Lee Wui-tao (李會桃): Textbook and Tabloid Publisher and Movie Producer

York Lo: Lee Wui-tao (李會桃): Textbook and Tabloid Publisher and Movie Producer

In the 1950s to 1970s, Lee Wui-tao was a major figure in the entertainment, education and publishing industries as the owner of the Tao Yuen organization, which included a leading textbook publisher (HK Cultural Service), a leading movie studio (Tao Yuen, ran by his wife and known for films starring Fung Bobo), a leading entertainment tabloid (Ming Tang Yat Pao)andits own printing factory (Artcraft).

HK Cultural Service Ltd (香港文化服務) and Artcraft Ltd (聯藝印刷)

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Left: Lee Wui-tao(HK Pun U District Association, 1967); Center: abacus textbook written by Lee Wui-tao and published by HKCS; Right: secondary school history textbook compiled by King Wai Books and published by HKCS

A native of Panyu in Guangdong province, Lee graduated from Canton University and came to HK after the War. He founded HK Cultural Service (hereafter referred to as HKCS) in 1949 (although it was not incorporated until 1967) to publish textbooks, starting with Chinese textbooks for primary schools.

While HKCS was a relative newcomer to the textbook business compared to established firms such as Commercial Press and Chung Hwa Bookstore, it had strong ties to the government as Lee’s wife Law Shun-wah (羅舜華) was the sister of Law Chung-hung (羅宗熊, 1913-?)and Law Chung-kam (羅宗淦, 1916-1966), two senior officers in the Department of Education. Both brothers graduated from HKU and joined the Education department in the late 1930s, with Chung-hung rose to become the head of Grantham Teachers College before becoming the first headmaster of Cheung Chuk Shan College from 1969 to 1976 and Chung-kam rose to become the Deputy Director of Education in 1961. In the early 1950s, the brothers edited a math textbook for HKCS based on the 1953 ad below while Law Chung-kam also edited a civics textbook in 1950. (WKYP, 1950-8-25) Lee himself edited a textbook for abacus tabulations and in the early 1950s, its textbooks were selling for 50 cents to $1 each.

In 1958, the People’s Daily in the mainland accused the HK government of pro-Taipei and anti-Beijing propaganda and promoting “two China” by citing examples from a Primary 5 textbook published by HKCS and edited by Law Chung-kam which listed Taipei’s Central News Agency alongside Xinhua News Agency as China’s national news agencies while other textbooks approved by the education department listed Beijing as China’s old capital and Nanking as current capital.

In 1959, HKCS expanded its scope of publications to textbooks for secondary schools covering all subjects. (KSDN, 1959-7-24) The firm also published textbooks for kindergarten and summer workbooks. It had a subsidiary by the name of King Wai Books (經緯圖書社) which focused on producing Chinese textbooks but by the 1960s also published a wide variety of English textbooks based on the 1966 ad shown below. (WKYP, 1958-7-23) HKCS also published a few books outside of textbooks such as the memoirs of the famous Chinese tutor Lo Hsiang-fu (盧湘父) – “Recollections of the Man Muk Cho Tong” (萬木草堂憶舊) in 1959.

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Ad for HKCS in 1953 (left) and 1966 (right) listing all its available textbooks (KSDN, 1953-8-29; WKYP, 1966-6-27)

To maximize its profits, Lee established Artcraft Ltd in 1959 to print the HKCS textbooks. The firm which operated out of 196-198 Tsat Tsz Mui Road in North Point also printed a few books outside of HKCS such as the memorial booklet for C.K. Law, publications for Lok Sin Tong and the diary of General Lee Han-yun in 1975 and also printed materials for related businesses such as movie posters for Tao Yuen.

The success of HKCS attracted unwanted attention in 1963 when its officeat 80-88 Yee Wo Street in Causeway Bay were burglarized with $1300 worth of jewelry stolen and the firm also experienced problems with pirated copies of its textbooks in the market as shown in the notice below.  (WKYP, 1963-11-12)

In the early 1960s, Lee Wui-tao was also the chairman of Fong Lam College (仿林中學), a private school founded in Sheung Wan in 1923 by Chan Fong-lam (陳仿林) which later expanded to branches in Happy Valley and Kowloon City before the War and re-openedon Robinson Road and Seymour Road in the Mid-Levels after the War. The school, which counted movie director Chun Kim (秦劍, 1926-1969) as an alumnus, has since closed and faded into history.

