Cotton-Spinning: Past and Future (Part 1)
CHAT tells the story of textile through voices spanning generations, industries and disciplines. Here at CHAT, we invite different stakeholders to respond to and activate the stories from the CHAT Memory Bank based on interviews with these former factory workers. In this article, CHAT’s 2021 intern Michelle Leung brings to life the story of James Wong, a third-generation cotton spinner.
The grandson of the founder of Hong Kong Spinners, James Wong is currently the chairman of HKS Group International Limited. James and his wife Christine recount their memories of Hong Kong Spinners, also the people and things they encountered. As the younger generation of the cotton-spinning empire, James shares his views on the future of Hong Kong’s cotton-spinning industry.
The Beginning of Hong Kong Spinners
As a result of China’s reform policies, James Wong’s great-grandfather and grandfather, C Y Wong and Wong Toong Yuen, moved from Shanghai to Hong Kong to set up factories at the end of the 1940s, settling eventually in Cheung Sha Wan. The area at the time was akin to a coastal region, with many fishermen residing in wooden houses. They situated the factory between Cheung Sha Wan and Sham Shui Po, with only a British army facility (Sham Shui Po Barracks) nearby. Thus the history of Hong Kong Spinners (named Peninsula Spinners at the time) began in Cheung Sha Wan, before it had developed into an industrial area. Every employee of the spinning mill were given a cotton handbook, which they all treated almost like a sacred text. The booklet outlined the reasons and processes of migration from Shanghai to Hong Kong, as well as information on the structure of the cotton yarn.
Not long after founding Peninsula Spinners, Wong Toong Yuen set up the Hong Kong Cotton Mills on Hong Kong Island, before finally establishing the third company, Hong Kong Spinners, Ltd., to merge the two spinning mills. Though the former site of Hong Kong Spinners at Cheung Sha Wan has now been sold to Li & Fung Limited, it regardless has left a mark in the city. To this day, many minibus routes still have a ‘Hong Kong Spinners’ stop outside the Hong Kong Spinners Industrial Building.
The Iconic Red Rose
While Nan Fung Textiles uses the Golden Cup as one of its cotton yarn labels, Hong Kong Spinners is known for its Red Rose label. The reason behind the iconic Red Rose label is their family’s love of roses, passed down from Wong Toong Yuen to his song James St. Wong, no more apparent than in the name of their residence on Peak Road, the Rose Villa. These red roses are a symbol for the quality of their yarn. Between the pink rose and red rose, the latter is regarded to be the better quality.
Different Cotton Spinners
Recalling other cotton spinners in Hong Kong, James recalls a little-known fact: the unexpected friendship between his grandfather Wong Toong Yuen and the founder of Nan Fung Textiles, Dr Chen Din-Hwa. Both leaders in the local cotton-spinning industry, they remained very close friends, often spending time discussing the sources of raw materials and sharing relevant knowledge and resources, despite occasionally butting heads. Hong Kong Spinners rented Nan Fung Textiles’ factories in Ta Chuen Ping Street, Kwai Chung to store cotton. Later, they formed a trade union together, and the two would go directly to the government to make appeals and negotiate.
Outside of cotton-spinning, the two also shared a common interest of bowling and Wong would often ask Chen to bowl together. As the third- and second-generation owner of the spinner, James and his father still maintain good rapport with other spinning mills, in particular third-generation members who grew up together.
Drawing frame in action in the 1980s
Read Part 2 here.
If you or anyone you know has worked in the textile industry and would be willing to share your stories, we would love to hear from you. Please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line ‘CHAT Memory Bank’ or call +852 3108 2399.