The Kung family and Sam Kwong Weaving Factory (三光布廠)
York Lo: The Kung family and Sam Kwong Weaving Factory (三光布廠)
Left: Kung Yeuk-man (HK Pun U District Association, 1971); Center: ad for Sam Kwong in 1935 (Tin Kwong Po, 1935-11-1); Right: ad for Sam Kwong in the 1970s (HK Pun U District Association)
Sam Kwong Weaving Factory was one of the leading weaving mills in Hong Kong from the 1920s to the 1970s with its own chain of retail outlets which sold its “Sam Kwong” and “Plum Blosson” brand of cloth and fabric locally and exported to markets throughout Southeast Asia and beyond.
Sam Kwong was founded in HK in 1928 by Kung Yeuk-man (龔若文, 1893-1981) and was incorporated with HK$10000 in capital in 1932. A native of Lo village in Panyu, Kung started Wing Tung Hing Silk Store at the age of 22 and soon added four other stores – Fook Cheong Tai, Kwong Yue Tai, Yue Lung and Tin Cheung. (Memorial Plaque of the Yeuk Man Hall at the HK Pun U District Association, 1971) In 1925, three years before starting Sam Kwong, Kung was already a highly successful merchant having been elected director of the Tung Wah Hospital. Also involved in Sam Kwong in its early years was managing director Lai Hip-ka (黎協嘉), who was a banking and tax official in Kwangsi province.
In the beginning, Sam Kwong’s profits were slim due to competition but within a few years, the firm made a name as a low-cost provider, which at first appealed to the mass market but later also attracted higher end customers as the world sunk into the Great Depression. The firm’s major markets were Malaya and Dutch East Indies and its status as a HK factory helped it compete in British colonies against competitors from other countries such as Japan. At the time, Sam Kwong’s factory which was located at 374 Castle Peak Road in Cheung Sha Wan employed over 300 workers, of which 250 were female while 50 were male and most of the female workers were paid on a day by day basis and worked 10 hours a day while most of the male workers were on full-time payroll. The firm was making 100,000 yard of fabric per month with cotton yarn imported from the UK and Germany rather than cheaper yarn from Japan which could have generated $70,000 more in profits. (HK Chinese Factory Survey, 1934)
By the mid-1930s, Sam Kwong had two retail outlets as shown in the 1935 ad above – one at 4 Wing Kut Street in Sheung Wan on the HK side and another one at 497 Shanghai Street in Mongkok on the Kowloon side and from then on every year the firm conducted its annual sale in November. The firm was represented by Chop Yick Tai of 437 North Bridge Road in Singapore as its sole agent in Southeast Asia which registered its trademark in those markets in 1931. (Malaya Tribune, 1931-7-2)
During the War, Sam Kwong’s factory closed and Lai went back to Kweilin. After the War, Kung re-opened Sam Kwong factory at Castle Peak Road with the assistance of Lai and the firm’s chief engineer Yuen Chau-ming (阮秋明) with 60 looms. (Jinji Daobao, 1947) An expert in water supply, Yuen had made numerous proposals to the HK government in the late 1940s and early 1950s. In 1948, he requested the government to rebuild market and public toilets near Sam Kwong’s factory which were demolished during the Japanese occupation and also suggested that the government should drill 40 wells in HK and Kowloon to deal with the colony’s water shortage. (WKYP, 1948-7-12; 1948-7-26) In 1950, he recommended the chief of the government’s Public Works department to build 60-100 feet deep wells in Diamond Hill which could supply water to over 150,000 residents. (WKYP, 1948-8-9; 1950-3-29)
In March 1951, a female worker by the name of Leung Pak-wah was dismissed for producing some broken cloth and the Weaving & Dyeing Workers Union intervened by sending four representatives to the factory and had her job reinstated. (TKP, 1951-3-16)
In May 1952, Sam Kwong suspended production and on June 1, the firm laid off its 100 workers (about 75 female and male) as a result of a shareholder dispute and weak business sentiments. The male full-time workers received two-month severance and $100 for travel allowance for workers who chose to return to their native villages plus 3-month salary in benefits while the female workers who were mostly paid on a daily basis did not receive any compensation and asked for a month’s worth of severance based on daily wage of $6.5.(TKP, 1952-6-10) In October however, the firm re-emerged as Sam Kwong Weaving Factory (1952) Ltd under the leadership of Kung Yeuk-man and his son Kung Kwok-sun while the original Sam Kwong Weaving Factory Ltd was dissolved in 1954.
