Li Po-chun (李寶椿): his family, his buildings and businesses and a century of philanthropy
York Lo: Li Po-chun (李寶椿): his family, his buildings and businesses and a century of philanthropy
Earlier on the website, we have covered several branches of the family of Li Sing, the richest man in Hong Kong in 1900 including his grandsons Lee Sai-wah and Li Shiu-chung and his nephew Li Po-kwai (see article on China Dispensary). However, the most recognizable name in the family is undoubtedly his eighth and youngest son, Li Po-chun thanks to the office building Li Po Chun Chambers (李寳椿大廈，first generation: 1957-1995, second generation: 1995-present) in Sheung Wan and his and his family’s many charitable donations, most notably the Li Po Chun United World College (李寶椿聯合世界書院) in Wu Kai Sha. In the 1960s through 1980s, the family was also known for three restaurants/nightclubs which they operated – State, Kingsland and Kingsman and the car dealership Concord Ltd, which was the distributor of Peugeot, Citroen and Audi automobiles in HK.
Li Po-chun (1887-1963) – Preserver of Wealth and Philanthropist
Left: Young Li Po-chun in the early 1900s (Twentieth Century Impression of HK); Right: Li Po-chun delivering a speech to the Ng Yup Commercial Society in 1959 (WKYP, 1959-12-20)
Li Po-chun, who also went by the names Li Tsz-hei (李子禧）and Li Yin-cheuk（李賢倬), was born in 1887. At the age of 13 in 1900, his father died and he inherited a considerable amount of property, but likely less than what his older brothers Li Po-kwong (李寶光,father of Lee Sai-wah), Li Chi-tang (李紀堂） Li Po-lung (李寶龍，father of Li Shiu-chung) and Li Po-yung (李子鳴Tsz-ming) received given his lower seniority. In 1903, the 17 years old Li Po-chun traveled to Japan and visited the Exhibition. When he turned 18, he married his first wife (last name Wong) and had his first child – a daughter at the age of 21. It is unclear if he went to college or formal schools, but he devoted a lot of his time reading both Chinese and English literature.
According to the 20th Century Impression of Hong Kong, Shanghai and other ports, Li Po-chun (who lived on Caine Road) along with Li Po-lung (who lived in Medway House on Kennedy Road) and Li Po-yung (who lived in Richmond House on Robinson Road) ran the firm of Li Brothers which managed a large portion of Li Sing’s estate. By the 1920s, the brothers had gone their separate ways and while Li Po-lung went bankrupt due to unwise speculation, Li Po-chun not only preserved but augmented his fortune through prudent investments. The historic “Red House” in Tuen Mun, which served as a secret base for Sun Yat-sen’s Revive China Society in the early 1900s and was owned by Li’s older brother Li Chi-tang who spent the bulk of his fortune financing Sun’s revolution, ended up in the possession of Li Po-chun’s branch of the family.
Even before the War, Li Po-chun was a noted philanthropist in HK and his charitable donations funded the establishment of the Ling Yuet Sin Creche (named after his mother) for infant children of working mothers in 1936 and a children’s hospital in West Point in 1940.
Li Po Chun Chambers and State Restaurant
The first-generation Li Po Chun Chambers (with Seiko sign on top) in Sheung Wan waterfront in the 1960s
In November 1946, Li Po-chun incorporated Li Po Chun Estates Ltd (李寶椿置業) to engage in property investment and development. As property value soared in the early 1950s with the massive influx of refugees from the mainland, Li began exploring the possibility of re-developing properties he owned between Des Voeux Road Central and Connaught Road Central which counted the Shui Hing department store as a tenant since the 1930s. In 1954, Li Po-chun began plans to redevelop the site into an 8-story building at total cost of $750,000. This resulted in a lawsuit in the Tenancy Tribunal between Li and Shui Hing which was represented by Oswald Cheung and Li himself was asked to testify in court. (KSEN, 1955-1-26)
After Shui Hing was successfully evicted from the premise, construction began on the 1485 square-meters site with Hsin Chong (see article) as the contractor and the Li Po Chun Chambers opened its door in November 1957. Designed by the architect Szeto Wai (司徒惠，1913-1991, graduate of St. John’s University in Shanghai, known for his design of many buildings on CUHK campus and public housing estates, later a member of the Legislative and Executive Councils), the 14-story building (6 floors taller than the original plan) featured a shopping arcade on the first two floors, eight floors of office space and then the top four floors were apartments with lounge areas and a rooftop garden. The first high-rise building in Sheung Wan, LPC Chambers quickly became a landmark in the area and like Man Yee Building which opened in the same year down the road on Des Voeux Road Central, became a retail destination. Two of the earliest tenants were the Birth and Death Registry and Sanda Shoes (see article), which opened an outlet in the shopping arcade. To attract foot traffic and promote cultural appreciation, the second floor of LPC Chambers hosted exhibitions, including that of the works of the famous painter Pu Ru (a cousin of the last Emperor Pu Yi) in 1958. The new building pulled in rent that was three times that of the old properties on the site and resulted in significant appreciation in property value, with the land valued at over $5 million while the building was valued at $6 million at the time of opening.