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A notice by HKCS in 1963 warning parents about pirated copies of its textbooks in the market (WKYP, 1963-6-25); Right: the moon and rocket model at the HKCS booth which stole the show at the HK Books and Stationary Fair at the City Hall in 1963 (WKYP, 1963-11-30)

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Left: Lee Wui-tao (bottom) and Law Chung-kam (top) at the graduation ceremony of Fong Lam College in 1960 (WKYP, 1960-7-31); Right: article about the tragic landslide incident on Stubbs Road which took the lives of Law Chung-kam, his two sons and his mother in law. (KSDN, 1966-6-13)

In June 1966, tragedy struck when Law Chung-kam and his family were buried by a sudden landslide while boarding his car at his home at Victoria Heights at 43 Stubbs Road. He and his mother in law and his two young sons were killed while his father in law was badly injured though his wife managed to escape. (KSDN, 1966-6-13) HKCS continued to publish textbooks into the 1970s but dissolved as a firm in 1996.

Tao Yuen Motion Picture Development Co (桃源電影企) and Ming Tang Yat Pao (明燈日)

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Left: opening credit of Tao Yuen Motion Picture; right: poster for Tao Yuen’s “Magic Cup” in 1961

With their profits from textbooks, Lee Wui-to and his wife Law Shun-wah established Tao Yuen Motion Picture Development Co in the late 1950s to produce movies. One of its first films was “The Flying Prince” (飛行太子) in 1958 starring Ho Fei-fan and Kwan Tak-hing and the Lees came up with an innovative promotional campaign of giving 28 winners a chance to fly over HK as shown below:

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Executives of Tao Yuen with 28 winners of the promotional campaign for the movie “The Flying Prince” at the Kai Tak Airport before they board a Cathay flight to fly over HK and Kowloon (WKYP, 1958-12-22)

Between 1959 and 1962, Tao Yuen produced 6-8 movies each year, most of them were Cantonese and were directed by Lung To (龍圖) and Fung Fung (馮峰), whose daughter the child star Petrina Fung Bobo (馮寶寶, aka the Shirley Temple of HK) starred in many Tao Yuen pictures, the most famous of which being “Magic Cup” (夜光杯) in 1961 which was directed by Lung To and co-starring Law Yim-hing (羅艷卿), another major Tao Yuen star. The firm also made Cantonese opera films starring the top Cantonese opera duo Yam Kim-fai and Pak Suet-sin including “Lion’s Roar” and “Happy Wedding” in 1959 and Mandarin films such as “Two Heroes Vies for a Beauty” starring Diana Chang and “Girl with a Thousand Guises” starring Grace Chang. The firm even signed Lin Dai (林黛) as shown in the article below in 1959 although she did not appear to have starred in any of Tao Yuen films although she was the godmother of Tao Yuen star Fung Bobo.

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Left: Law Shun-wah (right) signing contract with actress Linda Ching (Lin Dai) at the Shatin Heights Hotel in 1959 (KSEN, 1959-4-8); Right: poster for Tao Yuen’s “General and the Tyrant” in 1961 starring Yam Kim-fai, Law Yim-hing and Leung Sing-bor (Hkmdb)

Initially Tao Yuen operated out of Prince Edward Road but soon moved to the 12th floor of Mirador Mansion in Tsim Sha Tsui. In late 1960, Tao Yuen ran a series of open cast auditions for actors and actresses at their offices in Tsim Sha Tsui with a judging panel comprised of Lee and his wife, Wong To and directors Lung To and Fung Fung while actress Law Yim-hing and Lee Sing-tong from the firm’s Kuala Lumpur office were also present. The criteria for casting were age 20-28 for male and 18-25 for female with secondary school education, healthy with no bad habits. (KSDN, 1960-11-3, 1960-12-6) The stars which Tao Yuen developed include Ho Lan (賀蘭), Fong Sum (方心), Ko Ming (高明) and Lam Tin (藍天).

1962 was a turbulent year for Tao Yuen. In April, Tao Yuen received an extortion letter threatening to bomb their office unless they pay up at a certain date and time and police detectives came to investigate. (KSEN, 1962-4-23) In October, To Yuen’s deputy managing director Wong To (黃韜) resigned for health reason while its administrative chief Chow Sau-hing also quit to join another firm. As a result, Mrs. Lee appointed Ng Yuen-kai and Ha Kwok-leung as advisors to the firm and Ng to oversee the day to day operations while she was traveling in Malaya.  (KSDN, 1962-10-27)

After 1962, production dropped to 3 films per year in 1963 and 1964. In 1965, Tao Yuen produced a film about the Hong Kong Blind Orchestra starring Fung Bobo, Ho Lan, Cheng Kwan-min and Fong Sum and included a concert scene shot in the City Hall. (KSDN, 1965-8-14) Its last film was “Adventure of a Blind Kid” in 1967 starring the 14-year-old Fung Bobo. The firm produced a total of 36 films in its 9 years of operations, all of them with Law Shun-wah listed as producer.

