H.O. Tong (唐海安, 1893-1961): KMT Official, Shanghai Hotelier and Jai Alai Operator and HK Industrialist and Banker

York Lo: H.O. Tong (唐海安, 1893-1961): KMT Official, Shanghai Hotelier and Jai Alai Operator and HK Industrialist and Banker

H. O. Tong Image 1 York Lo

Left: H.O. Tong in his later years in HK; Right: H.O. Tong in his official outfit when he attended the coronation of King George VI in the UK in 1937 with T.V. Soong (Photo courtesy of Benjie Wong) 

Tong Hoi-on (better known as H.O. Tong) was perhaps best known as a protégé of T.V. Soong (宋子文) but his interesting career went beyond Nationalist politics and serving for decades on the board of Soong’s Bank of Canton and also included operating a leather factory and a farm in Hong Kong and a famous hotel and jai alai auditorium in Shanghai. The fact that he remained in Shanghai during the Japanese occupation had resulted in allegations of collaboration with the Japanese and many misinformed articles were published in mainland China – this article attempts to provide a more accurate and objective description of his life.   

Tong, whose original name was Tong Shiu-hoi (唐肇凱) and was referred to by friends and family as “Tommy”, was born on June 21, 1893, at Ching Loong Heong in Chungshan in Guangdong province, a scion of the famous Tong family from the area (whose members included Premier Tong Shao-yi, the Jardine comprador Tong King-sing and Tong Kwok-on, the first president of Tsinghua College) and the son of C. L. Tong and Cheng San. 

After attending Ming Jang Academy and the Baptist College (later University of Shanghai) in Shanghai from 1907-10, Tong went to England in 1910 for further studies. He graduated from Cusack’s College, the Leatherseller Technical and Science College, and King’s College in London and returned to China in 1918 with his diploma and a B.Sc. degree. In January 1919, he was hired by Bradley & Co. of London to be Chief Engineer of their branch in Hongkong, a position he held for two years. For three years, beginning in 1921, he was Chief Engineer of the China Leather Co (中國皮革廠) and during the same period he established and operated in Ma Tau Kok in Kowloon a factory for the manufacture of leather articles which was described as “a most successful venture”. The firm was managed by Yuen In-lun assisted by Wong Chi-kit and its office was located at 107 Bonham Strand East. (Comacrib Directory, 1925) 

In 1923, Tong joined the Nationalist Government in Canton working under T.V. Soong who oversaw its finances. Tong started out as a founding member of the committee of the Ministry of Industry (實業委員會) and later became Director of the Anti-Smuggling Bureau (全省緝私局局長) and Director-General of the Wine and Tobacco Revenue Bureau (烟酒專稅處處長) of Kwangtung province from 1924-25. Late in 1924, he went to Hankow with the Northern Expedition and became Director-General of the Stamp Tax Revenue Department (全國印花總處處長). In the same year, the National Government entrusted him with the important mission of restoring to Chinese sovereignty the former British Concession at Hankow, of which he was appointed Director General. Returning to Shanghai in 1927, Tong was appointed General Director of the Anti-Smuggling Department of the Ministry of Finance (緝私處處長). He was Superintendent of Customs at Wei-an (淮安關監督), 1928-30, held the same position at Chiangkiang (鎭江海關監督) in 1930, and in 1931 was promoted to Superintendent of Customs at Shanghai (上海海關監督) and Salt Commissioner for Kwangtung and Kwangsi province. (Men of Shanghai and North China, 1933, 1935; Who’s Who of China, 1936) 

H. O. Tong Image 2 York Lo

Left: H.O. Tong’s former residence at 97 Wukang Lu in Shanghai; Right: Portrait of H.O. Tong in the 1930s (World Chinese Biographies: Shanghai Commercial and Professional Edition, 1944)

