operated Dollar Taxi (see article) so Dragon Seed and Dragon Light moved out during the re-development and Peter Ho spent several months in 1956 visiting US, Europe and Australia for business and also visited his children. In November 1957, Dragon Seed re-opened itsCentral store at newly completed Yu To Sang Building and the opening reception was attended by several hundred guests including Sir T.N. Chau. The new store featured a rack which could hold over 200 pants and the store carried many high-end imported clothing such as Jaeger knitwear, Maidenform bras and Swallow coats. (WKYP, 1957-11-22)

Dragon Seed Image 3 York Lo

Left: Three sons of Dragon Seed co-founder Peter Ho – Michael (center) at his graduation from the University of Melbourne with his younger brother John (left) and Tony (right, holding the camera) in 1965. (National Archives of Australia); Right: ad for Williams shoes from the US starting at $12.50 a pair by Dragon Seed and New Dragon in 1963 (WKYP, 1963-1-13)

Dragon Seed – Building and Branches: 1964-1986

Dragon Seed Image 4 York Lo

Left: Ad for the opening of the Dragon Seed Building and its new flagship store in 1964 with sketch of the building. Pictures from left to right were: Gilbert Ho, Peter Ho, Paddy Ko and Albert Ho (KSDN, 1964-12-4); Right: Dragon Seed store at the Dragon Seed Building in the 1990s

Determined to have its own property, Dragon Seed acquired five storefronts at 39 Des Voeux Road next door and with the help of Peter’s son Gilbert who was trained as an architect in Australia developed the 15-story Dragon Seed Building. The building opened on December 1964 and Dragon Seed opened its new flagship store on the first four floors of the building while conducting a removal sale at its original store next door. The new store would be the firm’s flagship store for the next three decades. (WKYP, 1964-12-5)

Dragon Seed Image 5 York Lo

Opening ceremony of the Kowloon branch of Dragon Seed at Hotel Miramar in 1968. Right to left: Paddy Ko, Young Chi-wan, Albert Ho, Gilbert Ho. (KSDN, 1968-11-16);

Dragon Seed Image 6 York Lo

Left: crowd outside of Dragon Seed’s Kowloon branch on Nathan Road in 1969 during the HK Festival Kowloon procession. (HKPL); Center: Ad for Dragon Seed’s opening at Connaught House in (KSDN, 1972-12-16); Right: Dragon Seed ad in 1976 promoting its European and American furniture clearance sale (KSEN, 1976-9-22);

In 1968, Dragon Seed opened its Kowloon branch on the ground floor of Hotel Miramar at 134 Nathan Road with two floors and 30000 sq ft of retail space, with furniture, lighting, shoes, suits and canned goods on the lower floor and clothing and cosmetics on the upper floor.(KSDN, 1968-11-16) Miramar had a special connection to Dragon Seed as Miramar chief Young Chi-wan’s son James Young Bing-yin married Peter Ho’s fourth daughter Ho Wai-ping (何惠冰) and the Young family’s King Fook Jewelry was also a neighbor of Dragon Seed in Central.

In December 1972, Dragon Seed opened its branch at the new Connaught Centre (now Jardine House), which was the tallest building in HK and Asia. The opening ad above listed the opening hours for the HK stores to be 9:30am to 7pm while the Kowloon store had longer hours from 10am to 9pm. Throughout the 1970s, Dragon Seed maintained the three branches on Queen’s Road Central, Connaught Centre and Nathan Road.

