Peter Kingson Kwok (郭幼庭,1883-1953): Metal Trader and Founding Director of Bank of East Asia and his Family

York Lo: Peter Kingson Kwok (郭幼庭,1883-1953): Metal Trader and Founding Director of Bank of East Asia and his Family

Peter Kingson Kwok Image 1 York Lo

Left: Peter Kingson Kwok (Courtesy of Stanley Kwok); Right: Ad for Singon & Co in 1933 (HK Telegraph, 1933-8-28)

While most people identify the Bank of East Asia with the family of Li Koon-chun, Kan Tong-po and Fung Ping-shan who ran the bank for most of its century, there were several other Chinese merchants who were involved in the founding of the bank in 1919 and served on its board for decades. One of them was the metal merchant Peter Kingson Kwok Yu-ting (hereafter refer to as Peter Kwok, he was also referred to as “P.K. Kwok” in many old directories and articles), who was an ordinary director from 1919 to 1920 and permanent director from 1921 until his death in 1953. His extended family achieved prominence in different fields outside of his businesses.  

Kwok Chi Ting

Peter Kwok’s father Kwok Chi-ting (Courtesy of Stanley Kwok)

Peter Kwok, whose original name was Kwok Ping-Kwan (郭炳坤), was a descendant of the famous general Kwok Chi-yee (郭子儀, 698-781) from the Tang Dynasty and his ancestors moved from Fenyang () in the Shanxi province to Panyu in Guangdong. His grandfather Kwok Tak-po (郭德坡) was a landowner in Panyu who was inspired by missionaries in Canton and sent two of his five sons – Peter’s father Kwok Chi-ting (郭子庭, aka Kwok Hin-wing 郭顯榮; Peter’s Chinese name Yau-ting means “Ting Jr”) who was number three and Peter’s uncle Kwok Ching-tong (郭靖, 1861-1937, also known as Kwok Hin-fun郭顯勳) who was number five to study in Hong Kong at Queen’s College. Chi-ting started the metal business in HK before returning to Panyu to become a magistrate while Ching-tong attended the Foochow Naval Academy (graduating the same year as Admiral Ching Pik-kwong 程璧光 and Liu Kuan-nan劉冠南) and rose to become a general in the Imperial Navy before returning to join his brother in business in HK after China lost the Sino-Japanese War in 1895. Peter was sent to study in Hong Kong at King’s College during which he stayed in Happy Valley at the home of his uncle.

Peter succeeded his father at Singon & Co (成安公司), a leading importer of iron, steel, metal and hardware in HK which was established in 1880 according to advertisement in Pacific Ports in 1920. Its clients were primarily shipbuilders and engineering works. (Finance & Commerce Yearbook, 1923) The firm operated out of 35 & 37 Hing Lung Street (second street west of Central Market) since the early 20th century and remained there until at least the early 1960s. According to Peter’s grandson Stanley, Peter Kwok also had a cast iron foundry in Wan Chai across the Wan Chai Market backing up to the beginning of the Kennedy Road, earning him the nickname of “The Iron Roast Pig” ( 鐵燒豬 ).(Directory & Chronicle for China, 1906; Comacrib Directory, 1925)

 

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Kwok Ching-tong and eight other elders at the thousand year banquet in 1932. Left to right: Li Yau Tsuen, Kwok, Fu yik pang, To Sze-turn, Li Yuk tong, Chow Tung Sang, Kwok Siu lau, Shouson Chow, Chow Chi-nam (courtesy of Kwok Ching-tong’s grandson Kenson Kwok)

Kwok Ching-tong was the father of KMT central banker Kwok Kam-kwan (郭錦坤, also known as 郭景琨, 1899-) and Lee Wah Bank general manager Alfred C.K. Kwok (郭鎭坤) and grandfather of Jardines director Robert Kwok (郭勤功, Son in law of HK Stock Exchange chairman Mok Ying-kie) whose branch of the family continued to operate the trading firm of Kai Yue Cheong (啟裕昌, incorporated in 1947). In 1932, Kwok Ching-tong and eight other elders including Sir Shouson Chow, Kwok Siu-lau, Li Yuk-tong (李煜堂), Li Yau-tsuen (李右泉), Chow Chi-nam (周始南, cousin of Shouson), To Sze-tuen (杜四端), Chow Tung-shang (周東生) and Fu Yik-pang (傅翼鵬) jointly celebrated their birthdays at the “Thousand Years” Birthday party (千歲宴) held at the Pokfulam residence of Tse Ka-Po (謝家寶) with a combined age of 676 years.

Peter Kingson Kwok Image 2 York Lo Peter Kwok (fifth from the right, second row from the bottom) with fellow directors and staff of BEA in 1929 at the 10th anniversary of the bank. To his right was Li Tse-fong and to his left (right to left) were Wong Yun-tong, Fung Ping-shan, Shouson Chow, Li Koon-chun, unknown, Kan Tong-po. (BEA) 

In 1919, Kwok was one of the four ordinary directors of the Bank of East Asia when it was founded (the other three being Nam Pak Hong merchant Fung Ping-shan, Eurasian opium farmer and legislator Chan Kai-ming and Ng Chang-luk) along with the 9 permanent directors (dyeing merchant Chan Ching-shek, Shouson Chow, Kan Tong-po, Kan Ying-po, Li Koon-chun and his brother Li Tse-fong, Wong Yun-tong, Mok Ching-kong 莫晴江 and Pong Wai-ting 龐偉廷). In 1921, Kwok along with Fung, Vietnamese Chinese merchant Huynh Tai (黃柱臣, Wong Chu-son), tobacco king Kan Chiu-nam (簡照南of Nanyang Brothers) and Ng Chang-luk (吳増祿) each subscribed 2500 shares at $100 each and became permanent directors of the bank. He also teamed up with four other founders and developed five houses on Kennedy Road in the Mid-Levels (all five have since been re-developed but the families continue to own the first of the small five garages). Kwok remained on the board as permanent director until his death three decades later and during that time helped the bank weather the financial crisis of 1935 and the Japanese occupation. 