Left: Opening of State Restaurant in March 1960. Left to right: Li Po chun, Sir Tsun-Nin Chau, Li Shiu-tsang (TKP, 1960-3-9); Right: Li Shiu-tsang as a young man
Li Po-chun figured another way to attract visitors to the building was to open a Chinese restaurant so in early 1960, he opened the State Restaurant (月宮酒樓), whose Chinese name was “Moon Palace”, on the 10th and 11th floor of the Li Po Chun Chambers with himself as chairman and his son Li Shiu-tsang as manager. The restaurant, which had panoramic view of the Victorian Harbor and was one of the first Chinese restaurants at such high elevation, was an instant success and was making over HK$20,000 a day soon after it opened, a substantial amount at the time. (WKYP, 1960-03-16)
Many prominent tenants from both the public and private sectors moved into LPC Chambers in the early 1960s. The Fire & Ambulance department moved its headquarters to the building in 1960 and in 1961, Artland Watch (藝林表行) set up shop in the arcade while the Chinese Manufacturers Association located their temporary office there and two departments of the Police also moved in. The Foreign Correspondents Club moved into the penthouse of the building the same year after its Conduit Road premise was sold but due to financial difficulties had to move out within a few years, eventually settling into its current location on Hollywood Road. In 1962, Spear Shirt (see article) expanded its presence in the shopping arcade while the Department of Commerce moved into the building in 1963. The Fisheries and Agriculture department also operated out of LPC Chambers at one point.
Post-War Philanthropy and Death
Li Po-chun delivering a speech at the Li Sing Primary School graduation ceremony in 1956 (top) and presenting scholarship to a top student (bottom). Source: WKYP, 1956-10-25; Right: Mrs. Li Po-chun (Lo Yue-yuk) unveiling the plaque of the Li Po Chun Health Centre in 1964 (WKYP, 1964-1-22)
According to people who knew Li Po-chun, he was a relatively frugal man despite his immense wealth who preferred going to the office and staying in his old mansion on Robinson Road with old furniture rather than social functions. Before the War, he sometimes went to the horse races but after the War he avoided the racetrack. Allegedly the only time he treated himself after the War was when he visited Japan with his wife. (TKP, 1961-10-17)
After the War, Li Po-chun devoted a lot of his time and money on philanthropy. In the late 1940s, he donated HK$400,000 towards the construction of the Ling Yuet Sin Infant’s Home with medical facilities (凌月仙小嬰調養院) at 54 Pok Fu Lam Road, which was opened by Bishop Raimondi in November 1949 with a speech delivered by Li Po-chun’s 12 years old youngest son Shiu-to. (WKYP, 1949-11-6) The medical facilities moved into the Canossian Hospital in 1960 and the Infant’s home was renamed Ling Yuet-sin Canossian Kindergarten in 1968 and later Caritas Ling Yuet-sin Kindergarten in 1994 when it was taken over by Caritas.
