Yick Kwan Gripe Water (益群肥仔水)

York Lo: Yick Kwan Gripe Water (益群肥仔水)

Yick Kwan Gripe Water Image 1 York Lo

Left: Yick Kwan Dispensary in Central in 1948 next to Chinese Optical and Sam Tai Distillery. Right: newspaper ad of Yick Kwan gripe water in Shenbao in Shanghai, 1948

Flipping through old pictures and old newspapers from Hong Kong in the 1940s through 1960s, one can often find the ads or street signs for “Yick Kwan Gripe Water”, which was a popular non-prescription product at the time to relieve colic and other gastrointestinal ailments of infants.

Gripe water was invented in 1851 by British pharmacist William Woodward whose Woodward’s brand (known locally as 吳德物次) remain one of the most popular brands of gripe water. (In 1955, the Department of Industry and Commerce charged 90 pharmacies in HK in carrying counterfeit Woodward’s Gripe Water, highlighting the popularity of gripe water at the time)

Yick Kwan Gripe Water was developed by Yick Kwan Dispensary (益群大藥房), which was incorporated in March 1941. Little information is available about its proprietor Mok Lo (莫露) despite the popularity of his product. It was likely him who came up with the catchy Chinese term “肥仔水” for gripe water. By the late 1940s, Yick Kwan’s product was popular nationwide and was sold in major cities in China such as Shanghai and Canton. By the 1950s, Chi-Leung Mok (致良, likely a son of Mok Lo), a graduate of Lingnan University, was also listed as a contact for the firm. Yick Kwan also had a branch in Macau at 13, Avenue Alm. Ribeiro.  

Yick Kwan Gripe Water Image 2 York Lo

Left: Yick Kwan Dispensary on the left from a different view of Queen’s Road Central (HKPL); Right: Yick Kwan Gripe Water sign atop a building at the intersection of Nathan Road and Waterloo Road during the Queen’s coronation celebration in 1953

Although the Moks were big on print and outdoor advertising, they were very low key and there are only a few news clippings about the firm over the years. In October 1941, a fire broke out at Yick Kwan’s warehouse at the basement of 71 Queen’s Road Central, causing several tens of thousands of dollars for both Yick Kwan and the Tak Cheong Lung tailor shop above. Another fire broke out in 1947 at Yick Kwan’s premise at 69 Queen’s Road Central, resulting in HK$40000 worth of damages In 1955, the landlord of the plot which Yick Kwan and its neighbors such as Sam Tai Distillery occupied wanted to re-develop the plot and began eviction proceedings Yick Kwan. In court, the Yick Kwan representative sought $60000 in compensation as they have spent over $32000 in renovation costs over the years but the lawyer representing the landlords argued that Yick Kwan paid only $1500 a month for rent so the amount sought was equivalent to four years of rent. By the early 1990s, the contact for Yick Kwan was listed as Mok Tat-suen (莫達孫), possibly a third-generation member of the family and the address of the firm was listed as 11B at Hang Lung House at 184-192 Queen’s Road Central. As a firm, Yick Kwan DIspensary is still a live corporation today although its famous product is no longer available in the market.

Sources:

Xianggang Zhonghua zong shang hui hui yuan ming lu. 1964-1965 nian

Business Directory of Hong Kong & Macao

香港工商日報, 1955-02-02; 1955-03-02

工商晚報, 1947-01-26;

大公報, 1941-10-06

中国商业企业全集: 香港, 工商出版社, 1993

This article was first posted on 4th March 2019.

One comment

  • York Lo

    Recently the author of this article ran into Eva Mok Chau, who happens to the granddaughter of Yick Kwan founder Mok Lo and she has kindly sent below email and filled in some of the details about her family and Yick Kwan:

    Dear York,

    It was more than wonderful to meet you at the CHSNE dinner a few weeks ago. It was very gracious of you to come to our table to say hello. I was honored, astonished, surprised with joy that I could meet the author who wrote the article on my grandfather’s company Yick Kwan Dispensary and his main product, Yick Kwan Gripe Water.
    I noticed your article about the history of my grandfather’s company during the beginning of my retirement. It definitely gave me a better insight of my own family history and my roots. Of course, I found it intriguing and fascinating as well.
    After reading your article and the information from Google ( 莫露梧), I got to know my grand father a lot better . I understand a lot more on a some aspects that impact our family tradition.
    I was informed that my grandfather was a self-made man. I always remembered that he was a kind and generous man. He took great care of his family and moreover to the members of his own village. I did not realize that his operation was quite an enterprise in those days.
    As a teenager growing up in Hong Kong in the sixties, I remembered that Yick Kwan Dispensary was an API ( Actual Pharmaceutucal Ingredients ) Pharmacy under the management of my father Yerk Hong Mok (莫若洪). He was a graduate of Lingnam University, class of 1949. His major was Chemistry. The person named Chee Leung Mok ( 莫至良) probably was my father’s cousin who managed the branch in Macau. My father was the managing director of the company until his passing in 1989. Then Tat Suen Mok(莫達孫) Who was the grandson of 莫伯驥, became the manager for the dispensary. Due to the lack of leadership and succession ,the business was closed by my Aunt Laura(莫䦞年) who is the younger sister of my father at the end of 1997. This ended an institute which survived the Japanese Invasion, the Second World War ,the Communist era and the Handover of Hong Kong . Yick Kwan Dispensary is still in operation as a company because there are some real estate properties which are still under the holdings of the company.
    It gives me great pleasure to pass on this information to my family member and children . I am sure they will appreciate the knowledge as much as I did.
    The article reflects Lo Mok’s accomplishment and achievement. This is his legacy.
    On behalf on the Mok family, I would very much like to show my sincere gratitude to your research, your time and interest in the history of Yick Kwan Dispensary an the product ,Yick Kwan Gripe Water .

    Sincerely Your,
    Eva

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