From Curios and Jewelry to Soy Milk and Cinemas – the 150 year old saga of the Shiu Lock Hing family
York Lo: From Curios and Jewelry to Soy Milk and Cinemas – the 150 year old saga of the Shiu Lock Hing family
Several articles on the website have covered Chinese family businesses in Hong Kong which have existed for not only a century but close to or over 150 years – these include Kwong Fat Yuen Hong in the leather business, Wing Lee Wai in the distillery business and the family of Li Sing (see articles). The family of Shiu Lock-hing, who started one of the largest dealers in Chinese curios and jewelry in late 19th century and early 20th century in 1870 and operated out of its own building at the site of the present day Melbourne Plaza, is another example and the descendants expanded the business from curios and jewelry to soy milk and cinemas over the past one and a half century through the establishment of Vitasoy, the Cathay Theatre and one of the first film companies dedicated to the production of martial arts movies.
Shiu Lock Hing (邵洛興,1831-1911) the Curios Dealer
Left: obituary of Shiu Lock-Hing in 1911 (The Hong Kong Telegraph, 1911-07-07); Middle: Ad for Lock Hing in 1929 (The China Mail, 1929-10-24); Right: Lock Hing Building in 1940 – signs for Lock Hing and Ta Kung Pao could be seen on the second floor (Harrison Forman collection)
A native of Panyu in Guangdong province, Shiu Lock-hing came to Hong Kong at an early age and established Lock Hing (洛興號) to deal in Chinese and Japanese curios and jewelry. In pre-industrial Hong Kong, Chinese curios was one of the major businesses and Li Sing, whose family has been covered extensively in this group, was also a major player in the business.
In Reminiscences of Twenty-five Years’ Yachting in Australia by Sir William Henry Bundey published in 1888, he mentioned that he “purchased a number of Japanese and Chinese curios” and “Lock Hing, nearly opposite the hotel, has a fine stock of the former; but the visitor must not expect to pick up anything very cheap — indeed, the prices asked seemed to us high in the extreme.”
Based on articles from the late 1950s and early 1960s, Lock Hing built its own building at 33 Queen’s Road Central around 1890, one of the first Chinese-owned buildings in the Central business district. From old pictures, it was a Western style building with Corinthian columns and in addition to Lock Hing, it was leased to other tenants early on. One of the early tenants in the building was Dr. M. H. Chaun (周夢熊, 1867-1935), a US trained dentist and one of the first dentists of Chinese descent in Hong Kong who operated out of the building from as early as 1909 until the 1920s. Another early tenant was an optometrist by the name of David Benjamin.
From an article entitled “Hong Kong: the world’s shop window” which appeared in A Handbook to Hong Kong published by Kelly & Walsh in 1909, Lock Hing was selling “the Cantonese embroideries of the richest designs, peacocks and storks – life size; silk and crepe dresses of exquisite texture and patterns with the white and creamed color ones worthy of any bride, carved blackwood furniture so unique and so characteristic of China and cloisonné and Satsuma ware, all most choice and valuable”
In 1910, a merchant by the name of Chak Chiu-hung (same name as one of the early Western doctors of Chinese descent in HK) filed a lawsuit against Shiu Lock-hing. When Shiu Lock-hing died at the age of 80 in June 1911, his estate was reported to be at least HK$1 million in value, which was a very large sum at the time and he was described as “a well-known, old and respected resident of the Colony”.
