From Bicycles to Lamps and Stoves: Union Metal Works (合衆五金廠) and the two illustrious families behind the firm
York Lo: From Bicycles to Lamps and Stoves: Union Metal Works (合衆五金廠) and the two illustrious families behind the firm
Left: 1962 Unimet ad showing its entire line of SOLAR brand products; Right: Unimet lamp made in 1965
Union Metal Works (aka Unimet) was one of the leading manufacturers of pressure lanterns in HK alongside World-Light, Glory, Lea Hin and Chung Mei profiled earlier in the group. As shown in the 1962 ad above, Union also manufactured kerosene pressure stoves, paraffin space heaters and kerosene water heaters under the SOLAR brand. The firm traced its origin to Union Cycle Manufacturing, the bicycle manufacturer in HK started before the War which was converted to making pressure lanterns after the War. The firm was first controlled by the family of General Chen Chi-tang (陳濟棠,1890-1954), the warlord known as “the Celestial King of the South” as he ruled over Guangdong province from 1928 to 1936 and remained in his family’s control until 1964 when his son Chan Shu-woon (陳樹桓,1921-2003), a prominent civic leader at the time, left Hong Kong. The Chan family was succeeded by Sheung-hong Sung (宋常康,S.H. Sung, 1917-2018), the scion of a prominent Chinese Christian family who recently died on January 23rd 2018 at the age of 100. Outside of Unimet, the Chan and the Sung families have founded many companies, schools and organizations in HK and abroad.
From Union Cycle to Union Metal Works and the Family of General Chen Chitang
Left: Trademark of Union Cycling registered in 1941 (HK Government Reports); Right: Article about inter-school cycling competition sponsored by Union Cycle Mfg (Ta Kung Pao, 1941-4-26)
Union Metal Works started its life as The Union Cycle Manufacturing Co Ltd (合衆製車), which according to Made in Hong Kong (Turner, 1988) was the first manufacturer of bicycles in Hong Kong founded in 1936. As a firm, it was first incorporated in 1939 and registered its trademark in 1941. The firm had its plant at 522 Castle Peak Road in Kowloon and promoted its products by sponsoring inter-school cycling contests like the 1941 one mentioned above which involved schools such as La Salle College and Pui Ying Middle School and Union provided 50 bikes.
General Chen Chitang (seated) and his family. First row left to right: Yan-hing, Mrs. Chen (Mok Sau-ying), General Chen, Chan Shu-kit. Second row left to right: Chan Shu-woon, Bo-hing, Lan-hing, Pui-hing, Shu-gar, Shu-yun, Shu-park, Shu-kan and Shu-jone.
It is unclear as to when exactly the family of General Chen got involved with Union but the year of its founding (1936) coincides with the year General Chen fled to Hong Kong when he lost control of Guangdong after the defection of his lieutenants (particularly in the air force) to Chiang Kai-shek’s government in Nanking. Born into a Hakka family in Guangxi, General Chen joined the revolutionary cause as a teenager and ruled over Guangdong province from 1929 to 1936 during which he was credited for modernizing the province and his rule was generally regarded as the “golden era” in the pre-War period.
General Chen came to HK with a sizable fortune and according to reports, he had purchased 98 properties in Hong Kong including seven houses with garages on Boundary Street in Kowloon, earning the street the nickname of “Sau Ying Street” (秀英街, Sau-ying a reference to Chan’s wife Mok Sau-ying 莫秀英).His older brother Chan Wai-chow (陳維周), a former fortune teller whom he placed in charge of the lucrative salt administration in Guangdong, also came to HK with his family and bought lots of properties in the North Point area including Kai Yuen Terrace. When the Japanese occupied HK, Chen managed to escape to Chungking where he was given government positions and after the War, he was appointed Governor of Hainan Island before fleeing to Taiwan where he died in 1954.
After the War, Union Metal Works was incorporated in 1947 with HK$1 million in registered capital to manufacture ”Solar” brand of pressure lanterns and “Wheel and Torch” brand of kerosene stoves. Chen Kwang-seng (1916-2005), the UK trained engineer and son of General Chen Ming-shu (who like Chen Chi-tang rebelled against Chiang and was exiled to HK) was Unimet’s first chief engineer. In 1951, Chen left his job at Unimet to work with the Tang brothers to relocate their HK Nail Factory to Tientsin (see article). He was purged during the Cultural Revolution and returned to HK in 1978.
Left: Unimet’s 1953 ad; Right: Chen Kwang-seng, one-time chief engineer of Unimet with his parents General and Mrs. Chen Ming-shu when he was a child.
By 1952, Unimet was operating out of Kayamally Building in Central while its factory remained at 522 Castle Peak Road. According to the article below, the plant which occupied 20000 square feet had production capacity of 15000 lamps (200W, 300W and 500W) and 5000 stoves (single and double burners) monthly and its lamp production represented 80% of HK’s total output.
