The Moh Family and Hop Kee Pyrotechnics (合記烟花)

York Lo: The Moh Family and Hop Kee Pyrotechnics (合記烟花)

Fireworks is a big business with significant demand locally and globally and Hop Kee has been a leading exporter of fireworks and producer of firework displays in HK since the 1950s under the leadership of three generations of the Moh family.

Hop Kee Pyrotechnics Image 1 York Lo

Left: Mo Pooi-chew in the the early 1970s (SCJP, 1970-10-31); center: Hop Kee brochure for its Thunder Bird brand of fireworks in 1990; right: cover of the Hop Kee catalog in 2002 celebrating its 50th anniversary

Hop Kee was founded in 1952 by a Malaysian Chinese traderMo Pooi-chew (also spelled Pui-chiu, 毛沛樵, 1909-1989),a native of Dongguan who established the trading firms of Ng Keung (五強) in Penang and Luen Keong Chong (聯強出入口庄)at 92 Bonham Strand East in HK and acted as the representative of many products imported from HK and China in the Malayan market in the early 1950s, including those of four HK manufacturers – garment manufacturers Lee Yu Hing and Kwong Hing Tai which were covered earlier, Leung Yau Knitting (良友織造廠), the maker of “Poker Double Ace” and “Whale” brand singlets and vests and Golden Bell, a maker of water bottles. (SCJP, 1953-5-13)Luen Keong Chong was one of the leading trading firms in garment and textiles, holding one of the largest quotas in HK for export to America and in 1970, Mo partnered with Chan Swee-ho (who was also an investor in Din Wai’s Malaysian plant, see article) and Japanese textile giant Toyobo to establish Imperial Garment Sdn Bhd (帝國製衣廠) to manufacture garments in Ipoh, Malaysia with Luen Keong Chong supplying fabric, buttons and collars. (NYSP, Straits Times, 1970-10-31)

As his hometown of Dongguan has been known for production of fireworks for centuries, Mo established Hop Kee Hong (合記行) in HK as a joint venture with Dongguan Import/ Export Natural Produce Corporation in 1952 to export Dongguan fireworks from China to HK, Macau and Southeast Asian countries. Three years later, Hop Kee added fireworks from Hunan and Jiangxi provinces.

With close business and political ties to the mainland, Mo Pui-chiu was elected to the board of the pro-Beijing Chinese General Chamber of Commerce (CGCC)and when his third son Moh Ho-ling (毛浩苓) got married in 1963, the wedding banquet at King Wah restaurant in Mongkok was attended by over 1000 guests including CGCC leaders such as K.C. Wong, Chow Yau (both covered earlier), Ko Cheuk-hung, Tong Ping-tat and Yip Yeuk-lam, leaders from Macau such as Ma Man-kei, Ho Yin and the firecrackers king Chan Lan-fong , business leaders from Singapore such as Ko Teck-kin (chair of Chung Kiaw Bank and Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce who died in HK in 1966), Lien Ying-chow (founder of Overseas United Bank) and Leung Yun-chi (founder of Kwan Loong medicated oil) and Thai leaders such as Niphat Chinnakorn (謝樞泗) who developed the city of Hat Yai in the Thai-Malay border, highlighting his extensive network of connections across the region. (TKP, 1963-12-27) According to his grandson, Pui-chiu also personally knew Premier Zhou En-lai.

In 1959, Pui-chiu’s son Alex Moh Ho-chap(毛浩輯) who graduated from Heung To Middle Schooland attended Guangzhou Sports Academy joined Hop Kee and the firm began shipping fireworks to the Middle East and South and Central America.In 1962, Alex began researching fireworks displays and launched his first firework display in Victoria Harbor for the PRC National Day on October 1, 1963.In 1966, Hop Kee began to do firework displays in Singapore and Malaysia and later did work in Brunei, Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand in the 1970s. Between 1966 and 1980, Hop Kee did 150 large scale shows across the globe and emerged as the largest fireworks exporter and fireworks show producer in HK and Southeast Asia.