In September 1982, theNathan Road branch was burglarized and $13,000 in cash were taken from the safe. (KSDN, 1982-9-7)

In May 1986, Dragon Seed chairman Peter Ho died at the HK Sanatorium at the age of 86 and was survived by his wife Wong Yin-ching (王燕清), four sons Gilbert Ho Ting-fai (何廷暉), Michael Ho Ting-lai (何廷禮, who became a dentist like his uncles after graduation from the University of Melbourne in 1965), Tony Ho Ting-kong (何廷剛) and John Ho Ting-chor (何廷初) and six daughters. (WKYP, 1986-5-15). Gilbert, Wai-ping and Tony had all served on the board of Dragon Seed. (HK $ Directory, 1980)

Paddy Ko, Peter’s co-founder, died in 2004 and was survived by 4 sons and 2 daughters. Outside of business, he served on the board of HK Swatow Christian Church from 1964. His children included Moses Ko and Esther M.Y. Ko who served on the board of Dragon Seed and David Ko (柯華), who had served as chairman of the Action Committee for Defending the Diaoyu Islands.

Dragon Seed under Brunico and Tokyu (1987-1999)

Dragon Seed Image 7 York Lo

Left: Article about the opening of the Dragon Seed home design center in 1987 with picture of special guest actress Morgan Fairchild at the store (WKYP, 1987-7-8)

In January 1987, merely months after the death of Peter Ho, the Ho and Ko families sold Dragon Seed including its Central building for $200 million to Brunico Holdings, a company which was 50% owned by Prudential Asset Management Asia (PAMA), the Asian private equity arm of US insurer Prudential chaired by Dr. Victor Fung, 40% owned by First Pacific, the conglomerate controlled by Indonesian Chinese tycoon Liem Sioe-liong and 10% owned by Gianni’s which was owned by former Dao Heng Bank CEO and Dickson Concepts deputy chair LilianeKim Lim (林碧金) and banker Cynthia Picazo. As a result, Lim and Picazo became chair and managing director of Dragon Seed but Tony Ho remained on the board as executive director. (TKP, 1987-1-7; WKYP, 1987-1-6)

Under new ownership, Dragon Seed continued to expand. In July 1987, Dragon Seed opened its Home &Design Center on Duddell Street in Central which sold home furniture and fixtured imported from the US and Europe. The opening ceremony was led by First Pacific head Manny Pangilinan and PAMA chief Michael Kwee with Hollywood actress Morgan Fairchild as special guest. At the time, First Pacific and PAMA explored the possibility of listing Dragon Seed but those plans were postponed by the market crash later that year. Aside from the two Dragon Seed stores in HK and Kowloon (which by then had moved from Hotel Miramar to 3 floors of Albion Plaza at 2-6 Granville Road developed by the Koo family, see article), the group also owned Hugo Boutiques (曉旭)with branches in Landmark in Central and New World Centre,Harbour City and Ocean Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui,crystal and silverware shop Crystal Gallery and CinCin Children’s Wear in Harbour City. (Hong Kong $ Directory, 1988)

In January 1988, Dragon Seed and First Pacific were the joint lead sponsors of the Chinese New Year fireworks in HK. (TKP, 1988-1-19) In August 1988,First Pacific acquired PAMA and Gianni’s stakes in Brunico and as a result Dragon Seed became a wholly owned subsidiary of First Pacific and Liliane Lim later left the corporate world and became the popular fengshui author Lillian Too. (TKP, 1988-8-11) Two months after buying out PAMA in October 1988, First Pacific sold the retail business (which had 10 stores at the time) and the Central building of Dragon Seed to the Japanese retail giant Tokyu (which had 10 stores in Japan and 7 stores outside of Japan at the timeincluding its HK branch in New World Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui which opened in 1982) for HK$70 million and HK$335 million respectively. (TKP, 1988-10-6)

Under Tokyu, Dragon Seed continued to run its two stores in HK and Kowloon and its chain of Hugo boutiques in the 1990s. In the late 1990s, Tokyu decided to exit the retail business in HK and in1999, Tokyu sold the Dragon Seed building in Central to New World Development for HK$136 million. The building was leased out to Yue Hwa department store in the early 2000s before being re-developed into the 23-story Prosperous Tower, which was completed in 2011.

TV commercial for Dragon Seed in the 1980s:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZg-qRmRnMQ

Sources (other than those cited above):

http://paper.wenweipo.com/2007/01/24/ME0701240010.htm

This article was first posted on 29th March 2021.

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