In the 1950s, Li Po-chun donated two schools in honor of his father – the Li Sing Primary School (李陞小學) in Sai Ying Pun which opened in 1955 and the Li Sing Tai Hang School (李陞大坑校) which opened in 1958. He was also a permanent honorary chairman of the Chung Sing Benevolent Society and advisor to the Sun Wui Commercial Society. In 1960, Li and other Chinese leaders such as Sir T.N. Chau, his relative Li Po-kwai (see China Dispensary article) and Lee Iu-cheung (see article on plumbing companies) sponsored a father’s day essay competition to promote filial piety with HKU professor Lo Heung-lam (羅香林） as the judge. (KSDN, 1960-6-21) Unfortunately, the generosity of Li Po-chun attracted unwanted attention and in October 1961, there were rumors of threats of kidnapping and as a result, Li enhanced his personal security by hiring more bodyguards. (TKP, 1961-10-16)
Aside from properties, Li Po-chun had substantial holdings in domestic and foreign stocks. In 1958, he became the first Chinese director of an Australian oil company. (WKYP, 1958-01-12) In April 1963, Li Po-chun donated a portfolio of blue-chip stocks (20000 shares of China Light & Power, 20000 shares of HK Electric, 10000 shares of China Provident, 20000 shares of HK Tramways, 1000 shares of Kowloon Wharf and 10000 shares of Humphreys Estates) worth over HK$2.5 million to establish the Li Po Chun Charitable Trust to provide scholarships to poor students at top schools such as Queen’s, King’s, Queen Elizabeth and Belilios and also support other charitable causes. (KSDN, 1963-4-15)
In late 1963, Li Po-chun was suffering from stomach pain but continued to go to dinner at his State restaurant in November. On the morning of November 28, he suffered a heart attack at his residence at 57 Robinson Road and died at the age of 76. According to his obituary, he had 9 sons (his eldest son Shiu-chung predeceased him) and 8 daughters (5 of whom predeceased him, one of whom Ying-wai 李瑩惠married Yu Fu-keung余富強, whose family owned Dollar Motors and Peninsula Taxis and many properties in Central) and all his surviving sons were present at his deathbed except for his eighth and ninth son who were studying in the UK and rushed back for the funeral. (KSDN, 1963-12-1, 1963-11-29)
Li’s widow Lo Yue-yuk (盧如玉) continued his philanthropy through the donation of the Li Po Chun Health Centre (李寶椿健康院) on Arran Street in Mongkok in 1964. She died in Taipei in September 1973. (WKYP, 1973-9-22)
The residence of Li Po Chun on Robinson Road before its re-development and the Po Yue Yuk building today
Kingsland, Kingsman and Concord
After the death of Li Po-chun, his three youngest sons – Li Shiu-tsang (李兆增), Li Shiu-kwan (李兆堃 1932-2017) and Li Shiu-to (李兆滔) inherited the bulk of his estate and established three new businesses in the mid-1960s – Kingsland, Kingsman and Concord.
Riding on the success of the State restaurant, the Li brothers opened Kingsland Restaurant & Nightclub (帝國酒樓夜總會) at the Miramar Arcade in 21-23 Kimberley Road in Tsim Sha Tsui in July 1965, with Young Chi-wan (楊志雲） of King Fook Jewelry and Miramar Hotel (see Pro-Quality Electronics article) and Fung Yiu-king （馮堯敬）of Wing Hang Bank as guests of honor at the opening ceremony which featured dancers from Japan. In September, the restaurant expanded its size and had enough space for over 100 tables. (KSEN, 1965-8-21) In October 1966, the brothers followed up with Kingsgarden Restaurant & Nightclub (皇都酒樓夜總會), which opened on the 7th floor of Windsor House on Des Voeux Road Central with Maurice P.K. Wong （黃秉乾）, partner of the law firm Deacons as the guest of honor. The nightclub featured dancers from Las Vegas and singers from Paraguay in addition to local bands and dingers. It also served Cantonese cuisine and had an indoor garden, water fountain with special lighting, crystal ceiling and an Arabian themed bar. (KSEN, 1966-10-21) Both of these nightclubs hosted many events including beauty pageants and singing contests but have both since faded into history.
Li Shiu-tsang (left) and Li Shiu-kwan (right) with Fung Yiu-king (third from right) and Young Chi-wan (second from right) at the opening ceremony of Kingsland Restaurant & Nightclub in 1965 (WKYP, 1965-7-19
Left: matchbox from Kingsgarden which featured ad for affiliate Concord Ltd’s Audi NSU ad; Right: beauty pageant at Kingsland in 1968 (Facebook)
In 1964, the Li brothers incorporated Concord Ltd (昆和有限公司) to enter the car dealership business and opened its first showroom in LPC Chambers in 1966. In 1968, the firm had showrooms at 53-63 Kimberley Road in Kowloon and service centers at 21 Chekiang Street in Kowloon and 100 Shing Wo Road in Happy Valley and was promoting German car and parts brand NSU (acquired by Volkswagen in 1969) in addition to the French brands its represented. (WKYP, 1968-9-13) In 1970, Concord Ltd was appointed sole agent of Audi NSU automobiles in Hong Kong. In 1981, Concord Ltd announced free car testing service at its Stubbs Road site for 18 days for Citroen owners with Citroen engineer Andre Biedermann flying in from France and discounted parts and free detailed reports. (WKYP, 1981-4-3)
In August 1982, the PR manager of Concord Ltd announced plans to organize the first ever Hong Kong to Beijing rally in the spring of 1983 in partnership with the HK Automobile Association and China Motor Sports Association. 160 racecars were expected to participate but since international racecar driver licenses were required, only few from HK could join. For whatever reason, the sponsorships fell through and the event did not take place until 1985 with the sponsorship of BAT cigarette brand 555 (TKP, 1982-8-10) In 1984, Concord Ltd still had showrooms at LPC Chambers and the second floor in Harbor City in the Kowloon side and was promoting Peugeot 505 GTI which was selling for HK$145,000. (WKYP, 1984-5-30) As a firm, Concord Ltd is still an active company but the dealership business has ceased to exist.
