Ha Lung Hong (合隆行) and the New Zealand Deer Velvet Trade
York Lo: Ha Lung Hong (合隆行) and the New Zealand Deer Velvet Trade
Left to right: Bill Bong’s mother C.Y. Loh, fellow Shanghainese businessman C.L. Hsu, Leo Lee, Bill Bong, Tung Wah chairman Charles Lui, Mrs. Lui, Bill Bong’s wife Ling Yuk-chun(KSDN, 1973-9-25)
Chinese medicine is one of the oldest industries in Hong Kongand in the 1960s,Ha Lung Hong Medicine (合隆行藥業, although as a firm it was not incorporated in 1974) led by William C.C. Bong (龐家鈞, hereafter referred to as “Bill Bong”) and his family became a major player in the global provision of deer velvet antlers (鹿茸), one of key traditional Chinese medicinal products through partnership with deer ranchers in New Zealand and helped to turn New Zealand into the world’s top producer of deer velvet with annual production of 450-500 tons of red deer velvet.
The Bong family came from Shanghai (English sources stated Beijing or Shantou, but this is based on Bill Bong’s bio as Tung Wah director in 1973) and has been in the Chinese medicine business for over three generations. In 1945, the family moved to Hong Kong where Ha Lung Hong under the management of Bill Bong and his older brother D.K. Bong (龐大鈞)and sister Y.K. Bong (龐燕琦) and their mother C.Y. Loh (陸貞元)established itself in the dealing of Chinese medicine, a field dominated by the Nam Pak Hong merchants of Cantonese and Chiuchow descent in Sheung Wan. The firm dealt in Chinese medicine such as ginseng and rhinoceros’ horns but it was deer velvet that propelled it into the global stage.
In 1961, Bill Bong met New Zealand exporter Robert Wilson (1939-2017) who was in HK to investigate the market for New Zealand products. At the time, New Zealand deer were primarily exported to the West for venison meat, but Bong showed them the demand for it for production of Chinese medicine was more significant. In February 1962, Bong bought his first collection of deer tails from Wilson, bypassing the Chinese agents in Christchurch. In 1963, Bill Bong visited New Zealand for the first time during which he met with Government ministers and argued that New Zealand should feral red deer into farm deer and produce velvet.
In November 1964, a trade delegation from New Zealand visited Ha Lung Hong’s deer velvet processing factory in HK and was also treated to a banquet at the private residence of the Bong brothers where they were joined by the New Zealand Trade Commissioner.(WKYP, 1964-11-10)
By the mid-1960s, the Bongs was buying large quantities of deer tails, velvets and other body parts such as sinews and pizzles from Wilson and his partner deer farmer Sir Tim Wallis, which were frozen and then shipped to their factory in Hong Kong where they were dried and processed and then distributed them to both the local market and other regional markets, first to Taiwan and later to Korea at enormous profit margin (according to Wallis’ biography, it was estimated that Bill Bong was making 500 percent on the New Zealand factory price). As two third of the weight of velvet antler is water, the drying process (which typically involved blanching out in boiling water and then air dry for weeks) was critical to the potency and value of the velvet as medicine and Bill Bong guarded his process well even from his New Zealand partners when they were visiting his HK offices.
Left: Bill Bong (WKYP, 1973-3-29);; Right: sliced velvet antlers sold at Chinese medicine shops
With the profits from Chinese medicine, the Bong family began investing in real estate in 1967, primarily throughBongs & Co (龐氏企業) which was incorporated in 1970. In 1972, the family developed the 12-story Ha Lung Industrial Building (合隆工業大廈) at 52 Wong Chuk Hang Road in Aberdeen. In 1973, Bill Bong became a director of the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals and the same year, the Bong family built the Ha Lung Building (合隆大廈) at 25-29 Ko Shing Street in Sheung Wan. At the opening ceremony of the building in September presided by Tung Wah chairman Charles Lui Chi-keung (雷治強, also known as the “fish king” as the proprietor of Lui Keung Aquarium) shown in above picture, the family donated $5000 to Tung Wah towards the building of schools.(WKYP, 1973-9-25)
In 1975, the Bong family developed Tung Hing Building (東興大廈) at 28-40A Shau Kei Wan Main Street East in Shau Kei Wan. In the 1970s, the Bong family had incorporated and dissolved several investment companies – Bongs Yang& Co (龐楊公司, incorporated in 1971, dissolved in 1977), Bongs Comber & Li Investment (incorporated in 1971, dissolved in 1974), Kin Lung Investment (建隆置業, incorporated in 1969 and dissolved in 1979) and Kin Mou Investment (建茂置業, incorporated in 1971 and dissolved in 1979)
Left: Ha Lung Industrial Building in Aberdeen; Right: article and sketch of Tung Hing Building developed by Bongs & Co in 1975 (WKYP, 1975-4-5)
Today, Ha Lung Hong and Bongs & Co are still active but maintain a relatively lower profile. Bill Bong’s second son Robert Bong Chi-min (龐自勉) is a dentist with practices in HK (at one point in the family’s Tung Hing Building, currently at New World Tower in Central) and Sydney. He received his B.D.S. from University of London and marriedSo Mun-lan (蘇敏蘭) in 1978. (WKYP, 1978-1-12)
Peat, Neville. Hurricane Tim: the Story of Sir Tim Wallis, Penguin Random House, 2013
This article was first posted on 31st August 2020.
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