Far East Candle Works (遠東燭業) and Ki Yip Chemical Works (基業化工廠)

York Lo: Far East Candle Works (遠東燭業) and Ki Yip Chemical Works (基業化工廠)

Far East Candle Works Image 1 York Lo

Article about Far East Candle & Chemical Works’ booth at the 1964 HK Products Expo with a picture of its products in its booth (KSEN, 1964-12-28) 

Earlier in the group, we have covered Mark V, the HK-based affiliate of US retail chain Cost Plus Bazaar which was one of the largest candle manufacturers in HK in the 1960s. In the early 1980s, HK surpassed Japan and became the top exporter of candles in the world and within that industry, Far East Candle Works was the leader with significant market share. The firm traced its origins to Far East Candle & Chemical Works (遠東燭業化工廠) which was founded in around 1950 by Chiuchow native Lam Ki-fung (林基豐, 1916-1973) who was chairman of the firm and was supported by his younger brother Lam Ki-yip (林基業), who was managing director and Lam Ki-boon (林基本), who was sales manager. Allegedly Lam Ki-fung established his first candle company back in 1932. After Ki-fung’s death, Ki-yip and his children founded Ki Yip Chemical Works which became another leading candle manufacturer while Far East had since dissolved. Many other candle companies in HK were also created by former employees of Far East. 

Far East’s original address was located at 127 Des Voeux Road West in Western district. (CMA Members Directory, 1958) By the early 1960s, it already had its factory in Aberdeen, with 226 Tang Fung Street listed as its address in 1961 (International Commerce, 1961) 

In 1964, Far East had over 100 workers and daily production capacity of over 100,000 candles ranging from 3 inches to 36 inches in length. Majority of them were exported to markets such as Scandinavia, the UK and Southeast Asia but also sold domestically. At the HK Products Expo that year, the firm showcased candle figures such as Santa Claus, Guayin and little houses made out of paraffin wax imported from the UK and Japan and mixed with different color dyes. One of the special new products was a golden candle which was extra bright when lit. (KSEN, 1964-12-28)

In 1969, Lam Ki-fung established Fung Yip Investment Co (豐業置業) to engage in property development. By then, Far East was operating out of the Aberdeen Factory Building at 19 Wong Chuk Hang Road where it occupied the second to fifth floor and ninth floor. (AA Far East Businessmen Directory, 1969).  In December of the same year, a fire took place at the warehouse of Far East on the 9th floor of the building, which held large quantity of production materials such as flammable wax, paper boxes for packaging and printed materials. The materials were damaged, and one firefighter and one security guard were injured during the fire which was put out within an hour. (KSDN, 1969-12-27) 

In 1971, a much bigger fire took place at the Aberdeen Factory Building which lasted for seven hours and completely damaged the fifth to ninth floor of the building, three of which were part of the Far East factory including the sixth floor where the fire started, and four workers were trapped but fortunately rescued in time by the firefighters. At the time Far East had over 300 workers and the production line was running overtime to fulfil orders from the US and Europe.  (WKYP, 1971-8-24) As a result, Far East relocated to 46 Wong Chuk Hang Road in Aberdeen after the fire.

In July 1973, Lam Ki-fung died at the St Paul’s Hospital at the age of 57 and was survived by his wife Tong Pik-sim, four sons (Chun-on, Chun-ming, Chun-sun, Chun-cheung) and five daughters (Lai-fun, Lai-bing, Lai-ming, Lai-yee, Lai-chu). (WKYP, 1973-7-3) In December of the same year, Far East Candle Works Ltd was incorporated as the successor firm of Far East Candle & Chemical Works. 

