The Sincere Department Store was one of the first department stores established in Hong Kong. It was founded by Ying Piu Ma (馬應彪) (1864-1944) and his business partners in 1900.
Ying Piu Ma was born in Shachong, Zhongshan, in 1864. He came to Australia in 1881 where he worked on the gold fields of NSW before becoming involved in the fruit trade. In 1892, together with fellow villagers from Zhongshan including Joe Young Ma, George Kwok Bew and James Hing Choy, he formed Wing Sang & Co, based in the Haymarket, Sydney, a company that was engaged in wholesaling and retailing fruit and vegetables. Ying Piu Ma made a fortune through the commercial success of Wing Sang & Co.
Ying Piu Ma sailed for Hong Kong in 1894 where he started Wing Cheung Tai & Co. (永昌泰金山莊), a company operating in the import and export trade and providing remittance services for Chinese migrants in Australia. Possibly inspired by the Anthony Hordern & Sons Department Store in Sydney, Ying Piu Ma, along with 11 partners, set up the Sincere Department Store on 172 Queens Road Central in 1900. The name ‘sincere’, with its connotation of honesty, was adopted as the guiding philosophy of the company. Ying Piu Ma introduced modern Western retailing concepts with the store—it was the first store in China to employ female shop assistants and it pioneered the adoption of a fixed price policy and the issuing of receipts to customers. Following the success of the Hong Kong store, in 1914 Ying Piu Ma and Woon Nam Wong (黃煥南) set up a Sincere store in Changti (長堤) of Guangzhou (now the Guangzhou Huaxia 華夏Company).
Sincere’s main store at 173 Des Voeux Road, Central, Hong Kong, opened in 1917 (shown here in the 1960s) (Source: SCMP)
In 1917, building on the company’s success in Hong Kong and Guangzhou, the company opened a seven-floor Sincere department store on the corner of Nanjing and Zhejiang Roads, Shanghai. This reinforced concrete structure was ornamented with columns and a corner tower. The ground floor had sections for groceries and provisions, wines, kitchenware, tobacco, perfumes and confectionery. The first floor was for drapery, millinery, tailoring, furs. The second floor had sections for porcelain and other household supplies, electric goods and toys. The third floor housed the general office of the company and the furniture department. The department store also had a rooftop garden where dance parties and concerts were hosted in summer for customers. Ying Piu Ma’s wife Hing Tong Fok and her two sisters-in-law volunteered as female shop assistants at the store. In the years before 1949, Sincere, Wing On, Sun Sun and Da Sun were regarded as the four big Chinese department stores of Shanghai.
In 1932, a branch of the Sincere Department Store was opened at Rua Cinco De Outubro (十月初五街) in Macau.
After 1949, Sincere together with the other three big department stores were nationalised by the PRC government. Since then, the ownership and names of the stores have been changed several times. Today, the Sincere Department Store in Shanghai has become Jinjiang Star Hotel (錦江之星酒店) and Shanghai Fashion Store (上海時裝商店).
An archive photo of the Shanghai Sincere Company’s lobby
The former Sincere Department Store in Nanjing Road, Shanghai, now turned into Jinjiang Star Hotel and Shanghai Fashion Store
The ornamented columns and tower on the corner of the Sincere Company building on Nanjing Road, Shanghai
The operation of the Hong Kong Sincere Company continues today. It was listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in 1972 and still owns department stores in Central, Causeway Bay, Mong Kok, Sham Shui Po, and Tsuen Wan, all in Hong Kong, and employ over 350 people. While the members of the Ma family still head the corporate board, the day-to-day operation of the company is run by non-family members. Over the years, the company has diversified into other businesses, including property investment, property development, securities trading, furniture manufacturing and advertising.
Sincere Department Store in Causeway Bay Hong Kong in 2014