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June 8, 2019

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The store of perpetual peace: a Shanghai icon born in Australia

THE store of perpetual peace is one of the best-known and most famous landmarks in Shanghai.

Its two-street front brilliant at night with neon light, its needle-like spire piercing the dark skylike a flashing sword — that is Wing On, a Shanghai institution.

For that is what Wing On means — perpetual peace. This great department store, always crammed with shoppers from basement to roof, has had a long and varied history and has grown to be one of the largest and most famous stores in the Far East.

Wing On is a glorified Shanghai Woolworth’s, combining low prices and high quality goods. Everything from safety pins to baseburner heater/stoves, from garters to rugs, from salt to socks, can be found in the teeming isles of the big store at the corner of Nanking and Chekiang Roads — one of the busiest crossroads in this city, and a fairyland of blazing light after nightfall.

Back in 1800, or the thereabouts, several astute Chinese merchants, living far from their Canton homes in Sydney, formed a small company and opened a small store in that Australian capital. These overseas merchants called their modest little shop Wing On.

The store brought rich returns to these self-exiled merchants. As it grew the merchants eventually returned to China.

In 1916, J. B. Lock, Kwok Bew, and others opened another Wing On store in Hong Kong. It proved so successful that two years later, in 1918, it was decided to form a new company and open a new store in the thriving metropolis of Shanghai.

The present Wing On store was capitalized at HK$2,500,000 (US$320,000). It has never moved, but it is not always as large as it is today. For 14 years, Wing On occupied a position along Nanking Road only — the large part of the store which fronts on Chekiang Road was added five years later, in 1923.

The store has grown by leaps and bounds, and today it is a thriving, wealthy concern, employing about 1,000 people.

Its many ramifications include three cotton textile mills in Shanghai which are associated with the store and combines many other outside interests. Its capital today is approximately US$10 million in 1931, and its business amounted to about US$15 million.

— Excerpt from the China Press, December 5, 1932


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