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Actress Law Yim-hing (center) renewing her contract with Tao Yuen in 1960 (WKYP, 1960-12-13);Right: Lee Wui-tao (standing) with Law Shun-wah (right) and actress Fong Sum (left) and Fung Bobo (center) before Law and Fong head to Singapore in 1963 (KSDN, 1963-6-24)

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Front page of Ming Tang Yat Pao from the 1960s.

Like all the other movie studios at the time such as Shaw and Cathay, Tao Yuen also published its own magazine (called 世外桃源) to promote its movies and its stars. In 1960, Lee Wui-to took it up a notch and began publishing a daily entertainment tabloid by the name of Ming Tang Yat Pao, one year after the successful launch of a similar paper Ngan Tang Yat Po (銀燈日報). The front page of the paper was color while the rest was in black and white.Aside from new movies, TV/radio program listings and entertainment gossip, the paper also had a women and children section as many of its readers were housewives. The paper operated out of 141 King’s Road in North Point and its chief editor of the paper was Lui Wing (呂永), who is the father of the singer and actress Lui San (呂珊). It was still being published with circulation of 45000 in the mid-1980s. (Far East and Australasia, 1986) As a firm, Ming Tang Yat Pao (Daily News) Ltd was incorporated in 1968 and dissolved in 1995.

Community Affairs and Legacy

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Left: Lee Wui-tao (left) with General Ho Shai-lai saluting a portrait of General Pai Chung-hsi in 1976 (KSDN, 1976-12-6); Right: Lee Wui-tao (right) as Lok Sin Tong chairman receiving a souvenir from Kan Yuet-keung at the centennial celebration of Lok Sin Tong in 1980 (KSEN, 1980-7-31)

Outside of his business, Lee Wui-tao was active in community affairs, having served as chairman of Lok Sin Tong, honorary life president of Lee’s Clansmen Association, Happy Valley & Canal Road Kaifong Welfare Association and Eastern Sports Club, chairman of the board of trustees for the Lock Tao Secondary School and president of the Tsuen Wan West District Scout Council. (WKYP, 1977-6-1)

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Law Shun-wah opening the Lee Wui Tao Chemistry Laboratory at the Lock Tao School in 1987 (WKYP, 1987-4-19)

In June 1986, Lee Wui-tao died and was survived by his wife, two sons –Eric LiYau-wai (李幼慧) and Li Yau-chi (李幼慈) who returned to HK after studies in the US and Canada and daughter Li Wai-shiu (李慧韶) who remained in the US after earning her MBA. (WKYP, 1986-6-11) The funeral at the HK Funeral Home was attended by over 1000 mourners and his pallbearers include Lau Sai-yan of Kong Sun Weaving (see article), Law Tin-kwai of Tsang Fook Piano, Chien Ming-nien and fellow publisher Yu Kam-ming. (WKYP, 1986-6-11) Sometime in 2012-13, Law Shun-wah passed away and her name was shown during the “In Memoriam” section of the HK Film Awards ceremony in April 2013.

Their eldest sonEric Liwho was an insurance agent made the headlines in 1987 when the High Court ordered a film company to pay him $25000 in compensation after they used his picture as the portrait of a deceased character in a movie without his permission two years before. According to his testimony, he has no interest to star in any movie although his parents had been major players in the movie business and found it ironic for himself to appear in a movie in this fashion.  (WKYP, 1987-3-22)

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Eric Li (third from the left) as representative of Tao Yuen with actors of HK films from his parents’ era – Tam Ping-man, Helena Law, Lee Heung-kam and Wu Fung and younger TVB artists at the ceremony to hand over old films to the HK Film Archive in 2011.

Filmography of Tao Yuen Motion Picture:

http://hkmdb.com/db/companies/view.mhtml?id=740&display_set=eng

Sources (other than those cited above):

http://rmrb.zhouenlai.info/%E4%BA%BA%E6%B0%91%E6%97%A5%E6%8A%A5/1958/08/1958-08-28.htm

This article was first posted on 8th March 2021.

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