Wah Ying Cheong (華英昌): from Gold Mountain Firm to Real Estate Empire

York Lo: Wah Ying Cheong (華英昌): from Gold Mountain Firm to Real Estate Empire

Incorporated in 1936 but founded earlier in the late 19th century, Wah Ying Cheong is one of the oldest Chinese companies in Hong Kong that had played an important role in the remittance of overseas Chinese as a Gold Mountain guild in its early years and later transitioned to become one of the early real estate developers in HK with buildings in prime locations in Hong Kong and Kowloon.

Bridging the Fragrant Harbor with Gold Mountain

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Left: Wah Ying Cheong’s original premises at 290 Des Voeux Road; Right: letter from Chan Hung-sum at Wah Ying Cheong in HK to Wa Chong Co in Seattle, Washington in 1936 (Wing Luke Museum)

Wah Ying Cheong started out as a Gold Mountain firm (金山莊), a firm which specialized in trade and remittances between the Chinese immigrants in the US and their native villages in China and Hong Kong in the late 19th century and early 20th century similar to the ones started by the families of Li Sing and Fung Tang covered earlier in the group. Located at 290 Des Voeux Road Central, the firm was formed by members of the Chan clan from Doushan district (斗山) in Toishan county in Guangdong, the home to many Chinese immigrants in  America and as a result, many of its customers were either surnamed Chan or came from the Doushan district of Toishan.

From the accounting records of Wah Ying Cheong from 1899 to 1952 in the Special Collections of the HKU Libraries (which provides important insights into Chinese immigration and overseas Chinese banking and commerce in the early 20th century), the overseas business partners of Wah Ying Cheong included several firms in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York and they also handled money sent from San Diego, Boston, Chicago, Victoria, Vancouver, Montreal, Singapore, Rangoon, Manila, Osaka and New Zealand. Within Toishan, Wah Ying Cheong worked primarily with Yi Chang in Doushan but also had twenty partners scattered around Doushan and the five districts of Nafu, Duhu, Guanghai, Xialang and Chonglou. (“Trading with Gold Mountain” by Madeline Hsu in pp 29-31 ofChinese American Transnationalism by Sucheng Chan)

Many customers utilized the services of Wah Ying Cheong for decades. One example was Chen Kongzhao, who started out as a labourer in the US remitting small amounts through Wah Ying Cheong to his relatives back home in 1905 to becoming a prosperous businessman with large sums to invest and donate in the 1920s to a retiree in HK collecting dividends from his savings account at the firm in 1935. Allegedly the Tam brothers of Wai Yee Co and 3000 (see article) set up their shoe stores next to Wah Ying Cheong as many clients who collected remittances from the firm had money to spend.

In 1941, records showed that Wah Ying Cheong helped 11 customers set sail for the United States, of which eight did so using paper identities. (Dreaming of Gold, Dreaming of Home by Madeleine Hsu)

The head of Wah Ying Cheong before the War was Chan Hung-sum (陳孔森), whose aliases were Sheung-yiu (襄堯) and Ting-tung (廷棟) and he along with other fellow Toishan merchants werethe founders of the Tai Wo Hospital (太和醫院) in Toishan in 1931 in addition to serving as director of Sze Yup Industrial & Commercial Society, Toi Shan Chamber of Commerce and Wah On Association. In September 1949, Chan Hung-sum died in HK and was succeeded at Wah Ying Cheong by his son Chan Kwok-ping, who would transform the firm into a real estate developer.(KSDN, 1949-9-9)

Post-War Real Estate Development

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Left: Chan Kwok-ping; Right: (KSEN, 1978-4-14); Right: A 100 feet crack along the pipes between Hung Sum Building and Wah Ying Cheong Kowloon Building in 1978 (KSEN, 1978-4-14)

Born in Toishan in 1919, Chan Kwok-ping (also known as Mang-pok孟博 and Chan Sing Yam) came to HK at the age of 6 and went to Pui Ching Middle School in Canton. He went to university in San Francisco and was enlisted in the US Army during WWII, fighting in the Pacific. After the War, he studied arts in Los Angeles where he married his wife in 1948 and returned to HK to take over Wah Ying Cheong upon his father’s death in 1949. He named the property he developed at 230 Nathan Road -Hung Sum Building (孔森樓) in memory of his father and developed the Wah Ying Cheong Kowloon Building (華英昌九龍大厦) next door at 232-238 Nathan Road.