Shiu Yat-hin, presumably a son of Shiu Lock-hing, was listed as manager in the 1925 Comacrib directory. In January of the same year, a big burglar took place at Lock Hing and HK$7000 worth of goods were stolen. The next month, the Captain Superintendent of the Police offered $1000 for the arrest and conviction of the person or persons implicated in the burglary and a further reward of 10% of the value was offered for the recovery of the stolen property. (The HK Telegraph, 1925-2-24)
A 1929 article in the China Mail described that Lock Hing deal in “fine Shanghai and Canton silks, grass clothes, embroideries, crepes, chic shawls and ivory, bronze, lacquered, cloisonné ware, porcelain and ornaments of gold and silver and the work of master craftsmen” and “gold and silver jewellery can also be made to order”. It also mentioned that the firm were “manufacturers of blackwood furniture both inlaid and carved chairs, tables and stands, all well-made and beautifully finished”. But compare to previous articles, it described the prices as competitive. (China Mail, 1929-10-24)
Shiu Wai-ming (邵蔚明, 1887-1957) – Vitasoy Co-founder and Landlord
Shiu Wai-ming was likely a grandson of Shiu Lock-hing based on age and his date of birth is around 1887 based on a 1950 publication for the HK Business Festival which described him as 63 years old. Based on the 1965 obituary of his mother Shiu Lui Sze in 1965 (who passed away that year at the age of 88), he was the brother of Shiu Pak-nin (to be covered in the next section) and Shiu Wai-choi (邵偉才). (TKP, 1965-7-9)
Wai-ming was born in HK and was one of the earliest graduates of St. Stephen’s College which was formed in 1903. He became an owner of the Lock Hing building in 1909 and assumed the management of Lock Hing the curio firm and the building after Shiu Lock-hing’s death in 1911. In 1939, Lock Hing Investment (洛興置業) was incorporated to manage the family’s property holdings. By 1940, the tenants of the Lock Hing Building aside from Lock Hing were primarily cultural organizations including a photofinishing firm by the name of Modern Company ( 摩登公司), Morning Light Photo Studio (晨光攝影院), Modern Reader’s Service (現代文化服務社), the Hong Kong branch of the World Bookstore (世界書局), International Dispensary (五洲大藥房), the newspaper Ta Kung Pao (大公報) and Mei Kwong Publishing Co (微光出版社).
Shiu Wai-ming (second from the left, front row) and the founding board and staff of Vitasoy at the opening ceremony of its Causeway Bay factory in 1940. Left to right in the front row: Chan Chun-lam, Shiu Wai-ming, Lo Kwee-seong, Chan Nam-cheong, Kwan Yim-chor (HK Memory)
With the profits from the curios and real estate business of Lock Hing, Shiu Wai-ming invested in other businesses. In 1931, Shiu Wai-ming teamed up with Lo Ming-yau (羅明佑, 1900-1967) and Leung Kuei-tin (梁典初) to form South China Cinema & Investment Co Ltd (華南影院置業) to invest in movie theaters with Lo as manager, Shiu as assistant manager and Leung as joint director. Lo was one of the pioneers of HK and Chinese cinema and in the year before the formation of South China, he and Lai Man-wai (黎民偉) registered United Photoplay Service Ltd. (聯華影業製片印刷) in Hong Kong and had its offices located at Lock Hing Building before moving its operations to Shanghai in 1931 where it became one of the “Big Three” movie companies in the 1930s.
In 1939, HKU graduate Lo Kwee-seong (羅桂祥, 1910-1995) decided to start a factory to produce soy milk for the mass after being inspired by a speech in Shanghai in 1937 by American commercial attache Julean Arnold entitled “Soybean: the Cow of China” and seeing the benefits first hand after serving soy milk to malnourished refugees in the Argyle Street camps. He approached two acquaintances with deep pockets – one of them being Shiu Wai-ming and the other the contractor Chan Nam-cheong (陳南昌) (who became a noted taxicab company owner and philanthropist after the War, see article on taxi kings) and set up Hong Kong Soya Bean Products (香港荳品有限公司) the same year with registered capital of HK$15000. Assisted by Chan Chun-lam (陳春霖) and Kwan Yim-chor (關炎初), the factory commenced operations in March 1940 in Causeway Bay and sold nine bottles of “Vitamilk” (renamed Vitasoy in 1953 although Chinese name remains Vitamilk) on its first day. With the help of Dr. Y.T. Chiu and Howard Hoover on the technology front, the firm was selling 1000 bottles per day by mid-1941.
During the Japanese occupation (1941-45), the Vitasoy factory was shut down and K.S. Lo moved to the mainland with his family. Shiu Wai-ming stayed in HK where he was appointed chief of the Western district under the Japanese military administration. Two weeks after the Japanese surrender in 1945, Lo returned to HK and restarted Vitasoy in November with the support of Shiu. An Aberdeen factory was added in 1950 to bottle Green Spot orangeade and the firm also secured the bottling franchise for Pepsi Cola in 1957, the year of Wai-ming’s death. By then, HK Soy Bean Products had become one of the most successful beverage companies in Hong Kong.