After Soong resigned from the Nationalist government in 1933, Tong also retreated from politics and established a successful farming venture in the New Territories in Hong Kong. He later moved to Shanghai where he became the chairman of the board of the Yangtze Hotel (揚子飯), a 8-story, 200 room hotel opened in 1934 which included a 3-story dancing hall which could accompany 200 guests, hair salons, Chinese and Western restaurants and was the first Chinese-owned hotel in Shanghai which had air conditioning. The hotel quickly attracted the patronage of some of the top movie stars at the time such as Chow Hsuan, Butterfly Wu (see article) and Ruan Lingyu, who was involved in an affair with Tong’s fellow clansman and hotel director, the tea king Tong Kwai-shan (唐季珊) at the time of her suicide in 1935 and it was recorded that she danced at the Yangtze Hotel several days before her death. From 1942 to 1946, the famous singer Nancy Yao Lee (姚莉, 1922-2019, best known for her 1941 song “Rose, Rose, I Love You”) sang at the nightclub of the Yangtze Hotel and she fell in love and eventually married Paul Huang, the son of the deputy manager of the hotel. While tending to his business interest, H.O. Tong stayed connected with the Soongs and accompanied T.V. Soong to the coronation of King George VI in May 1937 and assisted T.L. Soong with setting up a company to procure supplies for the war effort in 1938. (KSDN, 1938-2-12)

H. O. Tong Image 3 York Lo

Left: Hai Alai Auditorium; Right: Yangtze Hotel in Shanghai 

After the Japanese occupied Shanghai in 1941, Tong stayed behind and became the chairman and general manager of the Hai Alai Auditorium (中華運動場) in the former French Concession in addition to running the Yangtze Hotel. The Auditorium was originally developed by Spanish jai alai player Teodoro Jauregui and French investment banker Felix Bouvier in 1930 as “Parc Des Sports” and quickly became a popular entertainment and gambling complex. Tong’s residence in Shanghai was located at 97 Wukang Lu (武康路), the former Route Ferguson in the French concession next to the home of his more prominent distant relative Tong Shao-yi.

After the War, Tong was put under house arrest by KMT intelligence chief Dai Li (戴笠) in the residence of Lu Ying (盧英) in Shanghai for suspected collaboration with the Japanese although he did not serve in any official or industry positions under the Wang Ching-wei puppet regime. Cleared of wrongdoings, he was later released. After his release, he moved to Hong Kong in the late 1940s where he continued to work for his old boss T.V. Soong’s Bank of Canton. 

Tong married his first wife British subject Olga Jessie Cole in London and together they have four daughters – Rita, Brenda, Joan and Mona. His second wife Lily Chan (陳蘭舒, 1912-2011) came from HK and gave him two sons and two daughters. Lily was the daughter of Chan Chun-sun (陳進新) and sister of Chan Yiu-pong (陳耀邦) who also worked for the Bank of Canton. Lily’s sisters Chan Lai-kwan (陳麗群) and Laura Chan (陳智靈) married HK printing industry pioneer Lee Yat-ngok (李一諤, see article) and Wong Shiu-cheuk (黄肇焯, son of Parkin Wong and grandson of Wong Yiu-tung, aka “Emperor of Sham Shui Po”), the third-generation comprador of American Express in Hong Kong respectively. Lily herself was a director of Pok Oi Hospital and was friend with Mrs. Watt Pak-yu (Leung Sing-tak 梁省德).  

Tong died in March 1961 at his residence at 8 York Road in Kowloon Tong at the age of 67. At his funeral at the Kowloon Funeral Parlor, wreaths were received from over 1000 mourners from all over the world including all three Soong brothers (T.V., T.L. and T.A.) and in attendance were lawyer Sydney Ng-Quinn (吴思豪) and his sister Vi (Mrs. Chan Wing-on), Hu Mu-lan (胡木蘭), the daughter of the late KMT leader Hu Han-min, family members of Sun Yat-sen, lawyer and legislator C.Y. Kwan, Wing On chairman Philip Gockchin and relative Parkin Wong. The pallbearers included Bank of Canton chairman P.T. Huo and Tong’s brother in law Lee Yat-ngok. (KSDN, 1961-3-6) The impressive list of mourners in some way cleared his name of being a wartime collaborator.   

Sources (other than those cited above): 

http://www.theyangtzehotel.com/zh/legendary-hotel.html

http://mhdb.mh.sinica.edu.tw/mhpeople/bookimage.php?book=56&page=188&fbclid=IwAR2olcplA4oxoXXb_Y3IF0xxiEU8c_rav5Y79eNwQjuuQV7WmZjsK27V04M

http://www.shanghaiartdeco.net/lost-treasure-shanghais-jai-alai-auditorium/

This article was first posted on 24th July 2020.

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