From Shanghai to HK and West Africa: The Global Quests of 4 Hong Kong Enamelware Makers
York Lo: From Shanghai to HK and West Africa: The Global Quests of 4 Hong Kong Enamelware Makers
From the 1940s through the 1960s, Hong Kong had a vibrant enamelware industry, which like the cotton spinning industry was dominated by Shanghainese industrialists, who brought with them from Shanghai their technological know-how in addition to financial and human capital. When these industrialists faced protectionism in their primary export markets and rising costs of production in the Crown Colony in the 1960s, they shifted their production to West Africa and in some cases their operations evolved into leading industrial conglomerates in the region. This article profiles the stories of four of the largest players which had made this incredible entrepreneurial journey from Shanghai to Hong Kong and then West Africa. (the first three and the Cha Group founded by Cha Chi-ming are often regarded as part of the “Big Four” Chinese conglomerates in Nigeria but since Cha was primarily in textiles and not an enamelware manufacturer their story is not covered in this article)
The decade immediately following the end of WWII (1945-1955) was the golden era for enamelware in Hong Kong as the global demand for enamelware was robust thanks to the post-Wareconomic recovery and HK products having preferential treatment within the British Commonwealth. Allegedly some HK enamelware firms were operating at 50% operating margin, some well over that. This attracted many firms to enter the business and at its peak, there were 38 enamel factories in Hong Kong. While demand in Southeast Asia and Africa for enamelware remained strong, things began to turn for HK enamelware makers in 1956 as countries such as Indonesia, Thailand, India, Pakistan and Myanmar began restricting the imports of enamelware from Hong Kong to protect their local industries. To add to the troubles, the West African region was struck by natural disasters in 1957. By 1958, the number of enamel factories in Hong Kong dropped in half to 16. Meanwhile, Nigeria, which had become the largest single market for HK’s enamelware exports (accounting for 35% of total exports of HK$58 million or US$10.3 million based on exchange rate in 1963), gained independence from the British in 1960 and raised its import tariff on HK enamelware significantly. At the time, majority of products in Nigeria were imported through foreign-controlled trading firms such as the British firms of John Holt and United African Company and the Nigerian government was keen to develop domestic production to substitute imports and create employment and stability. HK enamelware manufacturers were invited to set up factories in Nigeria and despite the long distance (and at the time traveling to Nigeria from HK required a week-long flight involving multiple stops – Bangkok to Mumbai to London to Zurich to Lagos), many took the plunge. The early years were difficult, but those who survived the Civil War of 1967-70 and able to benefit from the oil boom in the early 1970s flourished and by then there were over 2000 Chinese in Nigeria, mostly from HK. From enamelware they went into steel, timber, plastic and all lines of businesses and today, some of these factories had evolved into large industrial conglomerates managed by second generation of these families with staff members who came from mainland China.
Commerce and Industry Department,”Enamelware”, Hong Kong trade bulletin, Hong Kong: Commerce and Industry Department (August 1964), pp.85-91
The Tung family of I-Feng and United in HK and Newco and Wempco Group in Nigeria
Left: John Tung (first from the left) and executives of I-Feng Enamelling in front of their plant in HK; Right: front page ad for I-Feng Building in 1964 (WKYP, 1964-5-3)
John Tung (董之英) of industry giant I-Feng (see article) which launched the enamelware industry in Shanghai and Hong Kong, was also the first HK merchant to go to Nigeria with his Nigerian Enamelware Co (NEWCO) being incorporated in 1960. NEWCO was listed on the Lagos Exchange in 1979 and its directors in 1983 included Chief Oluwole A. Adeosun, John Tung, S. K. Ying (Life member, Lagos Country Club and CEO of Associated Metals & Allied Works), D. J. Rosenberg, P. Besi, P. L. Cole and Eric N. Y. Chu (朱南揚, known for his involvement in the development of the Ikeja industrial zone and being the first Chinese with the Chief title in Nigeria). John Tung’s business interest in Nigeria was not limited to enamelware and he was also involved in metals, plastics, glass, waterpipes, fibre weaving, iron and steel. In 1965, he launched Nigerian Glass Container Metal Manufacturing in Lagos which counted his brother Chen-yin Tung (董俊英), J.S. Chia of New China Enamelware, Anthony Tek-Hsin Chen (陳德薰, founder of Central Package Group of Singapore and owner of Man Yee Can 文宜製罐廠in HK with Robert Chang in Tai Po), Sydney Tong Lai and Meng-wang Ng as directors. He also launched General Metalware in 1967 and Standard Industrial Development Co (SIDC) in 1969 which was involved in building materials, steel pipes and furniture in partnership with Japanese giants Mitsubishi and Kobe Steel and British-owned local conglomerate John Holt. To manage Nigerian Enamelware and SIDC, John Tung hired Cheng-Fong Hsu (徐正方), a former senior executive at Taiwan Power in 1972 as managing director of both firms. Prior to working for Tung, Hsu served as advisor to the South Vietnam government and was CEO of Electricity Corp of Nigeria from 1968-72, succeeding Sun Yun-suan (孫運𤪓, who later became the premier of the KMT regime and heir apparent of Chiang Ching-kuo) who served in the same position from 1964-67. Today, NEWCO remains 60% controlled by I-Feng Co Ltd in HK, but the Chinese directors on the board are John Tung’s younger cousin K.F. and his sons Paul and Lewis.
