Fung Yuen-hon (馮元侃) and Wai Yuen Cheong (惠元昌)

York Lo: Fung Yuen-hon (馮元侃) and Wai Yuen Cheong (惠元昌)

Fung Yuen Hon And Wai Yuen Cheong Image 1 York Lo

Left: Fung Yuen-hon in front of the Wai Yuen Cheong sign (HKET); Right: Shaolin Temple brand medicine label – address listed as 42A Bonham Strand West and stating that pregnant ladies should avoid consuming.

In 2014, the 96 years old Fung Yuen-hon (馮元侃) decided to shut down Wai Yuen Cheong, the 111 years old Chinese medicine company founded by his father known for its Ax brand (斧頭牌) and Shaolin Temple brand (少林寺) of Chinese pain relief medicine (風濕跌打膏藥) and at its peak had 5 stores on Nathan Road alone. The firm was also a pioneer in selling four categories of Chinese consumable goods – herbal medicine, bird’s nest, ginseng and dried goods all under one roof. Although not a major industrialist, Fung was a familiar figure in the HK industrial circle as he has served as a director of CMA for close to half of century starting from 1952 and is known as a walking dictionary of the history of its HK Products Expo. He was also in the godown business and was a famous amateur photographer.

Fung Yuen Hon And Wai Yuen Cheong Image 2 York Lo

The promotions committee of the HK Products Expo in 1957. Left to right: Jack Wong of Danemann Watch Case Factory, Lau Chi-yuen of Wilman Rubber, C.W. Chu of Hwa Fuh Garment and Fung Yuen-hon. (WKYP, 1957-11-30)

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Wai Yuen Cheong booth at the 1950 HK Products Expo (left) and the winner of their lucky draw (right) Source: Kung Sheung Evening News, 1950-12-1

Below extract from the oral history interview conducted with Fung Yuen-hon by the HK Memory project best summarized his career:

“A native of Nanhai, Fung Yuen Hon was born in 1919. He went on to serve as the Chairman of Nam Hoi Traders’ Association and the Chinese Photographic Association. During his earlier years, Fung Yuen Hon had to take charge of the family’s Chinese medicine business because his father passed away when he was about 20. In the 1950s, Fung Yuen Hon served as the deputy manager of the promotion department of the Hong Kong Products Exhibition, assisting in activities such as fund raising, Miss Exhibition pageants and photographic competitions.

When Fung Yuen Hon was an adolescent, his father believed that Chinese was more useful than English and therefore did not send his son to schools which taught English. Later on, his family elders arranged for a private tutor to teach him English at home. When Fung Yuen Hon was about 20, his father passed away leaving him to manage the family’s Chinese medicine business at the Wai Yuen Cheong shops.

When Hong Kong was invaded by the Japanese, Fung Yuen Hon shut the shops and returned to Guangzhou. Before World War II broke out, Fung Yuen Hon had invested on insurance for exported goods. When one of the ships carrying goods bound from his drugstore was sunk during the war, he was compensated for the loss. As soon as Hong Kong was liberated after the war, Fung Yuen Hon was able to board a train and return to the Territory with the help of a relative who was a Kuomintang commander.

Besides managing the family stores, Fung Yuen Hon also embarked upon his own business by partnering with his friends. The enterprises included a plastic bead factory in Shau Kei Wan which mainly exported products to under-developed regions such as Southeast Asia and Africa via import and export firms acting as intermediaries. Fung Yuen Hon’s factory was responsible for production which required thinner solution that could easily cause hazardous fires.

During this time, Fung Yuen Hon also invested in a warehouse business. Having built a godown in Western District, he later rented some land in Kwun Tong from the Japanese to build a second godown. His co-operation with Japan’s Yamashita Shipping company subsequently went on to last for more than 10 years. Fung Yuen Hon then built another new godown in Yau Ma Tei Typhoon Shelter which was originally used by the British Royal Navy. After the government re-possessed this land, Fung Yuen Hon and two of his friends rented it and carried on their business together for more than 20 years.

