Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Kwok Bew (1868–1932)

by Adrian Chan and Frank Farrell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Kwok Bew (1868-1932), merchant, was born in January 1868 in Chung Shan district near Canton, China, son of Chap Hing, farmer, and his wife Fung Size. After the death of his father, Kwok left for New South Wales in 1883, working as a door-to-door salesman at Grafton and later as a produce merchant in Sydney. Known in Australia as George Bew, he married 16-year-old Darling Young, daughter of Ma Tin Young, a Bourke merchant, at the Presbyterian Chinese Church in Foster Street, Sydney, on 16 September 1896; he became a Christian.

Through his Wing Sang & Co. he expanded from general produce into a marketing agent for fruit and vegetables supplied by Chinese gardeners in northern New South Wales, Queensland and the Pacific. The Wing Sang grew rapidly and with several other Chinese enterprises managed to control the wholesale banana market in New South Wales and Queensland. By 1899 the Wing Sang had an annual turnover of some £36,000 from the Queensland banana trade and next year the firm started importing bananas from Fiji. In the early 1900s Bew was a founder of Wing On & Co., an expanding commercial conglomerate.

As proprietor of one of the Chinese community's outstandingly successful firms, George Bew emerged as a business leader of considerable influence. He played a leading role in negotiations which led to the formation of the China-Australia Mail Steamship Line in November 1917. His strongest support within the Chinese community came from merchants of Chung Shan origin, who looked upon him as their leader, and in 1904 Bew became a vice-president of the Chinese Merchants' Defence Association, formed to counter the propaganda of 'White Australia' merchants. He had also been a founder of the Chinese Empire Reform Association in 1901, but a decade later became a supporter of Sun Yat-sen, the Chung Shan revolutionary leader, and helped to establish the Chinese Republic News in Sydney in February 1914. The paper circulated extensively in Australasia, the South Pacific, the Straits Settlements, Hong Kong and China itself. Sydney began to emerge as a centre of the republican movement among Nanyang Chinese and in April 1916 a Chinese Nationalist League of Sydney (Kuomingtang) was established with Bew as president.

Late in 1917 he returned to China to found the Wing On emporium in Shanghai. Kwok continued to show creativity and business acumen. The emporium specialized in quality local and imported goods and became the largest department store in China. Sales staff were trained in English and French and encouraged to become Presbyterian Christians. Kwok sought to ensure that his entrepreneurial role would be conducted in a safe political environment: he became quite prominent in the Kuomingtang through his financial contributions and successful fund-raising activities; while his home and business enterprises, by the early 1920s expanding into banking, retail and manufacturing, were located in the foreign concessions in Shanghai and Canton.

Kwok died on 3 January 1932 in Shanghai, survived by his wife, four sons and four daughters. At the time of his death he was a director of the Chinese Government Mint as well as managing director of the Wing On Co. Ltd.

Select Bibliography

  • C. F. Yong, The New Gold Mountain (Adel, nd)
  • J. H. C. Sleeman, White China (Syd, 1933)
  • Royal Commission on the Fruit Industry, Parliamentary Papers (Commonwealth), 1913, 4, p 1
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 6 Feb 1932.

Citation details

Adrian Chan and Frank Farrell, 'Kwok Bew (1868–1932)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kwok-bew-7002/text12173, published in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 29 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Guo Biao
  • Bew, George
Birth

January 1868
Guangzhou, Guangdong, China

Death

3 January 1932
Shanghai, China

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation