M.C. Oung (翁明昌) – the Shanghainese tycoon in Taiwan and his industrial enterprises in Hong Kong

York Lo: M.C. Oung (翁明昌) – the Shanghainese tycoon in Taiwan and his industrial enterprises in Hong Kong

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Left: M. C. Oung (right) receiving a medal from KMT Air Force chief Lai Ming-tang; M.C. Oung (third from the left) transiting through HK in his 1960 trip to the US as head of Chia Hsin Cement. He was welcomed by his HK industrial partners and friends John Tung, C.K. Chang, C.W. Chu, C.I. Lee (WKYP, 1960-5-4)

From the 1950s to 1970s, Oung Ming-chong (1909-1977, hereafter referred to as “M.C. Oung”) was one of the biggest names in business in Taiwan, having created one of the largest industrial conglomerates on the island with interests in cement, synthetic fiber, textiles, cable and flour and served as the godfather of the Taiwanese stock market and the leader of the Shanghainese business clique in Taiwan. In the 1960s-70s, his reach was extended to Hong Kong where he was involved in 3 leading industrial enterprises – a spinning mill, a LP gas distributor and a pioneer of synthetic fiber profiled below.

M.C. Oung in Shanghai and Taiwan

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M.C. Oung (right) and Chang Min-yu (center) with President Chiang Kai-shek (seated)

Several sources on the Internet state the birth year of M.C. Oung as 1919 but based on Taiwan Who’s Who directory in 1955 and 1963, his birth year should be 1908 and Brazilian immigration records list his birthday as May 26, 1909. A native of Cigu (慈谿) in Ningbo prefecture in Chekiang province, Oung graduated from the Yucai School (育才公學) in Shanghai and was already a successful entrepreneur in Shanghai before 1949, heading up two electrical manufacturers (永亮電器廠 and 蓓開電器廠 in Chinese), an oil plant (聯合油脂廠), a tannery (聯興製革廠), and a radio station.

Oung moved with the KMT regime to Taiwan in 1949, where he co-founded a number of large industrial enterprises in partnership with Chang Min-yu (張敏鈺, 1913-2008) and other businessmen – this include Shen Tai Dyeing & Weaving Mill (申臺染織廠) in 1951, Chia Hsin Cement (嘉新水泥) in 1954 (second cement factory in Taiwan, planning began in 1951), Chia Ho Flour Mill (嘉和麵粉廠) in 1958, China Rebar (中國力霸鋼架) in 1959, I-Hsin Textile (益新紡織) with John Tung of I-Feng Enameling (see articles) and C.K. Chang of Hwa Lee Weaving from HK in 1960, Walsin Lihwa Cable & Wire (華新麗華電線電纜) with Chiao Ting-piao (焦廷標, 1924-2018) in 1966, Chia Hsin Flour (嘉新麵粉) in 1967 and Chia Hsin Livestock (嘉新畜產) in 1973. These companies all became leaders in their respective industries and M.C. Oung was either chairman or managing director of these firms. In addition to his financial acumen, Oung’s success could also be attributed to his ability to recruit talented partners (most of whom from Shanghai or northern China like himself) to grow the businesses. In Hong Kong, Oung teamed up with other Shanghainese businessmen to launch the following three industrial enterprises:  

Oceanic Cotton Mill (海外紡織)

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Oceanic Cotton Mill in Tsuen Wan (Life)

Oceanic Cotton Mill, which Oung was a director of, was incorporated in 1959 during a wave of new spinning mill construction in HK. Others involved in Oceanic include his partners in I-Hsin and Chia Hsin in Taiwan such as C.I. Lee (李中一) who was managing director of Oceanic and had served as a director of Yan Chai Hospital in Tsuen Wan and Jieh-Min Woo (胡介民, 1891-?), a native of Nantung in Kiangsu province who was a long-time veteran of the piece goods business in Shanghai. Woo’s widow Wang Huey-hsien established the Jieh Huey Social Welfare & Charity Foundation in Taiwan after his death.

Production at Oceanic commenced in 1960 and the mill which occupied 74867 sq ft was located at Tsuen Wan Inland Lot 28 or 9 miles, Castle Peak Road across from China Dyeing Mills and Nan Fung Textiles. The firm produced the Coral brand of yarn and by 1967, the number of spindles at the mill had expanded to 27500. In 1970 and 1971, fire broke out in the mill and in 1973, Oceanic was acquired by Winsor Industrial, the textile conglomerate which was growing rapidly by buying other mills such as East Sun (see article). At the time, the firm had over 600 workers and was allegedly earning over HK$10 million. Winsor executive Patrick Ting Hsiun-Shih (丁訓士) was placed in charge of Oceanic and East Sun and as business turned south in 1974, 100 Oceanic staff were laid off later in the year and contracts with the remaining staff were also modified resulting in a labor dispute which was ultimately resolved when management backed down. In 1984, the Oceanic mill was shut down and the site was re-developed into the Winner Godown Building in 1988. As a firm, Oceanic was dissolved in 2006.

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Oceanic Cotton Mill co-founder J.M. Woo and his wife Wang Huey-hsien (Jieh Huey Foundation)

Mei Fung Co Ltd (美豐有限公司) – Distributor of Mobil LP Gas

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Left: Ad about the opening of Mei Fung Co in 1962 with the list of its 6 directors (WKYP, 1962-10-12); right: a scene from the 4th HK Amateur Cooking Contest organized by Mobil, Mei Fung and Sing Tao in 1967

In 1962, M.C. Oung invested in Mei Fung Co Ltd, which had secured the distributorship of the American oil giant Socony Mobil’s line of LPG products in HK and served on its board. The firm’s inaugural chairman was C.I. Lee, his partner in Oceanic Cotton Mill but Oung later succeeded him as chairman. The firm likely derived its name from the combination of Chinese name of Mobil (美孚, Mei Foo) and The Chang Fong Enterprise (僑豐企業), the name of the firm controlled by Mei Fung’s managing director Tse-liang Chang (張子良, 1914-2008), a leading Shanghainese businessman in Japan. Another prominent Shanghainese business from Japan involved with Mei Fung and served on its board was Chang Ho-hsiang (張和祥, 1910-1988), the proprietor of the popular Sanno Hanten (山王飯店) Chinese restaurant in Tokyo and brother in law of H.K. Chow (周祥賡, 1909-1988), another Chinese community leader in Japan.

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Mei Fong director Chang Ho-hsiang visiting the Lung Kong Association in HK in 1965. Left to right: Chiu Sze-lim, Cheung Chan-hon (see article on Cheong Lee Construction), Chang Ho-hsiang, police sergeant Lau Fook (KSDN, 1965-3-24)  

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Left: T.L. Chang, managing director of Mei Fung Co Ltd (KSEN, 1971-4-25); Right: Mei Fung secretary Lo Sun-fook explaining to a young Teresa Teng (who just began her rise to musical superstardom) the features of a Mobil LP Gas water heater (KSEN, 1971-3-28)

The day to day operation of Mei Fung was managed by T.L. Chang and Lo Sun-fook (盧新福), the secretary of the firm. A graduate of the prestigious Keio University, Chang served as managing director of Hsin An Textile Mill (新安紗廠) in Nanking and The Chang Fong Enterprise (長豐企業) in Shanghai and executive director of Yung Ming Electric Power (永明電) in his native Jiaxing in Chekiang province before 1949 and served as business representative in Japan for the KMT Ministry of Economic Affairs. After 1949, he moved to Tokyo where his The Chang Fong Enterprise (same English name as his business in Shanghai but the Chinese name was changed to ) became immensely successful engaging in import/export trade in a wide range of products (from food to metals to movies) with other countries and had branches in HK (established in 1951 and dissolved in 1968), Taiwan and South Korea. He was also the president of Japan Free Press (日本自由新聞) and bankrolled the publication Free China Journal in Taiwan which was published by Lei Chen (, 1897-1979), a fellow Shanghainese graduate of Japanese university. Lei had a fallout with Chiang Kai-shek in 1960 and as a result the Free China Journal (自由中) was shut down and Lei was thrown into a jail for a decade. This might have been a factor of why Chang shifted his focus to Hong Kong in the 1960s.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the majority of homes in HK did not have gas connection and Socony Mobil in a marketing effort led by Felix F. Seto (司徒富) was able to sell a lot of low cost kerosene stoves, especially in the squatter and resettlement areas where the stoves replaced firewood and charcoal for cooking use. In the early 1960s, Mobil launched a new line of liquid petroleum gas (LPG) sold in 10 and 15 kg bottles, branded as Mobilflame (無比石油氣), which were low cost, convenient and cleaner. To distribute the LPG products in HK, Mobil decided to appoint a master distributor and selected Mei Fung (its rival Texaco also adopted the same strategy when it launched its Calgas line in 1965 by working with Hang Lung). An aggressive marketing campaign was launched to promote Mobilflame featuring cooking classes, cookbooks and competitions and a special telephone delivery service was also added to drive sales in addition to a dozen outlets in HK, Kowloon & New Territories. By 1964, Mei Fung was tremendously successful and managed to sell over 150 tons of Mobilflame LPG products. In 1966, Mei Fung launched the Mobilflame Cooking School with a showroom to sell LPG stoves. In 1968, Mei Fung expanded to industrial LPG distribution and Mobilflame was renamed Mobil LP Gas. Over time as gas and electricity supply became more prevalent in HK after the 1970s, the popularity of LPG for cooking declined and as a firm, Mei Fung was dissolved in 2007. T.L. Chang moved to America where he died in 2008.

