In the 1930s, the Wing On Company built a set of eight houses to accommodate members of its staff who were working in Shekki, Zhongshan, where the Company had a bank, a hotel and a department store in buildings all located within 300 metres of each other along the main business street, Sunwen Zhonglu (孙文中路). The entrance to the compound it which the houses are situated is via a gateway in a high brick wall – the gateway opens off a laneway called Yong’an Li (Wing On Lane). In the photo of the gateway, shown here, the characters on the plaque above the gateway (里 安 永) read: Lane On Wing, the traditional way of writing the characters. The characters on the blue street sign (永 安 里) read: Yong An Li, which stands for Wing On Lane in Mandarin Romanization.
The gateway to the compound, leading off Yong’an Li (Wing On Lane)
The compound contains four two-storey duplex buildings, two in the front, closest to the street, and two behind (a total of eight house altogether). A narrow passage connects the back row to the front row of houses. Both the front and back houses face onto an open space several metres wide.
One of the front row of houses, seen through the gateway. The man in the photo is Gan Jian Bo, a heritage expert formerly working for the government heritage bureau of Zhongshan.
The houses are in a style that was popular in Zhongshan in the early 1900s. Many of the houses built in their ancestral villages by people to migrated to Australia from Zhongshan are in this style, which is a hybrid of traditional elements (e.g., the doorway with its sliding bar-grill security gate) and new elements (the balcony on the upper floor).
The back row of houses showing the traditional ‘barred’ doorways and the modern (early 1900’s) balcony element.
The houses are listed on the Zhongshan City heritage register, under which they are protected from demolition or damage. A plaque to the side of the gateway to the compound states their heritage status. The houses are in a poor state of repair but all except one or two are still occupied. The wooden ceilings of the balconies have decayed and the painted motifs on these ceilings are only partly visible or have disappeared.
The heritage plaque (dated 2012) states the compound's heritage status
The Wing On Company became famous for its department stores in Hong Kong and Shanghai between the 1910s and 1940s. It began life in Sydney’s Chinatown as Wing On Fruit Wholesalers. It had strong ties to Zhongshan due to the fact that its founders were from Zhuxiuyuan village in Zhongshan.