Left: cover page ad for the introduction of Pepsi Cola in Hong Kong in 1957 (KSDN, 1957-6-6); Right: the Lo brothers with Pepsi executives in 1957. Vitasoy founder Lo Kwee-seong (second from right), Café de Coral founder Victor Lo Tang-cheung (first from right) and Fairwood founder Lo Fong-cheung (first from left) (WKYP, 1957-4-26)
Aside from Vitasoy, Shiu Wai-ming was also an investor in Hong Kong Nail Factory (香港製釘廠), the first nail factory in Hong Kong started by Shing Y. Tang (see article)
In the 1950s, the tenants of Lock Hing Building include Vansen department store (萬成百貨, operated by the maker of Spear shirts, see article), Victoria Dispensary (勝利大藥房) and Swatow lace firm Hsu Brothers (集祥抽紗行).
In 1954, one of Shiu Wai-ming’s sons Shiu Ho-fong (邵豪晃) married Winnie Wei (韋秀嫻), a famous singer who is the daughter of Shanghai merchant Wei Pak-kwei (韋伯貴) and famous Cantonese opera star Li Shuet-fong (李雪芳). In 1957, Shiu Wai-ming passed away and he was succeeded at South China by his son Shiu Chi-kian (邵志堅, 1932-), who joined the firm in 1952. The family remained the second largest shareholder of Vitasoy behind the family of Lo Kwee-seong and Shiu Chi-kian served as a non-executive director of Vitasoy from 1987 to 2004 and independent director from 2004-2006.
Wedding of Shiu Wai-ming’s son Ho-fong and singer Winnie Wei (WKYP, 1954-3-27)
In the late 1950s, buildings adjacent to the Lock Hing building such as Commercial Press (商務印書館), Queen’s Theatre (皇后戲院), China Products Co (中國國貨公司) and Wing On Building (永安大廈) were being re-developed and in 1959, structural damage at the seven decades old Lock Hing building forced its six tenants to move out. (KSEN, 1959-12-14) In 1964, the Lock Hing Building was declared an unsafe structure by the government under the Demolished Buildings (Re-development of Sites) Ordinance and was demolished.
In 1966, a consortium led by three jewelers – Cheng Yu-tung of Chow Tai Fook (see article on Hip Hing Construction), Young Chi-wan of King Fook (see article on Pro Quality Electronics) and Lo Ka-chung of Fu Heng in partnership with Chung Ming-fai (see articles on E.Wah Aik San and Wah Yuen Investment) acquired the 10000 sq ft site of the former Lock Hing Building for HK$12 million (WKYP, 1966-8-31)
For whatever reason, the transaction was not completed until March 1969 when the Shiu family formally sold the site to Melbourne Enterprises Limited (incorporated in 1967, listed in 1972) controlled by the family of Chung Ming-fai and in 1970, the Melbourne Plaza (萬邦行) was built on the former site of the Lock Hing Building where it still stands after nearly half a century.
Shiu Wai-ming’s daughter Kaye Shiu Kee-mui (邵寄梅) studied at the True Light Girl’s College in HK and Canton and later established the Shiu Wai Ming Financial Assistance Fund in memory of her father. Her husband Dr. Wong Kai-fou (黃啟阜 1930-2011) was a famous dermatologist in HK who had attended Lingnan in Canton and operated out of Central Building in HK for many years before retiring to Australia before his death. Veronica Shiu (邵珮詩), the winner of the 2014 Miss Hong Kong beauty pageant, is a great granddaughter of Shiu Wai-ming.
Shiu Pak-nin (邵柏年): Cinema Operator and Movie Producer
Shiu Wai-ming’s younger brother Shiu Pak-nin, who also went by the stage name of Man Mo (聞武) as a producer, was a major figure in the theater and movie business in the 1950s and 1960s.
A 1934 graduate of Pui Ching Middle School, Shiu Pak-nin attended the Sun Yat Sen University in Guangzhou where he donated the Shiu Pak Nin Hall in 1994. He was related to Lo Ming-yau, the family’s partner in the cinema business by marriage as he married the daughter of Lo Wen-kan (羅文幹,1888-1941), the uncle of Lo Ming-yau and Oxford trained lawyer who was a minister level Chinese government official in the 1920s and early 1930s. Shiu Pak-nin and his wife had at least four sons – Shiu Yuen-lim (邵元亷), Yuen-lai, Yuen-chit and Yuen-shun.
