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  • Writer's pictureRosie Wright

172-176 Queen's Road Central: An Untouched Gem

Updated: Apr 22, 2021

Stationed in the middle of the bustling streets of Sheung Wan lies a 100-year-old building that remains relatively untouched.

It is not clear exactly when the tenement building located on 172-176 Queen's Road Central, Sheung Wan, was built, but it is believed to have been constructed before 1900. The three-story tenement building retains its original exterior arcade architectural features, designed to provide a sheltered walkway for pedestrians. The arched corridor style is synonymous with Tong Lau style buildings in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Tong Lau, which translates literally to "Chinese building," were tenements designed for both residential and commercial uses. Typically the ground floor was reserved for business and the upper floors for residential use.

1920s Queen's Road Central. Photo: Gwulo

Although, at the time, many of the buildings on this road dated back to the mid-1800s, the classical design of this tenement would have blended in well with the surrounding colonial-style buildings. If you look closely at the tenement, you can see the remnants of a veranda that all three blocks would have possessed, another design typical to the Colonial era in Hong Kong. The rear of the tenement faces Wellington Street. The Wellington Street facing facade was commonly used for old Chinese commercial buildings and is less glamorous as it overlooks a side street.

Junction of Queen s Rd Central & Wellington St, Tuesday, January 1, 1935. Photo: Gwulo

Sincere Department Company

In 1900, 172-174 Queen’s Road Central housed the SincereDepartment Company's first-ever store, one of the oldest department chains in Hong Kong. Founded by Ma Yingbiao, Sincere - a name chosen to emulate the store’s guiding philosophy of honesty - was one of China's first stores to introduce Western retailing concepts. Ma bought the building in 1899 and opened the store the year after.

Ma, who had recently returned from Australia, is believed to have modeled the store from Anthony Hordern & Sons Department Store in Sydney. It was also one of the first stores in the East to employ female shop assistants. Traditional Chinese women were typically housewives and were in many ways discouraged from working outside of the home during this period. The shop initially struggled to hire any shop assistants in the first month, so much so that Ma’s wife, Ho Qingtang, and her two sisters-in-law took up the first assistant jobs. Following its success, a Sincere store was established in Guangzhou in 1914 and later opened a larger store on Des Voeux Road Street Central, where it held Hong Kong’s first-ever fashion show, using Chinese and Western models.

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