Tung family in the 1970s. Left to right: Robert Tung, Lewis Tung, K.F. Tung, Mrs. K.F. Tung, Phillip Tung (source: West Africa Voice of China)
Kay-Fung (K.F.) Tung (董紀勳, 1922-2019), the founder of the Wempco Group in Nigeria is a native of Soochow (Suzhou) and a younger cousin of John Tung. He had 5 brothers – H.C. Tung (董鴻章), S.C. Tung (董兆昌), S.S. Tung (董順生), K. T. Tung (董紀通) and K.L Tung (董紀麟), who was a graduate of the Whampoa Military Academy and K.F. himself rank number 5 out of the 6 brothers. In Hong Kong, K.F. was involved with The United Enamel Works (聯華搪瓷), whose factory was located at Sha Tsui Road in Tsuen Wan. (Another individual involved with United was Koo Ling-ching, see article)
In 1968, K.F. formed Universal (Nigeria) Ltd, a manufacturer of enamelware, kerosene lamps and stoves with himself as managing director and R. Koo (presumably Richard Koo Ling-king, see article on the Koo family) as director. In 1972, he formed Unique Silk Co in Ikeja to manufacture silk piece goods and his brother in law M.S. Tsao (曹鳴盛, who married K.F.’s sister) was a director of the firm. and as K.F. began to diversify into other fields outside of enamelware,he and his wife Wang Ting-kuen (王婷娟) were joined in Nigeria in the 1970s by their sons – Lewis Tung Shui-ngok(董瑞萼) and Robert Tung Shui-shing (董瑞誠). Nephew Phillip Tung Shui-che (董瑞慈, 1939-) also joined from Australia in 1970 where his father operated an import/export firm. They ventured into the steel business with Western Metal Products Co (WEMPCO) and over the next three decades under the management of the Tung brothers, the Wempco Group by 2002 had emerged as one of Nigeria’s largest industrial conglomerates with 12,000 employees across 11 subsidiaries and its output of corrugated zinc-plated steel sheets, timber products and enamel wares accounts for 50 percent and 70 percent of Nigeria’s domestic market. The Tung family also controls Oriental Hotel, one of the top hotels in the capital city of Lagos.
In 2002, group subsidiary Omo Wood Industry built a US$25 million particleboard plant in the southwestern state of Ogun with daily output of 450 cubic meters of fibreboard. In 2013, the Wempco Group built a $1.3 billion steel mill in Ibafo in Ogun. Opened by President Goodluck Jonathan, the mill is the largest in Africa and could produce 700,000 metric tons of steel annually, which equates to 65% of Nigeria’s annual steel consumption. Also located in the complex is a $500 million ceramic tiles plant and $200 mil nail production plant.
Although majority of their business interests are in Nigeria, many members of the Tung family maintain their residences in Hong Kong. One of the key family holding companies in HK is called Lewis & Paul Investment (羅保投資), named after Lewis Tung and his younger brother Paul TungShui-po (董瑞葆), who over the past three decades built a business empire in Chongqing in Szechuan province which included a 50-50 joint venture called TH Group with Vincent Lo’s Shui On Group which became one of the largest cement producers in western China and the 308 room Radisson Blu Plaza Chongqing (opened in 2012). Over the years, K.F. Tung donated generously to his native Ningbo and in 1998, he was named a honorary citizen of Ningbo alongside Dr. Hans Tang and Z.Y. Fu (傅在源, donor of the Fu Foundation School of Engineering at Columbia University).