Article about Union Metal Works in 1952 (WKYP, 1952-12-23)
In 1957, Governor Black visited Union Metal Works’ plant at 989 King’s Road in North Point where he was received by chairman Chan Shu-woon, director S.H. Sung and chief engineer Yeung Chit-po (楊哲甫). At the time, daily production was several hundred dozens including 200W, 300W and 500W and the plant had 450 workers.
Left: Governor Black visiting Union Metal Works in 1957 (工商晚報, 1957-08-12)Right: a Unimet two burner stove
Chen Chi-tang had a total of 18 children, of which 7 sons 4 daughters are children of his beloved wife Mok Sau-ying. Unimet chairman Chan Shu-woon was the third son but the eldest son by Mok and as a result was his father’s favorite. Born in Canton (which is why his other Chinese name is 陳穗生), Shu-woon attended Tak Ming Middle School (德明中學, named after Sun Yat-sen whose original name was Tak-ming) in Mongkok which was founded by his father in 1934 and graduated from Lafayette College in Pennsylvania in 1944. After the War, he returned to Hong Kong where he became the head of a string of businesses including Unimet,Great South Fishing (廣南漁業, the largest fishing firm in HK at the time, to be covered), Yu Man Bank (裕民銀業, opened in 1947), Far East Fishing (遠東漁業公司) in Macau and a soda bottler in Borneo. He became the headmaster of Tak Ming in 1954 after the suicide of his fifth brother Chan Shu-kan (陳樹庚), and under his leadership, Tak Ming had growninto a large scale educational organization by 1960 offering kindergarten to tertiary education (under Tak Ming College 德明書院) with over 12000 students enrolled.In addition to Tak Ming, Chan Shu-woon was chairman of Shou Shan College in North Point, council member of Chu Hai College and Kwong Tai College and life president of Eastern Athletic Association. From business and education, he entered the realm of politics and in 1956, he won the Urban Council election with the third highest vote as a Reform Club candidate and in 1963 won re-election with the highest vote as an independent. At the peak of his success however, he was sued by his political rival Brook Bernacchi for alleged corruption during his election campaign and bowing to other political pressure (according to his classmate the school uniform maker and author Fong Foon-lit, it was the Special Branch of the HK Police which was concerned about his ties to the KMT regime in Taipei), he abruptly resigned from all his positions in HK in mid-1964 and left for the San Francisco Bay Area where he pursued graduate studies at Stanford.
Picture of Chan Shu-woon and his wife Bianne (甘碧潤), son Eugene and one of his two daughters at the Kai Tak airport in 1964 and article about his departure for the US to pursue further studies at Stanford (WKYP 1964-5-1)
Left: Article about the suicide of Chan Shu-kan in 1954 (WKYP, 1954-2-5); Right: Cover of Tak Ming school publication in 1964 featuring picture of General Chen as the issue commemorates the 10th anniversary of his death. The publication’s title calligraphy was also done by General Chen. (takming.edu)
Recruitment ad for the Tak Ming educational organization across all of its schools with Chan Shu-woon and Charles Cheng listed as principal and vice principal in 1963 (KSDN, 1963-8-8)
Shu-woon stayed in the Bay Area until his death where he was involved in real estate and served as a director of Metropolitan National Bank. Back in HK, the fishing businesses were shut down, Unimet was sold to S.H. Sung and his fourth brother Chan Shu-jone (陳樹中, 1925-2001) also had to sell his Shatin mansion which became the popular Yucca de Lac outdoor restaurant (雍雅山房). His brother in law Charles Y.C. Cheng (鄭潤才, first husband of Bo Hing) took over as head of Tak Ming but one by one the schools began to shut down between 1977 and 1986.There are over 100,000 alumni of the HK Tak Ming schools worldwide including Taiwan tech billionaire Barry Lam, former legislators in HK and Taiwan and many overseas Chinese leaders.Many of Shu-woon’s siblings were also involved in education. His older brother Chan Shu-kwan (陳樹坤) was the head of Tak Ming’s Wanchai branch before starting his own English school. His tenth brother Chan Shu-Park (陳樹柏, 1929-2013) was an electrical engineering professor at Santa Clara University for three decades before founding the International Technological University in San Jose in 1994and co-authored two engineering textbooks with his brothers Chan Shu-Gar (陳樹家, 1927-2013)and Chan Shu-yun (陳樹潤, d.2009) who were both academics. His sister Bo-hing Chan (陳寶馨, 1929-2008) founded what became the Takming University of Science and Technology in Taipei in 1965 and together with her second husband Hawaiian dentist Dr. Lawrence Tseu (鄒錦榮) made significant gifts to Harris Manchester College at Oxford which named its largest building after them.The youngest brother Chan Shu-kit (陳樹杰, 1935-)graduated from Virginia Military Institute, started Pak Nam College (伯南英文書院, named after his father whose alias is Pak Nam) in North Point in 1961 before changing career in 1973 when he started the Lei Garden restaurant (利苑酒家), which now has 24 branches in HK, Macau, China and Singapore.
