Wah Keong Rubber Manufactory (華強膠廠)
York Lo: Wah Keong Rubber Manufactory (華強膠廠)
Fong Tse-yan delivering a speech at the Lui Fong Kwong Association dinner at the State Restaurant in 1961 (WKYP, 1961-4-20)
Wah Keong Rubber Manufactory was one of the top five manufacturers of rubber shoes alongside Fung Keong, Canton Bros, Continental and Hong Kong out of the over 100 players in the industry in the late 1940s. Like many of its peers, its history was plagued with labor unrests and industry headwinds.
Wah Keong was founded in 1936 (although as a firm it was not incorporated until 1956) by Fong Tse-yan (方子仁). A native of Dongguan, Fong’s fatherFong Ngok-fai (方萼輝) was a leading straw mat exporter in Dongguan, which has been known for its production of straw mats since before the Opium War and by the early 1910s was exporting over 2 million straw mats to the US and Europe on an annual basis. Fong was born in 1892 and helped his father manage the straw factory of Fou Yuen (阜源) but left for Hong Kong when the business failed in the mid-1930s. In HK, Wah Keong’s original factory was located at 4 Anchor Street. The firm joined the HK General Chamber of Commerce in 1940.
After the War, Wah Keong was constantly in the news for labor issues. According to recollections of leftist union leaders, they specifically targeted Wah Keong as 70% of its 500 workers were female and many of them were left leaning while the working conditions were bad. (香港妇女运动资料汇编, 1937-1949)In late December 1949, a strike broke out at Wah Keong over benefits and was resolved after seven days with intervention from the HK & Kowloon RubberWorkers Union. The owners agreed to a wage increase for all workers ranging from 20-40 cents per 100 pairs of shoes.
In late October 1951, Wah Keong began operating its production line only in the morning for about a month before completely suspending production in late November, affecting the livelihood of over 1000 workers and their families. According to the factory, the suspension was not due to labor issues but the slow sales of their products which were affected by Japanese products flooding the market and while they hope to resume production, they were unclear as to when. (TKP, 1951-11-28)
In March 1952, Wah Keong resumed production after four months of suspension but the labor unrest continued at the firm with workers belonging to the right wing Rubber Shoes Workers Union continued working while the left-wing Rubber & Plastic Workers Union picketed the factory with over 100 pickets for over two months during which police was brought in to maintain the peace while the left wing strikers were supported by the left wing press and “comfort missions” supplying food, umbrella, stools and other supplies were organized by the Federation of Trade Unions. (Benjamin Leung and Stephen Chiu, A Social History of Industrial Strikes and the Labor Movement in Hong Kong 1946-1989) In June, the factory manager Cheung Chun-ah and right-wing workers representative Tang Yu-woon met with the press to clarify that everything was fine at the firm and any rumors of unrest were spread by left wing newspapers. (KSDN, 1952-6-13)
In September 1961, Wah Keong was fined $1000 by the South Kowloon Magistrate for having 19 female workers working overtime in July after 8pm. (WKYP, 1961-9-22)
In 1964, Wah Keong moved to a four-story building at 23-27 Chai Wan Kwok Street in Tsuen Wan.
In April 1967, a fire broke out on the third floor of Wah Keong’s factory where the uppers were made due to electrical wiring issues. Firefighters managed to put out the fire within an hour but most of the machines and uppers on the floor were damaged. At the time 6 of the 300 workers were living in the factory which had its office and assembly department on the second floor and machine and steam rooms on the ground floor. (WKYP, 1967-4-24) By 1969, its factory was located at 259 Apliu Street in Sham Shui Po. (AA Far East Businessman Directory, 1969)
Outside of business, Fong Tse-yan was involved with the Lui Fong Kwong Clansmen Association (雷方鄺宗親會) and served as its chairman in the 1960s.
As a firm, Wah Keong Rubber Manufactory was dissolved in 1975.
This article was first posted on 18th June 2021.
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