Far East Candle Works Image 2 York Lo

Article and picture of the wedding of Shirley Lam Lai-bing and Dr. Chan Chun-hon in 1979 (WKYP, 1979-9-16) 

Lam Ki-yip was succeeded at Far East by his sons Lam Chun-on (林鎮安) and Lam Chun-ming (林鎮明) and his daughter Shirley Lam Lai-bing (林麗冰), who studied architecture at Oregon State and Cal Arts and married Dr. Chan Chun-hon (陳振漢), a graduate of the HKU Medical School and physician at the HK Sanatorium in 1979. Aside from serving as director and manager of Far East Candle Works and director of Fung Yip, Shirley Lam was also director of Winner Jewellery (雲華金銀珠寶鐘錶). 

In 1979, the total exports of candles from HK exceeded HK$72.9 million, a 42% increase from the prior year amount of $51.2 million. Most of the exports were to the US market ($49.4 million), particularly the East and West Coast and that year, HK surpassed Japan as the no 1 exporter of candles. There were 60-70 players in the industry at the time but only a dozen sizeable firms and Far East was the largest of them all accounting for 80% of HK’s candle exports, according to their spokesperson Chan Ho-fai (陳浩輝). As most modern candles are made from paraffin which is a byproduct of petroleum refining, the soaring oil prices in the 1970s increased the cost of production and the industry also began to see competition from the mainland although Chan was not concerned as the mainland competitors were 3-5 years behind in terms of design and technology. (HKBU student newspaper, 1980-4-8)

The economic recovery in the US in the early 1980s was beneficial to the HK candle industry as the US was its largest market and business saw a year over year jump of 25% in June 1983. According to Lam Chun-on who was being interviewed in 1983, he was positive on the prospects of collaboration with the mainland given it was a major source of raw materials for making candles and the cheap labor and land.   (TKP, 1983-10-7) 

As a firm, Far East Candle Works Ltd was dissolved in 2000. Another firm, Far East Candle Co Ltd was incorporated in 1999, but dissolved in 2008. 

Far East Candle Works Image 4 York Lo

Left: Ki Yip chief Michael Lam with some of his candles in 2010 (China Daily); Right: Michael Lam (center) and Lam Chun-kit (third from left) cutting the roasted pig at the opening ceremony of the LinkAges Lam Ki Yip Centre at the Aberdeen Kaifong Association in 2016. (AKA) 

After the death of his elder brother, Lam Ki-yip and his wife Lee Ying-mui and their sons established rival candle manufacturer Ki Yip Chemical Works in 1976. 

Under the management of Ki-yip’s eldest son Michael Lam Chun-biu (林鎮標), who studied at the University of Alberta in Canada, Ki Yip continued to operate to this day and its candles are exported to markets such as the US, Canada and Europe. As of 2010, the firm still had 150,000 sq ft of manufacturing facilities at Tin Fung Industrial Mansions in Wong Chuk Hang, one of the last manufacturers in the area. It also had another factory in Dongguan and employed several hundred workers during high season, but business was struggling because of anti-dumping duties levied by the US government on candles made in the mainland and difficult environment had reduced the number of players in the industry from over 50 in the 1980s to less than half of that number. 

Having owned factories in the Aberdeen district since the 1960s, the Lam family is particularly attached to the area. When Ki-yip’s second son Lam Chun-sing (林鎮成), who graduated from Arcadia University and the University of Alberta in Canada, married Cheng Lai-ping (鄭麗萍), a graduate of the University of Waterloo on New Year’s Eve 1980, the wedding banquet was held at the Jumbo Seafood floating restaurant in Aberdeen. (WKYP, 1980-1-1) Lam Ki-yip also contributed alongside other Aberdeen industrialists such as Yam Cheong-hung of Hung Hing Printing towards the construction of the Tai Wong Yeh Temple (大王爺廟) in Wong Chuk Hang in 1983. In 2016, the family of Lam Ki-yip including Michael and his younger brother Lam Chun-kit (林鎮杰) donated to the Aberdeen Kaifong Association towards the opening of the Linkages Lam Ki Yip Centre (尚融坊林基業中心) at the Shek Pai Wan Estate. 

Sources (other than those cited above): 

http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/hkedition/2010-08/05/content_11098424.htm

This article was first posted on 27th April 2020.

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