Right: Chan Shu-park (left) meeting with Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in 1980; Right: Chan Shu-gar in the 1960s
Other relatives of General Chen Chi-tang also played important roles in education. His associate and in-law Kong Mou-sum (江茂森, whose daughter is married to Chan Shu-kit) was the head of Tak Ming and he and his family has been running Chu Hai College (珠海書院) since its inception in 1947. General Chen’s nephew Seaker Chan (陳樹渠, 1914-1973), who graduated from Lingnan in Canton and Columbia University in the US, was also a prominent businessman and community leader after the War and founded several schools in HK – the most famous of which is Hong Kong College which was renamed Chan Shu Kui Memorial School in his honor after his death.
S.H. Sung (宋常康) and Family
Left: S.H. Sung in the 1960s (HK Album, 1967); Right: S.H. Sung in his later years.
S.H. Sung, who took over Unimet from the Chans in the 1960s, came from one of HK’s oldest Chinese Christian families. One of his ancestors (presumably grandfather or grand uncle)- Sung Yuk-lam (宋毓林) was the first convert in HK by Reverend Charles Hager of the American Board Mission, ahead of Sun Yat-sen who was also baptized by Hager. Yuk-lam’s older brother Sung Chi-wing(宋梓榮) ran a Christian school and was succeeded by his son Sung Hok-pang (宋學鵬) who became a prominent Chinese scholar and friend of Governor Clementi. S.H.’s father Sung Teng-man (宋鼎文 1883-1958)was a civil servant before becoming the head of the Pentecostal Mission in HK from 1923 until his death when he was succeeded by S.H.S.H. graduated from HKU with a B.S. in mechanical engineering in 1937 and furthered his studies in Glasgow and Manchester. He worked for a number of industrial companies as production engineer in the UK before returning to HK in 1946 where he soon joined Unimet. He was appointed to the Trade and Industry Advisory Board in 1955 and served as general committee member of the HK General Chamber of Commerce from 1975 to 1989. He was also a district governor of Rotary International and established the S.H. Sung Special World Service Fund in 1973 to finance translation, publication and distribution of the Bible around the world and served on the board of Chung Chi College at CUHK for decades.
By the early 1990s, Unimet listed its principal activities as investments. Two companies related to Unimet were Union Industrial Development Corporation (合衆工業建設, incorporated in 1950 and dissolved in 2002) and Unimet Warehousing (合衆貨倉, incorporated 1978, dissolved 1995).
S.H. Sun married To Hon-chun (杜漢珍), daughter of Wing On co-founder Jackman To in 1951.Their eldest son Samuel Sung Ham-wing (宋咸詠, 1951-) is the founder of publicly listed telco equipment firm Tricom(得信佳, acquired by Richard Li and renamed PCCW in 1999) and leading job portal JobsDB (acquired by SEEK in 2011). Their younger son Daniel Sung Ham-tat (宋咸達, 1955-) was trained as a medical doctor but switching to the business world after completing the Sloan Fellow program at London Business School. He worked as a small cap fund manager at Framlington, briefly served as president of Chung Wah Shipbuilding in 1991 before becoming president of the family owned Unimet Investments, which has been active in the Vancouver real estate market since its founding in 1975.
S.H. Sung’s only brother S.K. Sung (宋常光, d. 2015) and sister in law Vivian Lee Sung (宋李瑞燕, 1913-2014) were also prominent in the business and Christian circles in their own rights. S.H. operated Teh-Hu Sunfluh (德信公司, incorporated in 1947, dissolved in 1976) in partnership with M.F. Weissenfluh which was a leading distributor of watches while Vivian, the daughter of Dr. Lee Ying-yau, one of the earliest Western doctors of Chinese descent in HK, was a headmistress before trying her hands in real estate and developed Vivian Court (瑞燕大廈) on the Peak. She was also the head of the local YWCA and founded the New Life Bible Church in 1959.
S.K. Sung (fourth from the left) and family and friends at the Kai Tak airport before boarding his BOAC flight to Japan (WKYP, 1959-5-4)
Vivian Lee Sung (first from the left) with the American evangelist Reverend Lester Sumrall (third from left)with whom she cofounded the New Life Bible Church in 1959.
Kung Sheung Evening News, 1957-8-12
Wah Kiu Yat Po, 1958-10-26
Major Companies of The Far East and Australasia 1991/92: Volume 2: East Asia
Global Chinese Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity, Brill, 2017
This article was first posted on 10th August 2018.
Related Indhhk articles:
- The World-Light Manufactory (光宇製造廠)
- Glory Metal Works (光榮五金製品廠)
- Fung Tang: The Firm, the Family, the Transpacific Metals Trade and Tin Refinery
- Tat Shing Metal Manufactory Company, Sham Shui Po – belt buckles, bag and furniture accessories
- Hong Kong Tube and Metal Company, Peng Chau Island – 1960s