Left: Sam Kwong’s original factory in Cheung Sha Wan (HK Memory); Right: Sam Kwong’s new factory in Kowloon City in 1957 (KSDN, 1957-1-24)
In January 1957, Sam Kwong moved into its 6-story new factory on a 14000 sq ft site at 131 Kowloon City Road in To Kwa Wan. (KSDN, 1957-1-24) At the time, the firm also had 5 retail outlets in HK and Kowloon – 9 and 31 Wing Kut Street (since re-developed into Wing Hang Insurance Building and Harvest Building), 106 Johnston Road in Wanchai, 209 Shanghai Street in Yaumatei and 497 Shanghai Street in Mongkok. (KSEN, 1956-11-24)
By 1960, Sam Kwong reached the record of monthly production of 6000 yard of fabric, most of which were sold to local garment factories to produce garment for exports and a small percentage were sold to local consumers. Its factory was the largest of its kind in HK with many state-of-the-art weaving equipment including 100 Ishikawa looms from Japan and its own 62 feet deep well to deal with the limited water supply at the time. The factory had three departments – weaving, dyeing and sales and employed over 200 workers. The elaborate production process involved ten steps to ensure that its products were of the highest quality and the color would not fade. (WKYP, 1960-9-19)
In February 1965, Kung Woon-sum, the cashier of Sam Kwong was robbed in broad daylight on Kowloon City Road by two robbers who attacked him with knife and took $6000 in cash which he had withdrawn from the bank for payroll. (WKYP, 1965-2-21)
Left: Kung Kwok-sun (HK Pun U District Association, 1971); Center: unveiling of the Yeuk Man Hall sponsored by the Kung family at the HK Pun U District Association by president Wat Sai-man in 1971. Right: Kung Kwok-wai (HK Pun U District Association,1977)
In the 1960s, the Kung family established Yue Lung Investment (裕隆置業, incorporated in 1963) and Yeuk Man Company Ltd (若文有限公司, incorporated in 1966) to engage in property development and investment. Outside of work, Kung Yeuk-man was very involved in the affairs of Panyu natives in HK and had served as president of the HK Pun U District Association where he donated the Yeuk Man Hall in its clubhouse in 1971.
In October 1981, Kung Yeuk-man died at the HK Sanatorium at the age of 88 and was survived by his widow Wong Sau-hin (王秀軒) and their three sons (in order of birth) – Kung Kwok-ching (龔國楨), Kung Kwong-sun and Kung Kwok-wai. He left an estate that was worth over HK$77 million at the time. (WKYP, 1980-10-9) The second son Kung Kwok-sun (龔國燊) joined Sam Kwong in the 1950s and served as managing director of the firm and director of the HK Weaving Mills Association. He sued his mother in 1985 over the family estate after his father’s death. The third son David Kung Kwok-wai (龔國維) attended Queen’s College and DBS in HK before furthering his studies in Manchester, UK in 1960. (WKYP, 1960-8-22) He returned to HK to join Sam Kwong and has been managing the firm.
In 1987, Sam Kwong acquired the 9th floor of Chung King Mansion for US$640,000 from Barbara Lau Wai-ling who used to run a nightclub in the building but had kept the floor empty for decades since its purchase. (Next Magazine, 2017-11-30) The Kowloon City mill has since been demolished but for whatever reason the site had also remained a vacant lot for at least two decades, with rats and mosquitos plaguing the neighborhood that prompted the District Council to call for re-development. Today, Sam Kwong Weaving is still an active firm but no longer engages in manufacturing.
This article was first posted on 26th October 2020.
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