Left: Shiu Pak-nin (left) receiving a souvenir from Wah Kiu Yat Po publisher Shum Wai-yau in 1958 (WKYP, 1958-2-15); Right: The Cathay Theatre
For decades, Shiu Pak-nin operated the Cathay Theatre (國泰戲院), which first opened at 125 Wanchai Road in Wanchai in February 1939. The theater continued to operate during the Japanese occupation and only closed when the supply of electricity was suspended in August 1944. According to the daughter of Ng Tik-chow (吳荻舟), a leader of the Chinese Communist Party in Hong Kong in the 1940s through 1960s, Shiu Pak-nin was actively courted by the Party even before 1949 and as a result, the Cathay Theatre became one of the main venues for showing films from the mainland and the Soviet Union or produced by left wing studios in HK in the 1950s and 1960s. The pro-China According to the recollection of Boston/HK choreographer Walter Chan (陳維寗), the teacher of former Finance Secretary John Tsang and father of TVB actress Flora Chan (陳慧珊), Shiu Pak-nin befriended Russian ballet teacher Larissa Tessar who brought Soviet films to him and when she opened her ballet school in Happy Valley, his son Shiu Yuen-lim became one of the few male students along with Chan.
In 1958, Shiu Pak-nin was a director of the HK Theaters Association (戲院商會) alongside Seaker Chan (陳樹渠, Roxy), Liang Ki-hao (梁基浩, King’s), Chan Ying-lik (陳應歷, see article on Elephant Radio, Astor), Leung Chuen-wah (梁傳華, Central), Ko Fook-wah (高福華) Sydney Leong (梁紹榮, Broadway), Wong Lau (黃流), Chan Shu-kai (陳樹鍇), Lee Po-lam (李寶林), Waung Fook-hing (汪福慶), J.S. Lee (利榮森, Lee), Tsoi Chak-lam (蔡澤霖, Odeon), Lung Fung-sang (龍鳳生), Woo Man-hon (胡文瀚, see taxi kings article), Wong Siu-foon (黃兆歡, Metro), Fu Yam-chiu (傅蔭釗), Wong Hing-wah (黃慶華) and Cheng Ka-chi (鄭家熾, Golden Princess) as shown in the picture below.
In July 1958, Shiu Pak-nin teamed up with the movie director Lee Fa (李化, 1909-1975) to establish Emei Film Co (峨嵋影片), the first company dedicated to the production of wuxia (martial heroes) movies in Hong Kong. Lee, who had spent many years working in the movie industry in Shanghai was the father of famous political commentator and publisher Lee Yee and had been active in movie production since the 1930s. He and Shiu were very impressed by the wuxia novels of two young writers – Louis Cha (金庸, 1924-2018) and Liang Yu-sheng (梁羽生, 1924-2009) who started writing them in the mid-1950s. Within the first three years (1958-1961), Emei produced 17 movies based on the works of Cha and Leung with audience of over 100,000 for each film and aggregate audience of 2.3 million. In the inaugural issue of Cha’s Ming Pao in 1959, Emei Film was the only advertiser in the front page.
Shiu Pak-nin and fellow directors of the HK Theaters Assocaition in 1958 (WKYP, 1958-5-17)
According to the HK movie database (HKMDB), Shiu Pak-nin under the name of Man Mo was producer of 26 movies between 1958 and 1965, all of which were in the kung fu novel genre. There are no records of either Shiu or Emei Film being involved in movie production after 1965 although in 1969, Shiu Pak-nin was re-elected as supervisor of the HK Movie Producer Association while Sit Siu-cheung was chairman and the actor/producer Walter Tso (see article on YC Moy and Yau Kiu Studio) was vice chairman and Lo Kau, Woo Pang and Lee Fa (who had immigrated to Macau in 1968 after the 1967 riots in HK) were directors (WKYP, 1969-11-27)
Left: Cover of the 3rd anniversary booklet of Emei; Right: Poster for Emei movie Pick Huit Kim Chapter II based on the Louis Cha novel of the same name starring Walter Tso and Shek Kin.
The original Cathay Theatre was closed in 1984 and re-developed into a multiplex ABC Cathay Theatre in 1986. It operated until 1997 when it was closed and re-developed into a residential/retail building Cathay Lodge (國泰新宇).
Movies produced by Shiu Pak-nin under the name of Man Mo:
This article was first posted on 8th November 2019.
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