In early 1958, Wah Ying Cheong applied to the Tenancy Tribunal to re-develop 90-96 Nathan Road into a 11-story hotel at the cost of $2.28 million with the first two floors as shops. The tenants hired a legal dream team comprised of Patrick Yu, Leung Wing-lim and Henry Hu to challenge the application and the Court ruled in favor of the tenants. (WKYP, 1958-3-5) 90-94 Nathan Road was ultimately developed into Burlington House (華敦大廈) by a consortium comprised of Henry Hsu (see article on YauLuen Investment), Wu Shun-tak, Fong Hin-yeung (see article on Lee On) and Lai Yiu-kau in 1962 while Chan Kwok Ping under the name of Chan Sing Yam developed 96 Nathan Road into Milton Mansion (美敦大廈)in 1964. The same year, he built Harvest Moon House (金滿樓)at 337-339 Nathan Road.

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Wah Ying Cheong ad for Woosung House in 1960 (WKYP, 1960-6-18)

In 1960, Wah Ying Cheong developed the 12-story Woosung House (吳淞大樓) at 123-129 Woosung Street in Yaumatei with the first three floors (a total space of 7000 sq ft) as shops and buyers who could pay in one lump sum received a 10% discount.

In 1968, Wah Ying Cheong developed the 17-story Jade House (玉滿樓) at 210-214 Hennessy Road in Wanchai with five units per floor starting at $30000 each. (WKYP, 1968-3-28) The same year, Chan Kwok-ping began serving four terms as chairman of the HK Toi Shan Chamber of Commerce and he and his successors helped to build a portfolio of 6 properties which generated annual rental income of $20 million that supports two schools, clinic and other services provided by the organization.

In the early 1970s, Wah Ying Cheong re-developed eight old buildingsat 158-164 Queen’s Road Central into the 14-story Wah Ying Cheong Central Building (華英昌中區大廈).Designed by the famous architect Szeto Wai (see article on Sang Lee), the building which was completed in 1975 had 2600 sq ft on each floor and eight storefronts facing Wellington Street and a large space of 13000 sq ft facing Queen’s Road Central with an elevator connecting from the second to fifth floors for a restaurant.  (WKYP, 1975-10-16)

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Article about Wah Ying Cheong Central Building in 1971 (WKYP, 1971-11-4)

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Left: Ad for Wah Ying Cheong Building at 288 Des Voeux Road Central in 1991 (TKP, 1991-4-23); Right: Wah Ying Cheong Central Building

In 1990, Wah Ying Cheong re-developed six old buildings at 288 Des Voeux Road Central into the 24-story Wah Ying Cheong Building with four units per floor ranging from 500 to 2000 sq ft and monthly rent starting at $30 per sq ft, which was half the going rent in Central at the time. (WKYP, 1990-2-19) The building was later renamed Eton Building.

Wah Ying Cheong Kowloon Building was acquired by the listed Success Holdings (see article on Alex Kwang and Chu Shek-lun)which in turn sold the 94000 sq ft building in Jordan for $225 million or average price per sq ft of $2300 in January 1991. (TKP, 1991-1-30) The building was re-developed into the 21-story 238 Nathan Road in 1999.

In June 1991, Wah Ying Cheong sold the Wah Ying Cheong Central Building to Rich Pleasure Investment Ltd (富欣投資) for $130 million. (TKP, 1991-6-27) The building has since been re-developed into the 23-story On Building in 2019.

Since China re-opened, Chan Kwok-ping and his wife has donated generously to his native Toishan including the Tai Wo Hospital which was founded by his father and for his contributions, he was named honorary citizen of Jiangmen in 1993. He died in 2011 and was survived by three sons – Calvin Chin (陳家仁),Gary Chin (陳家義) and Chin Gar-lai (陳家禮).

Sources (other than those cited above):

http://www.nanchens.com/hkcs/hkcs0601.htm

https://kknews.cc/zh-hk/society/2ao63br.html

http://oceandeeop3000.blogspot.com/2014/04/blog-post_30.html

This article was first posted on 9th July 2021.

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