Times Trade and Industrial Directory, Daily Times of Nigeria, 1972, pp39-40
The Lee family of Hwa Chong Enamelware Factory in HK and the Lee Group in Nigeria
Kwan-Dai Lee; Right: “Golden Pavilion” trademark of Hwa Chong Enamelware Factory
Kwan-Dai Lee (李關弟, 1909-1998), the founder of Hwa Chong Enamelware Factory in HK and the Lee Group in West Africa was a native of Ningpo who only had three years of formal education. When he was eight, his older sister married Hsu Sin-pu (徐信甫), the second brother of Hsu Wen-pu (徐文甫), one of the pioneers of the vacuum flask industry in China. There are two versions of K.D. Lee’s early career. According to his grandson, K.D. became the team lead at an enamelware factory at the age of 12, the head of the factory by the age of 16 and opened his first factory in Ningpo at the age of 21. According to the grandson of Hsu Wen-pu however, K.D. started his career working for Hsu Yong Kee (徐永記), the metal business owned by Hsu Wen-pu’s third brother Hsu Hsia-pu (徐夏甫) in Shanghai. When the Japanese bombed Shanghai in August 1937 (age 28), Lee moved with the Hsu family into the French concession where Hsu Wen-pu opened Grand Wen Kee Vacuum Flask Factory (光大文記熱水瓶桶罐廠) and Hsu Hsia-pu opened Hsu Yong Kee Can Factory where Lee was a production team lead. During the Japanese occupation, Hsu Hsia-pu was killed by the Japanese and K.D. began working for Hsu Wen-pu who later asked him to take over Hsu Yong Kee. In November 1947, K.D. Lee with the support of Hsu Wen-pu converted the Hsu Yong Kee factory into the Lee Chang Aluminum Factory (李昌鋼精廠). After the War, Hsu Wen-pu like his peers was interested in expanding overseas and set up a distribution office in Indonesia in 1947. After exploring the feasibility of setting up an enamelware factory in Taiwan, he sent K.D. Lee and his brother Hsu Sin-pu to Hong Kong with machinery from Lee Chang in Shanghai to set up a new enamelware factory in 1949. Sadly, Hsu Wen-pu passed away in 1950 before the factory was established and under the leadership of K.D., the Hwa Chong Enamelware Factory(華昌搪瓷廠) opened in 1952 in Kwun Tong with 2 kilns. In 1953, Lee hired T.S. Nee (倪鐵成) as the first factory manager of Hwa Chong – he later left the firm and achieved success in the garment business. In 1954, Lee incorporated Hwa Chong and registered the trademark of Golden Pavilion (金鼎牌) in Hong Kong.
In 1962, the Lee family began exploring the feasibility of launching an enamelware plant in Port Harcourt in eastern Nigeria and sent 40 technicians over from HK. in 1964, they formed Eastern Enamelware Factory (EEFL) as ajoint venture with the Eastern Nigeria Government with plans to produce 1,500 tons of vitreous enamelware yearly. Around the same time, K.D. Lee formed Zenith Plastics Industry (firm of the same name incorporated in HK in 1961 with Chinese name 華孚塑膠廠) with Joseph Yen (see article) in Nigeria to manufacture plastic shoes (with initial production of 20,000 pairs per month) and utensils. Over time, the enamelware operations became a small part of what became known as the Lee Group (although the family kept the operation based on K.D.’s wishes) while the footwear and plastic business became the crown jewel of the group with its APIN Footwear in Lagos manufacturing 1.2 million pairs of shoes/sandals a day and commanding a 60% market share and Decent-Polybag producing 10,000 tons of polybags on a monthly basis and controlling 40% of Nigeria’s polybag market.
At his 80th birthday in 1989, K.D. Lee decided to wind up his interest in HK and dissolved Hwa Chong Enamelware Factory in HK in 1990. By then, his business empire in West Africa included 50 factories which employed over 10,000 workers and assets of over US$100 million. In 1998, K.D. Lee passed away and was succeeded by his son Man-long Lee (李文龍) and in 2013, Man-long was succeeded by his son Lee Sheau-Fung (李曉峰). Under Man-long and Sheau, the Lee Group continued to expand and by the 2010s the group has over 26000 employees working in 179 companies in China and Africa (including 40 in Nigeria) and is involved in sugar, cement, IT, steel, printing and many other businesses.
Over the years, K.D. and his family donated significant amount in Ningbo to build schools, roads and restore temples and in 2000, a secondary school in Ningbo which he and his family had supported since 1970 was renamed the K.D. Lee School in his honor.
The Chen family of Far East Enamel Factory in HK and the WAHUM Group in West Africa
Left: Chen Zao-men (Source: Nantung Museum); Middle: Wen Ming-chuan, Chen’s business in partner in Shanghai; Right: Y.D. Huang, Chen’s business partner in West Africa (WKYP, 1960-5-11)
Wahum Group, which is named after one of its key subsidiaries – West Africa Household Utilities Manufacturing (WAHUM), was founded by Chen Zao-men (陳兆民, 1910-1978, hereafter refer to as “Z.M. Chen”), the founder of Far East Enamel Factory in HK.