Li Shiu-to (second from left) and guests at the opening of Concord Ltd in 1966 (WKYP, 1966-6-18)
Family Feud, Re-Development and Founding of a College
Although the Chinese name of the family firm Concord Ltd translate to fraternal peace, the reality ironically was a different story. In early 1971, Li Po Chun Estates made headlines as Li Shiu-to applied for its liquidation to get his share of the fortune. (KSDN, 1971-3-14) Later in the year, he reached a settlement with his older brother Li Shiu-tsang and Li Shiu-kwan who bought his shares in the firm (Shiu-tsang and Shiu-kwan as a result became the only directors of the firm) and entered into a deed with his brothers in 1984 regarding the distribution of the remainder of the estate but the disputes continued into the 2010s involving multiple lawsuits.
In 1986, the Li brothers re-developed the family residence at 61 Robinson Road into the 24 story Po Yue Yuk Building (寶如玉大廈), named after their parents – Li Po-chun and Lo Yue-yuk. The building has one apartment on each floor.
Under the leadership of Li Shiu-tsang, the family fortune and philanthropic activities continued to grow. In 1987, he and the Li Po Chun Charitable Trust donated HK$100 million towards the construction of a United World College (UWC) in Hong Kong. The concept was originated by Sir Quo-Wei Lee of Hang Seng Bank, who began recruiting HK students to study at the overseas United World Colleges in 1978 and was supported by the HK government which gifted a former mining site (for construction of the Plover Cove Reservoir in the 1960s) in Ma On Shan as the campus for the new school. In 1992, the Li Po Chun United World College, the 8th UWC in the world, was opened by Prince Charles and has since produced many outstanding graduates from its international baccalaureate diploma programs. For his charitable contributions, Li Shiu-tsang was appointed unofficial Justice of the Peace in 1991 and awarded the MBE.
Left: 1970 ad for Concord Ltd announcing its appointment as exclusive distributor of Audi NSU in Hong Kong (WKYP, 1970-1-1); Right: Li Shiu-tsang in front of a portrait of his father Li Po-chun
The present day Li Po Chun Chambers
By the early 1990s, the LPC Chambers was valued at over HK$1.2 billion. In 1995, the family re-developed the Li Po Chun Chambers into a 30-story office tower with 8 passenger lifts. Over time, the ownership of LPC Chambers has transferred from Li Po Chun Estates to two family-controlled entities – Eternal Express Ltd and Arracourt Ltd.
In December 2012, Li Shiu-tsang passed away and was survived by his wife Cheung Pik-ng (張碧梧) and son Alwin Li Sui-chee (李瑞智), who succeeded his father on the board of the Li Po Chun UWC and Lord Wilson UWC Scholarship Fund in addition to serving on the committee of the Li Sing Primary School and LPC Charitable Trust. In 2017, Li Shiu-kwan passed away and was survived by his wife Katy Jim Kwok-yee （詹國儀）and sons William Li Kai-wan and Li Kai-wing.
Sources (other than those cited above):
This article was first posted on 27th December 2019.
Related Indhhk articles:
- The Bicentennial Saga of the Li Sing Family – Wealth, Revolution and Philanthropy
- China Dispensary: Maker of Pinocine (白蘿仙) and Dermoline (丹杜蓮)
- Shanghainese Builders in Hong Kong (Part Two) – Hsin Chong and Hsin Heng
- Sanda Shoes (山打皮鞋) and Manning Shirt (萬寧恤)
- Spear and Yips – Pioneers of the HK Shirt Industry
- Lee Yu Kee, Kitson and Tung On – Pioneers of the HK Plumbing Industry
- Pro-Quality Electronic (寶業電子)
- Plover Cove Reservoir – 1977 Water Supplies Dept report
- Plover Cove Reservoir – photographs of official opening 1969