Hop Kee Pyrotechnics Image 2 York Lo

Wedding picture of Alex Moh in 1960 (WKYP, 1960-10-12); Right: Alex Moh (right) and his son Wilson Mao with fireworks (Oriental Daily)

After President Nixon’s China visit in 1972 and the re-opening of direct US-China trade, Hop Kee entered the US market and experienced a period of high growth. Over time, the firm opened offices in Los Angeles and Salt Lake City andremains one of the largest fireworks exporters to the US today.

In 1982, Alex Moh partnered with a U.S. display fireworks company to launch the first largescale fireworks display in Victoria Harbor for Chinese New Year in 1982. Since then, the fireworks display has become the most significant harbor event for Hong Kong and one of the most prestigious fireworks show on earth. In 1985, Hop Kee Pyrotechnics was incorporated. In 1989, Moh Pui-chiu died at the age of 80 at the Kwong Wah Hospital in HK. (TKP, 1989-6-2). The same year, Alex’s son Wilson Mao (毛偉誠)joined the family business after graduation from University of Southern California with a civil engineering degree and several years of experience as a fireworks specialistat major theme parks in California (including Disneyland), Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida. He brought back some of the latest fireworks technology and in 1993, Hop Kee launched its “Thunder Bird” brand of fireworks which has been used during many major celebrations around the globe including the World Cup in Paris in 1998, the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002 and Guy Fawkes Day in the UK and 4th of July celebrations in the US every year.

In 1994, the Moh family formed Pyro-Magic Multi-media Productions (港星多媒體製作有限公司), which has been responsible for the production of almost all the major multi-media events in Hong Kong in the past three decades such as “Tsing Ma Bridge Opening” in April 1997, “Sino-British Handover Fireworks Display” in June 1997, “Millennium Extravaganza in Happy Valley” in 2000, “Fortune Global Forum” in 2001, “5th Anniversary of Handover for HKSAR” in 2002, the annual “Hong Kong Rugby Seven Closing” since 2001, the annual “Chinese New Year Fireworks Display” since 1998, the annual “China National Day Fireworks Display” since 1998, and“The Symphony of Lights” ,which was named the “World’s Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show” by Guinness World Records since 2003.

Since 2003, Pyromagic has participated in many international fireworks and pyrotechnic competitions across the globe and won many awards. Since 2007, the firm has successfully conducted the pyrotechnic display for the annual mega New Year Countdown in HK, which involvesfireworks being discharged from 10 – 18 rooftops and IFC 2, together with other multi-media lights, laser and sound covering more than 40 buildings on both sides of Victoria Harbor. In December 2009, the firm did the firework show for the opening of East Asian Games where 4-barge fireworks and 10-rooftop pyrotechnics was being fired simultaneously and remotely live, for the first time, along with live marine parade and show performance at Hong Kong Cultural Centre.

Outside of the fireworks business, Alex Moh has been active in the sports circle as he was a track star in his younger days and has served as vice president of the HK Amateur Athletic Association and chairman of Citizen Athletic Association (公民體育會). (TKP, 1984-11-10) His third daughter Donna Moh Tjan (毛巧珊) also graduated from USC and worked for the US subsidiary of Hop Kee. (TKP, 1990-4-23)

Pui-chiu’s daughter Alice Mo Moo-ching (毛慕貞) worked as a teacher for 5 years after graduation from HK Baptist College in 1966 and married her Thai Chinese classmate Wanchai Chiranakhorn (謝德耀, 1939-2017). She later pursued a career in banking and worked for Thai Military Bank from 1985 until her retirement in 2000. Her husband worked for the London and HK branch of Bangkok Bank before serving as executive director of Liu Chong Hing Bank from 1987 to 1995 (and served on its board until his death).

Sources (other than those cited above):

This article was first posted on 2nd April 2021.

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