A native of Qidong in Nantung, Jiangsu Province, Chen started his career in the enamelware industry in Shanghai as an apprentice at the age of 16. In May 1946, he established Tai Feng Enamel Factory (泰豐搪瓷廠)in Shanghai with Wen Ming-chuan (聞鳴皋),a Ningbonese merchant dealing in Western goods. The firm marketed its enamelware under its Double Happiness (双喜牌)brand. In 1948, Chen moved to Hong Kong where he established Far East Enamel Factory (遠東搪瓷) at 64 Shum Chun Street in Kowloon in a building which also included workers’ dormitory. By 1950, the factory employed 150 workers (90 of whom came from Shanghai), which was small when compared to larger players such as I-Feng which had over 1000 workers but comparable to New China, Pacific and KiuFoong and allegedly the firm made over HK$100,000 in 1949. By 1968, Far East’s factory in HK was located on the second floor of 64 Tong Mi Road in Mongkok and the factory was affected by a fire at the metal products factory on the ground floor that year. By then however, the focus of the group had shifted overseas to Indonesia and Africa.
In 1957, Z.M. Chen’s son Robert Chen Yet-sen (陳一心,1929–2003) returned to HK to join the family business afterreceiving his university in England. Sensing opportunities in West Africa where various British colonies became independent nations around that time, Z.M. sent Robert and a colleague by the name of Y.D. Huang (黃耀庭) and dozens of technicians from HK to set up factories in Nigeria, Ghana and the Ivory Coast in the late 1950s and early 1960s.In Ghana (formerly known as Gold Coast, gained independence from the British in 1957), he established HK & Africa Trading Co, Ghana Household Utilities Manufacturing Co (GHUMCO, 1958) and Grand Tobacco Corp. In Nigeria, he established WAHUM (1963), Battery Manufacturing Co of Nigeria, Okerimi Trading and Safety Match (1964) and in Sudan, African Holloware Factory was set up.
A Roman Catholic and a generous philanthropist, Z.M. Chen served on the board of the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals, and School Council of Kiangsu Chekiang College, and donated the TWGH Chen Zao Men College in 1972. He was a supervisor of the HK Enamelware Manufacturers Association and when his son Robert married Daisy Fan (范思佩), the daughter of K.F. Fan of The Textile Corporation of HK (see article on Song brothers) and sister and sister of Nigerian Chinese businessman Fan Sze-yao (范思堯) and Nanfung Textiles deputy managing director Fan Sze-shun (范思舜) in 1959 at the St Teresa’s Church in Kowloon, the event was attended by the Who’s Who of the HK enamelware industry including John Tung, the Chang brothers of New China, H.K. Chow, C.L. Hsu of Diaward and C.C. Yeh of HK Enamelware.
Article and picture of the wedding of Mr and Mrs. Chen Yet-sen in 1959. (WKYP, 1959-1-27)
Z.M. died on April 13, 1978 at the St Teresa Hospital in Kowloon and was succeeded by Robert. Outside of work, Robert Chen was heavily involved in philanthropy in China and West Africa and established the Chen Yet-Sen Family Foundation shortly before his death in November 2003. He was succeeded by his son James Chen (陳禹嘉), who in addition to chairing the Wahum Group is also very active in various philanthropic initiatives across the globe. Today, the Wahum Group is involved in the manufacturing of packaging for corrugated iron and paper boxes, electric cable (electric, construction and communication cable) and construction materials (zinc galvanized corrugated iron) in addition to enamelware with over 2500 employees in Nigeria.
大公報, 1950-07-18, 1962-9-18; 華僑日報, 1968-10-27
The Cheung family of Chung Hing Enamel Ware Factory in HK and the GSM Group in Nigeria
Article about the opening of Tsui Wah Restaurant in 1957 with movie star couple Lee Lihwa and her husband Yen Chin as guests of honor. The 5 directors of the restaurant from left to right: Sun Hsiang-Teh, Henry Fok, Cheung Koon-shing, Peter Cheung, YC Cheung. (WKYP, 1957-12-24)
The Cheung brothers who started Chung Hing Enamel Ware Factory in HK and the GSM Group in Nigeria are natives of Shandong province. The brothers by order of birth are: Peter Cheung Yan-yuen (張恩源, 1925-2007), Yan-Chak Chang (張恩澤),Yan-To Cheung (張恩濤), Yan-ho Cheung (張恩浩)and Jeffrey Yan-po Chang (張恩波). One source suggested that their grandfather was Cheung Cheung-chun (張象珍, aka Cheung Ping-hing 張聘卿, 1866-1964), a prominent community leader in Shandong who was a leader of Shandong natives in Shanghai and whose son owned a cigarette factory in Chi-nan.