Mei Fung Fibre Industrial (美豐纖維) – the Rapid Rise and Fall of a Synthetic Fiber Pioneer

In the 1950s and 1960s, synthetic fibers such as rayon (aka artificial silk), nylon and polyester produced via chemical processes emerged as alternatives to the traditional clothing materials such as cotton and wool and as the Asian textile and garment industries developed, local players were keen on producing synthetic fiber locally to substitute imports. The synthetic fiber industry in Taiwan began in 1955 with the formation of rayon manufacturer China Man-Made Fiber Corporation (人造纖, CMMFC) by Shih Feng-hsiang (石鳳1892-1967), father of the first wife of Chiang Kai-shek’s second son Wei-kuo and prominent textile industrialist from the mainland; Feng-Jang Leu (呂鳳, 1915-1981), Shih’s son in law and German-trained textile engineer and Taiwanese businessman C.T. Lai (賴淸) with technical assistance from the German American firm Von Kohorn International Corporation, which was involved in the design and construction of over 30 synthetic fiber plants across the globe.  In the 1960s, many players entered the synthetic fiber business in Taiwan, including M.C. Oung’s Hsin Hsin Chemical Fiber (鑫新化學纖維) and CMMFC’s two affiliates – United Nylon (聯合耐), its nylon venture launched in 1963 with China Development Corporation and Hualon Co (華隆公), its polyester joint venture formed in 1966 in partnership with Teijin (帝人株式會), the leading synthetic fiber manufacturer in Japan. Aside from the Americans (e.g. Allied Chemicals) and British (e.g. ICI), the Japanese were the most advanced in the field of synthetic fiber and Oung saw the opportunity to develop the synthetic fiber industry in HK. He teamed up with two major Japanese corporations – the trading firm of Kanematsu and the major rayon producer Mitsubishi Rayon and fellow Shanghainese textile industrialist David T.W. Han (韓德威) to form Mei Fung Fibre Industrial to produce polyester in 1969, with himself serving as chairman and Han as vice chairman in charge of its day to day operations while Lo Sun Fook from Mei Fung the natural gas distributor served as secretary of the firm.

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Jack Cater and Jimmy McGregor, acting director and assistant director of the Dept of Commerce and Industry visiting Mei Fung Fibre and received by David Han, Lo Sun-fook and others in 1972 (Kung Sheung Evening News, 1972-7-31)

Born in 1922, Han was a native of Zhejiang province who founded Hanway Development Co Ltd (漢威企業) in 1958. Hanway operated a cotton spinning mill of the same name at 9 ½ mile Castle Peak Road in Tsuen Wan, producing the “Billion Dollar” brand of yarn and Mei Fung operated out of Hanway’s site in Tsuen Wan. The 120,000 sq ft, air-conditioned Mei Fung plant was equipped with state of the art equipment imported from West Germany, the UK and Japan costing over HK$10 million and Mitsubishi Rayon sent three engineers from Japan to provide technical support and its staff was comprised of top graduates from the leading technical schools.

The synthetic fiber plant was an instant success with majority of its sales from local garment manufacturers while most of its exports were shipped to Southeast Asia. By 1971, the 2 years old Mei Fung already did HK$40 million in sales with net profits of over HK$6 million, enabling the firm to go public on the HK Stock Exchange during the height of the stock market bubble in October 1972 through the issuance of 3.5 million shares at HK$3 apiece. The two Japanese partners held 14% of the outstanding shares after the IPO.

David Han was elected a director of the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals in 1973 and in February 1974, he led the formation of the HK Synthetic Fibre Association (人造纖維紡織業公會) with 19 members (including Lee Wah Weaving Mill, Winner and Kwong Luen Tai). David Han, as the head of the leading player in the industry, was elected its first chairman and the association’s board included Patrick Ting of Winsor Industrial and Y.C. Chen of Ta Hing Cotton Mill.  

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Left: David Han (WKYP, 1973-3-29); Right: Article about HSBC taking over Mei Fung Fibre (WKYP, 1977-3-25)

Sadly, the energy crisis in 1973-74 proved to be disastrous for the synthetic fiber industry as it significantly increased the producer’s costs and its $5 million move to expand its cotton spinning operations in 1976 only made matter worse. By March 1976, the 2-year losses accumulated to over HK$10 million. By 1977, Mei Fung’s stock had fallen to 65 cents a share and in March 1977, Mei Fung went into receivership and was taken over by HSBC. Both Mei Fung and Hanway were shut down as a result and hundreds of workers were laid off. In 1978, The Sun Co (controlled by Shanghainese contractor John Lok by that point, see article) acquired the listed shell of Mei Fung Fibre with plans to re-develop its site in Tsuen Wan. The listed shell was renamed Yue Hwa Chinese Products in 1981 when the later bought the shell before it was sold again to Chia Tai International in 1989.