In addition to Singon and BEA, Kwok was chairman of Oriental Land and director of China Emporium (中華百貨), one of the big 4 department stores which was chaired by his fellow BEA director Sir Shouson Chow. Outside of business, he was a director of the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce and member of the Rotary Club of Hong Kong and was also director of Po Leung Kuk.

In March 1953, Peter Kwok died at his 3-story residence at 7 Arbuthnot Road and was buried in the Catholic Cemetery in Happy Valley. (WKYP, 1953-3-30) His estate, valued at HK$908,664 was inherited by his children. (WKYP, 1954-1-31) 

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Alice Kwok (on the floor, first from the right) with co-founders of YWCA in HK in 1918 (HK Memory)

Peter Kwok’s younger sister Alice Kwok Fung-hin (郭鳳軒, 1886-1967) received her B.A. from HKU and M.A. in Social Work from the London School of Economics. She was involved in leading the Hong Kong YWCA (whose headquarters is located on land in Macdonnell Road adjacent to land owned by her older brother Peter) from 1931 to 1958 and was also a leading director of the Po Leung Kuk in the 1930s and was appointed Unofficial Justice of the Peace for her community service. When she died in December 1967, she bequeathed her entire estate to the HK Anglican Church (Sheng Kung Hui), which used the proceeds to establish the SKH Lok Man Alice Kwok Integrated Service Centre (聖公會樂民郭鳳軒綜合服務中心) in To Kwa Wan to provide services to seniors. (KSEN, 1967-12-31) 

Peter Kingson Kwok Image 3 York Lo

Peter Kwok (standing, fourth from right) and his wife Rose (seated fourth from the right) with their family and guests at his residence at 7 Arbuthnot Road. Standing left to right: David Kwok, Alice Kwok, Virginia Wong Kwok; standing from right to left: Kay Woo Kwok, Henry Kwok, Edward Kwok. On the floor, Elizabeth Kwok.  (Courtesy of Stanley Kwok) 

Peter Kwok and his wife Rose Chu Lai-hin (1882-1950) had ten children. Their eldest son Frank Kwok Hing-sum (郭慶, 1906-1972) was a famous solicitor who went to DBS and was admitted to practice as a solicitor in the UK in 1928 and in HK in 1929. (SCMP, 1929-3-15) He worked for Johnson Stokes & Masters for four decades before his retirement at the age of 60. As the first Chinese partner of JSM, he counted many leading Chinese businesses as his clients. During the War, he helped to build an airfield and hostel in Hunan and helped to rescue two American pilots. (SCMP, 1946-1-8) Outside of work, he was a keen tennis and badminton player who was a tennis champion from the 1930s to the 1960s and was one of the founders of the HK Badminton Association. He was also very involved with the YMCA (he served as president in 1952) and St John’s Cathedral. He married Virginia Ging-Tsing Wang, a graduate of Ginling Girl’s College in Nanking in 1939 (SCMP, 1979-7-31) and together they have four daughters (Rita, Frances, Theresa, Amy) and one son (Stanley). (SCMP, 1972-3-23) 

Peter Kingson Kwok Image 4 York Lo

Frank Kwok (second from right) and friends (including two BEA directors) celebrating YMCA chief Pang Siu-yin receiving his MBE in 1961. Left to right: Kenneth Fung, Mrs Pang, Pang Siu-yin, Li Fook-wo, Frank Kwok, Chan Nang-fang. (WKYP, 1961-6-23)

Peter Kingson Kwok Image 5 York Lo Frank Kwok (third from the left) with K.B. Woo, head of HK Optical (third from the right) and colleagues welcoming optometrists from the UK (WKYP, 1961-4-15)  

According to his grandson Stanley, Peter Kingson Kwok’s second son Peter Kwok Hing-kai (郭慶) was a graduate of Cambridge University and remained single. Fourth daughter Rose received her M.A. in Social Work from the London School of Economics and also stayed single. Sixth son John Kwok Hing-chung (郭慶) was a graduate of the University of Hong Kong and married Kay Woo Lai-wah, the daughter of Woo Yee-tung (胡爾棟) at the St John’s Cathedral in 1940.  Seventh son David Kwok Hing-fong (郭慶) also graduated from HKU and was assistant manager for Singon. He was fined $1000 for failing to file tax returns for Singon from 1958-60. (WKYP, 1960-6-8) David and his Hawaiian Chinese wife Cecilia were very involved with the St John’s Cathedral where Cecilia played the organ for many years.   Eighth son Henry Kwok Hing-piu (郭慶) went to Temple University and worked for China Emporium. He married May Lo Sau-lan (盧秀), a granddaughter of the famous casino tycoon Lo Lim-Ieoc (盧廉若) from Macau in 1954. Ninth son Edward Kwok Hing-yan (郭慶) went to Ohio Bowling Green University and joined the Bank of East Asia after he returned to Hong Kong and served as the bank’s Saigon branch manager in Vietnam. 

Peter Kingson Kwok Image 6 York Lo

Wedding picture of Henry Kwok and May Lo in 1954 (WKYP, 1954-12-19)

This article was first posted on 20th July 2020.

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