According to his obituary, Peter Cheung was born in Peking while Yan-Chak Cheung was a graduate of the Great China University (大夏大學) in Shanghai and served as chairman of its alumni association in Hong Kong. After 1949, the brothers moved to Hong Kong where they established the Chung Hing Enamel Ware Factory (中興搪瓷廠)at 86 To Kwa Wan Road although as a firm, Chung Hing was incorporated in 1956. In 1957, the Cheung brothers opened the Ambassador Restaurant (翠華酒樓, no relation to the publicly listed chain of casual restaurants of the same Chinese name) in Manson Building on Nathan Road, a new highrise building developed by Henry Fok (who was named honorary chairman of the restaurant). The restaurant which served both Cantonese and Peking cuisine allegedly featured the first elevator within a restaurant in Kowloon. Other involved in the restaurant included chairman of the restaurant Cheung Koon-shing (張冠城, no blood relation), the proprietor of Carlton Hotel in Kowloon and Sun Hsiang-Teh (孫湘德), a former KMT military officer who was the eldest son of General Sun Liang-chung (孫連仲) and father of David and John Sun, the brothers who introduced McDonald’s and TGI Fridays to Taiwan and Starbucks to China.
The Cheung brothers had two sisters, one of whom Doris Cheong Ian-chon (張恩津) was a presenter of Cantonese/Mandarin programs for the BBC in London and married George Koo Chia-gee (顧家麒), a medical doctor and son of Jeay-Ling Koo (顧乾麟, the Shanghainese comprador of Jardines who was involved with its textile interests. Aside from practicing medicine, George Koo served as non-executive director of Jardine Strategic and Dairy Farms.
In 1957, the Cheung brothers also started Universal Industrial Co Ltd (環球實業)and later built Universal Industrial Building at 62 Sha Tsui Road in Tsuen Wan.
Article about George Koo and Doris Cheong returning to HK in 1963 (WKYP, 1963-5-30)
In 1962, Chung Hing formed a joint venture in Sri Lanka with MC Abdul Rahim & Bros of (an old trading house founded in 1872 by Mohammed Cassim and run by five generations; leading supplier of kitchenware and agent of Wedgewood) called Ceylon Stoves & Enamelling Works Ltd to make enameled hollowware and kerosene cookers with Chung Hing holding 40%. Peter Cheung was managing director of the joint venture which made enamelware for the likes of Noritake of Japan.
Left: Article about Peter Cheung flying to Sri Lanka in 1963 (WKYP, 1963-7-9); Right: Peter Cheung
After Ceylon, the Cheungs arrived in Nigeria in 1966 where they established a string of companies involved in a variety of products ranging from enamelware to Iron rods, steel pipes, plastic products. These include General Steel Mills (formed 1981), United Metal & Plastic (maker of Iceman cooler boxes formed 1994). General Pipe (maker of steel pipes, formed 1981), International Steel Industry, International Enamelware Industry Ltd; Mighty Plastic Industry Ltd, Cosmos Metal & Electrics, Intl Metal Products and Technoflex Ltd with General Steel Mills being the most prominent and hence the group became known as the GSM Group. Peter passed away in California in 2007 and currently the GSM Group is led by Peter’s children Benny Cheung (張靄明) and Stephen Cheung (張靄平).
Meanwhile back in Hong Kong, Inhesion Industrial (希信實業)was established in 1978 as a transfer printing company servicing manufacturers of ceramics and tableware by Jeffrey Chang, the youngest of the 5 brothers. In 1984, Inhesion moved into the manufacturing of ceramics and tableware themselves and a transfer printing plant wereadded in Shenzhen in 1990 followed by a production facility in Malaysia in 1993 where Jeffrey Chang had relocated. In 1996, the transfer printing operations in South China were centralized in Shenzhen and another plant was added in Shanghai in 2002.Under the leadership of the next generation – Aric Chang (張純) and Desmond Chang (張聰), Inhesion transformed from a OEM manufacturer to a leading high end tableware provider of its own brands and designs sourced from Europe.
Obituary of Cheung Lau Shee, mother of the 5 Cheung brothers from August 1990
This article was first posted on 18th February 2019.
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