Death and Family

Aside from the 3 enterprises profiled above, Oung was also involved in another high-profile venture in Hong Kong – namely the movie production company Golden Harvest during its formation in 1970. As it turned out, when movie executive Raymond Chow (who recently passed away) decided to leave Shaw Brothers and strike out on his own, Oung was his initial financial backer. For whatever reason, Oung decided to pull out before the formal launch (Oung and Chow’s old boss Run-run Shaw were fellow Ningbo natives) which almost killed the venture but Chow managed to secure the support of others (e.g. S.T. Wu of the Maxim’s group who managed the theaters for the Luk Hoi Tung group) and the rest as they say was history. From the diary of the shipping magnate C.Y. Tung, he also had explored buying a cement factory in Brazil back in 1960, presumably in partnership with Tung.

In 1977, the Taiwanese synthetic fiber market was suffering from the same headwind facing Mei Fung discussed above and M.C. Oung orchestrated a merger with the support of the KMT government between his Hsin Hsin Chemical Fiber and four competitors – Hualon and United Nylon discussed above, Pao Cheng Chemical Fiber (寶城化學纖維), and Kuo Hua Chemical (國華化工) with the amalgamated entity under the name of Hualon Textiles. Sadly, Oung died suddenly within a month of the merger and his body remains in storage in the living room of his mansion in Yangmingshan in Taipei to this day, likely awaiting final burial in the mainland like the arrangements made by Chiang Kai-shek and his son Ching-kuo.  

Oung had three wives and he has four sons (James, Daniel, Paul and Andrew) and three daughters (Anastasia, Margaret, Lilian) with his second wife Chin Liang-fang (經蓮芳). At the time of his death, his eldest son James D.M. Oung (翁大銘, 1950-2015) was only 27 and his business partners assumed control of many of his companies such as Hualon, Chia Hsin, Rebar and Walsin Lihwa and the Oung family was only left with Chia Hsin Livestock and its 8000 pigs. James proved to be his father’s son and within five years, he made a fortune in the Taiwanese stock market and regained control of Hualon Textiles in 1982. By 1989 his Hualon Group was one of Taiwan’s largest conglomerates but unfortunately the group unraveled after a string of scandals in the 1990s with jail sentences for James and his brothers. M.C.’s second son Daniel I.M. Oung (翁一銘1952-2006) was chairman of Kuo Hua Life Insurance and the Taiwan Taekwondo Association before his death at the age of 54. The third son Paul Y.M. Oung (翁有銘) left Taiwan in 1990 for Malaysia where he built Hualon into a leading polyester producer. The fourth son Andrew D.M. Oung (翁德銘1955-) was responsible for Hualon’s electronics business and developed real estate and industrial interests in HK and the mainland. In 1987, the Oung family acquired the listed JF Special Holdings in Hong Kong which they renamed Paladin International (百利大國際) with third daughter Lilian Oung Hsiao-mei (翁小妹 or 翁麗蓮, formerly married to Michael Chen Shih-ta, HBS grad and banker) as chairperson. The firm owns valuable properties on the Peak which the family fought over in recent years.

Sources (in addition to that quoted above):

華僑日報, 1963-12-19, 1972-9-15, 1973-7-15, 1978-9-5

http://www.tpc.moj.gov.tw/public/Attachment/791415314559.pdf

https://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E7%BF%81%E6%98%8E%E6%98%8C

自由中國工商人物誌(1955), p 159 , p 171

大公報, 1975-01-26, 1976-9-5

KSDN, 1974-2-4

KSEN, 1972-9-11

This article was first posted on 29th April 2019.

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. Tai Hing Cotton Mill 1957-2014
  2. Pao Hsing Cotton Mill(寶星紡織廠)
  3. Y.C. Hu and L.S. Ku – directors of Pao Hsing Cotton Mill
  4. Nanyang Cotton Mill – additional information and 1948 images
  5. Eastern Cotton Mills
  6. 21 Tylers Cotton Mill, To Kwa Wan
  7. Nan Fung Textiles – founded 1954 – mill to be re-used
  8. Nan Fung Textiles Mill factory, Tsuen Wan – conservation project
  9. Chen Din Hwa – founder of Nan Fung Textiles 1954 and “King of Cotton Yarn”
  10. Samuel Gee Yen (嚴欣淇) and East Sun Textile(怡生紗廠)
  11. Socony-Vacuum Oil Company in HK from 1896
  12. The Cheung brothers and Cheong Lee Construction (昌利建築)

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