King of Plastic Beads and Buttons –Shen Bing-su (沈炳樞) of Yee Sing Industrial (義生實業)
York Lo: King of Plastic Beads and Buttons –Shen Bing-su (沈炳樞) of Yee Sing Industrial (義生實業)
Yee Sing Plastic Factory’s ad from 1957
In the 1950s and 1960s, plastic manufacturers in HK had built up the HK plastic industry through a variety of products ranging from toys to artificial flowers to water buckets to mahjong tiles to sandals and even palace lanterns as covered in many articles I have written for the group. Through his Yee Sing Industrial (formerly known as Yee Sing Plastic Factory), Shen Bing-su carved out a niche in wearable plastic such as plastic beads and buttons and was a leader in the business. He was also one of the few HK industrialists hailing from the northern province of Hebei (Hopeh), another prominent one being Michael Sun of HK Fur Factory (see article).
Born in Hebei in 1922, Shen Bing-su had three brothers and three sisters. He moved to Hong Kong after 1949 and started the Yee Sing Plastic Factory, one of its earliest plastic factories. From early on it decided to focus on plastic buttons, which were much cheaper than traditional buttons made of materials such as seashell and the firm also developed plastic buttons of different colors.
In August 1955, Yee Sing moved into a new facility built on KIL 3020 in Ngau Tau Kok which occupied 10,000 sq ft of land. (Shen was vice chairman of the Ngau Tau Kok Manufacturers Association as a result) The new plant had nine departments with office, dormitory and conference rooms on the second floor. In 1957, Yee Sing Industrial was incorporated. From buttons, Yee Sing expanded into the making of plastic beads, necklaces, bracelets, toys and other plastic wares in the late 1950s and became the largest manufacturer of plastic accessories in Hong Kong, rivaling its Japanese competitors. By the early 1960s, Yee Sing’s products were exported to all corners of the earth – Europe, US, Australia & New Zealand, Africa and the Middle East. Shen was supported by manager Chu Kwong-yiu (朱光瑤) and factory manager Cheung Hung-sing (張鴻陞) at Yee Sing.
Article about the relocation of Yee Sing Plastic Factory in 1955 (WKYP, 1955-7-30)
From plastics, Shen expanded into real estate and served as chairman of On Loong Investment Co Ltd (安隆置業, incorporated in 1969)and director of Hong Man Enterprises Ltd (康民企業, incorporated in 1962, dissolved in 1984). In the early 1960s, Yee Sing built its own Yee Sing Industrial Building at 111-113 How Ming Street in Kwun Tong.The firm occupied at least six floors of the building – with ground floor being the warehouse for raw materials, second floor for electroplating, third floor for metals work, fourth floor for packaging and assembly, fifth floor for materials and sixth floor for dyeing and painting.
Left: Article about Takao Yasumoto (安本隆男), the president of a Japanese chemical firm (right) visiting Yee Sing and meeting with Shen (left) (WKYP, 1957-2-21); Right: Yee Sing’s plastic Cleopatra necklace which came in third place in a product contest at the HK Products Expo in 1962 (WKYP, 1962-12-25)
Shen Bing-su (first from left) greeting Department of Labor inspector Chan Cheung-wing (second from left)and Director of the Department of Labor (second from right) at the Yee Sing factory in 1962 (WKYP, 1962-12-4)
At its peak during the 1960s, there were over 100 companies involved in the plastic accessories business in HK but by the mid-1970s, only three firms were left in HK who were capable of full scale production. According to an article about summer interns of a program ran by the HK Plastic Manufacturers Association visiting Yee Sing in 1974, the firm had 200 full-time workers at its factory with 600 home-based contract workers. (a popular model for HK manufacturers at the time).
Shen Bing-su (right) with Norman Young (center) and Li Ka-shing (left, uncredited in original caption) at the Plastic Manufacturers Association Chinese New Year gathering in 1962 (WKYP, 1962-2-18)
Outside of Yee Sing, Shen was very active in community affairs. He was involved with the HK Plastic Manufacturers Association (塑膠廠商會) for decades, served as its vice chairman and was involved with the founding of its charitable arm Lok Kwan Society (樂群社) with other plastic industry pioneers such as Chieng Han-chow of Wah Sun Hong (see article). He was also a director of the Chinese Manufacturers Association, a director of the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals in 1963-64.
Left: Shen Bing-su as director of Tung Wah conducting fundraising broadcast in Mandarin in 1963 (TKP, 1963-6-5); Right: Bio of Shen Bing-su as a director of Tung Wah in 1963 (WKYP, 1963-4-1)
Shen Bing-su (center) speaking with summer interns of the HK Plastic Manufacturers Association program in 1974 (WKYP, 1974- 8-12)
Shen was very involved with the Hopeh& Shantung Natives (HK) Association (冀魯同鄉會) from the beginning and was elected its chairman in 1957. When China opened up in the late 1970s, Shen contributed to the development of his native Hebei province and was appointed a member of the Hebei Political Consultative Committee. Even though as business was not doing as great in the 1980s as before, Shen continued to contribute generously to his native province and as of 2013 was still listed as a permanent honorary chairman of the Hopeh Shantung Association, with his name second to the renowned philanthropist Chiang Chen, the Shantung-born founder of injection molding giant Chen Hsong group.
In 1990, the listed Pokfulam Development acquired 55% of the Yee Sing Industrial Building in Kwun Tong for HK$126 million. As a firm, Yee Sing Industrial was dissolved in 1996.
Article about Shen Bing-su leading delegation of HK Plastic Manufacturers Association to Indonesia in 1976 with his picture (WKYP, 1976-4-6)
Sources (other than those quoted above):
Kung Sheung Daily News, 1965-1-20
This article was first posted on 4th January 2019.
Related Indhhk articles:
- The Forgotten Jewish American Tycoons behind the HK Plastic Flowers Industry
- Joe Law (1922-2015) – HK Plastic and Toy Industry Pioneer
- Flip Flops Across the Globe: How HK Exporters John Cowie and Nylex Left their Global Footprints with Plastic Sandals
- Winsome Plastic Works – Wanchai and Shau Kei Wan, 1950s, photos
- Diana Cameras – Great Wall Plastics Factory 1955 – production information needed
- Star Industrial Company Ltd – currently Hong Kong’s largest plastic manufacturer
- Chieng Han-chow – Father of the Hong Kong Plastic Industry
- Ying See Plastic Factory
- Tai Wah Plastic Leather Manufactory, 1960s 1970s, Tai Po
- Founding Fathers of the HK Fur Industry: Stephen Fong of Siberian Fur and Michael Sun of Hong Kong Fur