King of Towels: Lee Yiu-wah (李曜華) and Hop Hing (1950) Weaving Factory (合興毛巾織造廠)
York Lo: King of Towels: Lee Yiu-wah (李曜華) and Hop Hing (1950) Weaving Factory (合興毛巾織造廠)
Lee Yiu-wah speaking at the formation ceremony of the HK Cotton Made-up Goods Manufacturers Association in 1963 (WKYP, 1963-5-26)
In the 1950s to 1970s, Hop Hing (1950) Weaving Factory was one of the largest manufacturers of cotton towels and terrycloth in Hong Kong, earning its proprietor Lee Yiu-wah the title of “King of Towels”.
A native of the Nam Hoi district in the Guangdong province, Lee, who also had the alias of Lee Kwong-chung (李光中), was the eldest of three sons of Lee Shun-yuen (李信源), who died in HK in 1961. (WKYP, 1961-1-31) Based on his obituary in 1978 which stated that he was 67, he was likely born in 1911. He attended the National University in Canton, the Central Police Academy and the Central Training Camp in Chungking and after which he worked in the police force in the mainland. (WKYP, 1978-8-26)
In 1950, he moved to Hong Kong and established Hop Hing with 1-2 workers and 2-3 looms. In 1960, Lee’s younger brother Lee Yiu-lau (李曜鎏) joined the business and eventually became the factory manager.
In 1963, Lee led the formation of the HK Cotton Made-Up Goods Manufacturers Association (香港棉織製成品廠商會) and served as its first chairman. The other directors at launch included other leaders of the HK weaving industry including Mui Chok-chu, Cheong Ying-chan, Woo Ping, Yan Man-leung and Tse Lai-chak. (all of whom except Cheong were covered in earlier articles, the group has since dissolved in 2016) The same year, Hop Hing was incorporated.
In the early 1960s, Hop Hing’s factory was located at 58 Kai Tak Road in Kowloon. (HK Trade Directory, 1964; Trade Bulletin, 1963; Asia Textile Bi-Annual, 1965). By the mid-1960s, Hop Hing had outgrown its space thanks to strong export sales and in December 1965, the firm opened its 9-story new factory building at 231 Wai Yip Street in Kwun Tong with Sir S.N. Chau of the Federation of HK Industries and Wong Toke-sau of CMA as guests of honor. By that time, the firm had over 500 employees, 200 looms and its products were shipped to over 60 countries (KSDN, 1965-12-2)
Left: Sir Sik-nin Chau (second from right) at the opening ceremony of Hop Hing’s new building in 1965 (KSDN, 1965-12-2); Right: sketching of Hop Hing’s new building in Kwun Tong in 1965.
In 1968, a fire broke out on the 6th floor of the Hop Hing factory which lasted for two hours. The fire was put out by the workers from the 5th and the 8th floors but sadly one person died. (TKP, 1968-6-7)
In May 1969, Lee Yiu-wah and his eldest daughter Lee Mei-hung (李美雄, a graduate of New Method College who joined the family business) went on a round the world business trip for two months covering Pakistan, the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, the US, Canada, Hawaii, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia and the Philippines. During his stop in the UK, he also visited the headquarters of the Royal Life Saving Society as a representative of the HK chapter which he was an advisor of. (WKYP, 1969-5-17)
In March 1970, Hop Hing celebrated its 20th anniversary with a party for its 500 staff at the Golden Crown restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui during which government official David Lai Kar-wah (黎家驊, who also spoke at Lee’s eldest daughter’s wedding the next year) handed out golden tablets celebrating anniversaries, including a 20th anniversary for Yeung Wing, nine 10th anniversary for Lee Yiu-lau and others and 51 five year anniversary and all attendees were also given a set of Hop Hing towels, two glass cups and a wallet for good luck. (WKYP, 1970-3-11)
Outside of Hop Hing, Lee was extremely active in industry and community affairs. On the industry front aside from the HK Cotton Made-up Goods Manufacturers Association, he was a member of the Textile Advisory Council, Industry Advisory Committee of the Labor Department, director of the Federation of HK Industries, CMA (Hop Hing participated in the Association’s HK Products Expo into the 1970s), Kowloon Chamber of Commerce and HK Weaving Mills Association. On the community front, he was chief of the HK Life Saving Society, Chinese Amateur Swimming Association and YMCA winter swimming group, president of the Rotary Club of Kwun Tong, honorary president of the Nam Hoi Fraternal Association and vice chairman of Lok Sin Tong.
In August 1978, Lee Yiu-wah died at the HK Sanatorium and his funeral at the Universal Funeral Parlor was attended by over 1000 leaders from the nine organizations he was associated with and his pallbearers included Wong Toke-sau of Amoy Canning, Lau Sai-yan from Kong Sun Weaving, Wong Kwai from Lee Man Rubber and Law Ting-pong (羅定邦) from Laws Knitting. He was survived by his wife Wong Wai-yin, 2 sons (his eldest son predeceased him) and five daughters. (KSDN, 1978-8-27)
Wedding picture and notice of Lee Yiu-wah’s eldest daughter Lee Mei-hung to Chan Chi-bun (陳志彬) in 1971 (WKUP, 1971-11-21)
As a firm, Hop Hing (1950) Weaving Factory Ltd was dissolved in 1989. The site of the Hop Hing factory in Kwun Tong had since been re-developed and is now part of the Manulife Financial Centre.
This article was first posted on 13th April 2020.
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