Preserved ginger – newspaper article 1947 – post WW2 industry difficulties

HF: Many thanks to IDJ for sending this newspaper article about the preserved ginger industry in Hong Kong in 1947. The article was published in the Hong Kong Sunday Herald of 7th June 1947. I’m not sure if ginger was HK’s oldest industry with both the manufacturing of salt from sea water and quarrying of rock being very old.

However, in our article, Hong Kong’s Preserved Ginger Industry – Dan Waters discovers and recollects, Dan wrote: My first recollection of the name, ‘Hong Kong’, was as a teenager in the early 1930s. My uncle was a warrant officer in the British army and, for a time, he was stationed in India. Every Christmas a large, colourful blue-and-white porcelain jar of preserved ginger would arrive at our home in Norfolk, England. This had been despatched from Hong Kong and it was arranged by my uncle and aunt. According to the book, Hong Kong, written by Harold Ingrams and published by Her Majesty’s Stationary Office in 1952, the oldest industry in Hong Kong exporting products to Europe, is undoubtedly the Preserved Ginger Industry.

Ginger jar from China

COLONY’S OLDEST INDUSTRY — GINGER

Big Orders Being Filled for UK.

Reputed to be Hong Kong’s oldest industry, the manufacturing of preserved ginger, which before the war contributed considerably towards the welfare of the Colony and which was interrupted from the outbreak of the Pacific War to the beginning of last year, is now slowly struggling to rehabilitate itself.

Three thousand 2-cwt. casks of preserved ginger have already been exported to the United Kingdom and a similar quantity, the order for which was received on Friday, will be sent during July-August.

The latest order is virtually a life-saver, according to Mr. U Tat Chee, Managing Director of the Hong Kong Preserved Ginger Distributors Limited, as the industry was in a desperate position.

The first preserved ginger factory, Chy Lang [HF: I think this is now known as Chy Loong] Ginger Factory, was set up in Hong Kong in 1845. It was moved here from Canton by Lee Chy, who, according to legend, was the man who first made the product and sold it in the streets of Canton. The legend goes on that an Englishman took a quantity of Lee’s sugared ginger roots home and very soon news of the delicious sweet spread far and wide in Europe with orders for more streaming into Lee Chy’s hands. Even Queen Victoria, adds the legend, after tasting the sweetened ginger roots, decreed that no future Royal Banquet should be without it.

The principle ingredient of this century-old product is green ginger, which comes from various parts of Kwangtung province and from the New Territories. There is only one crop a year – usually between August and October. If harvested later, the ginger is not suitable for preserving.

Mr U Tat Chee told the “Sunday Herald” yesterday that the current season’s ginger will be available late this month. But the hope of getting new ginger at lower rates was remote since the recent torrential rains and floods in Kwangtung have damaged the crops considerably. He pointed out that if the latest order for ginger from London had been delayed or not forthcoming, the factories would not have been able to buy up the present season’s ginger crops even at bargain prices.

Following figures illustrate the preserved ginger trade in 1939:

Exports to                     Quantity

Australia                          750,400 lbs

Europe                          4,336,000 lbs

America                            691,000 lbs

Other countries                  718,000 lbs

Total                              6,495,400  lbs

The Chinese people have always used ginger for medical purposes, such as curing colds and other minor ailments. This is why the root is also popularly known as the “Jewel of Kwangtung”. Many Chinese herbal prescriptions today still include ginger.

Slow Recovery

Speaking on behalf of the 11 preserved ginger factories in Hong Kong, Mr U Tat Chee in an interview with the “Sunday Herald” yesterday said that the recovery of the ginger trade after the war has been a slow and gloomy affair. Wages had increased by 900 per cent, raw materials by 600 per cent, packing by 10 per cent, shipping charges by 20 per cent and other necessary charges to the industry by 10 per cent, whereas the price of the manufactured product was only 400 per cent higher.

Mr U said not a single ginger factory operated during the war. When the war ended, hopes for immediate resumption and export to  Britain, the biggest buyer, soon vanished as the Home Government would not permit free importation of preserved ginger. The pre casks in addition-war exports to Britain alone, were about 30,000 two-cwt casks in addition to 40,000 cases of ginger in jars.

Mr U said that Mr. W.M.Thomson and Mr. J.A.Galvin of the Department of Supplies, Trade and Industry were very sympathetic towards the century-old industry. They had helped considerably in rehabilitating and negotiating with the Ministry of Food for the revival of the trade. An early allocation of nine tons of white sugar was made by the S.T. and I. to factories in January 1946. Although the quantity was small, the factories immediately resumed operation in a small way and gave employment to some of the former workers. Supplies of preserved ginger were also reserved for the local market at S.T. and I. controlled prices.

Ceiling Prices

Mr. U added: “On Jan. 24, news was received from London that the M.O.F. had agreed to the importation of only 3,000 casks at ceiling prices. These 3,000 casks were subsequently shipped in February and March last. But since the industry was one of the worst victims of the war, the export of 3,000 casks, nearly two years after the liberation, did not help very far.”

Negotiations continued for more importation permits and on Friday, the Ministry of Food’s permission for a further 3,000 two-cwt. casks was received in Hong Kong. “Mr Cowperthwaite and Mr. Calvin,” said Mr. U Tat Chee, “have done much to bring about this result for reviving the trade, which was on the verge of closing down.”

The Hong Kong Preserved Ginger Distributors Limited, is planning to participate in the Toronto Fair next year.

Ginger Preserved HK Sunday Herald Page 1 6th July 1947 From IDJ

This article was first posted on 14th June 2020.

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. Messrs. L.M. Alvares & Co, Ginger + Feathers c1908
  2. Choy Fung Ginger Factory
  3. Man Loong Ginger Factory
  4. Hing Loong Ginger Factory
  5. Hong Kong’s Preserved Ginger Industry – Dan Waters discovers and recollects
  6. Preserved Ginger shipped through HK 1913
  7. The Wong Brothers of Yuen Kee Hong – from Preserved Ginger to Metals and Frozen Meats
  8. Nam Wah preserved ginger manufacturer – Sham Shui Po

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