Before the World War II, Fung Yuen Hon was engaged in the trading and import of fluorescent lamps which were sold for $6 a piece in Hong Kong. During the Japanese occupation, speculation pushed up the price of fluorescent lamps to more than $100. After peace was restored, Fung Yuen Hon was able to ship fluorescent lamps from the U.S. to Hong Kong. In doing so, he was able to secure sales at a time when transportation by land and sea were not yet back to normal.” (End of Extract)

The godown/warehouse business referenced above was Ying Cheong Wo Godown (仍昌和貨倉). In May 1964, a big fire broke out at its godown in Kennedy Town which required 24 fire trucks and one fire boat working for 3 hours to put out. The damages exceeded HK$3 million – including nine trunks of Cantonese opera costume of the famous Cantonese opera singer Mak Ping-wing and 30000 bags of rice at nearby Kin Tye Loong Godown. Fung served as chairman of the HK Chinese Godown Association.

Fung Yuen Hon And Wai Yuen Cheong Image 4 York Lo

Left: article and picture of the Ying Cheong Wo godown fire in 1964 (WKYP, 1964-5-11) Right: Artice about Mak Ping-wing’s losses from the Ying Cheong Wo fire (WKYP, 1964-5-24)

Fung Yuen Hon And Wai Yuen Cheong Image 5 York Lo

Fung Yuen-hon (right) taking over from Wong Ka-yee (left) as the chairman of the HK Chinese Godowns  Association (香港華资貨倉聯合會, now HK Godown Association). Source: WKYP, 1961-12-30

Fung Yuen Hon And Wai Yuen Cheong Image 6 York Lo

Pictures from the International Salon show in 1962 organized by the HK Chinese Photographic Association when Fung Yuen-hon was president. Top from left to right: vice president Chan Sik-kan (of Po Shing Shoes, see article), Fung Yuen-hon, Lai Siu-fong, Chan Fook-lai;  Botton left to right: Fung Yuen-hon, Yeung Wing-yau of Perfekta, Yuen Kang-chuen of Pentax, Manly Chin of AIA and Chan Fook-lai (WKYP, 1962-10-9)

According to his mother’s obituary, Fung Yuen-hon has 11 siblings including 2 brothers and 9 sisters. One of the sisters, Fung Kung-wah is married to Simon Lee Kwok-yin (李國賢,1927-2010), the chairman of logistics provider Sun Hing Group, vice chairman of Pacific Basin Shipping, director of Wah Kwong Shipping and Wing Hang Bank and noted philanthropist. Another family member involved with Wai Yuen Cheong was Fung Sing-hong (馮星航), likely an uncle. During the Japanese occupation, Fung Sing-hong was a district councilor of the Western district alongside Wong Iu-suen of Wing Lee Wai (see article) and he was also a longtime director of the Fung’s Clansmen Association. As a firm, Wai Yuen Cheong was incorporated in 1954 and is still active. The Kowloon operations which was under Wai Yuen Cheong & Co (Kowloon) Ltd was incorporated in 1973 and dissolved in 2016.

Fung Yuen Hon And Wai Yuen Cheong Image 7 York Lo

Fung Sing-hong (first from the left) with fellow Fung clansmen celebrating Kenneth PF Fung (馮秉芬, second from left)’s appointment as Executive Councillor and Fung Pak-choi (馮北財, second from right)’s appointment as Heung Yee Kuk board member. (WKYP, 1962-9-23)

Sources:

  1. http://www.hkmemory.hk/collections/oral_history/All_Items_OH/oha_16/records/index.html
  2. Wah Kiu Yat Po, 1964-5-24, 1976-10-4, 1990-4-29

This article was first posted on 4th May 2018.

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. William Lysaught & Sons, The Wanchai Machinery Godowns and Engineering Establishment – around 1897
  2. Hong Kong Beading Production and Companies in the 1950s
  3. The World-Light Manufactory (光宇製造廠)

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