Xu Beihong (left), Cheng Kinlo (middle) and Marcus C.C. Cheng (right)

Cheng Kinlo’s Collecting Journey

This summer, Christie's Hong Kong will present the collection of Cheng Kinlo, a vital educator in modern China, former supervisor of the South China Region and manager of the Hong Kong branch of Chung Hwa Book Company in the 20th century

Chung Hwa Book Company was founded by Lu Feikui (1886-1941) and others in Shanghai, 1912. It plays an unique and important role in the publishing industry, and has made indelible contributions in the fields of modern Chinese cultural history and printing history. In May 1927, Chung Hwa Book Company opened a branch in Hong Kong on Queen's Road on Hong Kong Island. Later, a printing factory was set up in Hong Kong for long-term development, which had a huge impact on Hong Kong's cultural industry. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, due to various reasons, Hong Kong attracted many cultured elites to come and live temporarily, thus Hong Kong Chung Hwa Book Company gathered these talents and became the meeting place for them in Hong Kong. Undoubtably, the Cheng brothers (Cheng Kinlo and Marcus C.C. Cheng), who were the head of the Hong Kong branch during this period, contributed tremendously for this phenomenon.

Hong Kong Chung Hwa Book Company Printing Factory
Hong Kong Chung Hwa Book Company Printing Factory

Cheng Kinlo (1892-1980), courtesy name Zijian, also known as Yupi and Jiaqi, was born in a scholarly family in Guangdong. He and his sixth brother, Marcus C.C. Cheng (1898-?), were in charge of Chung Hwa Book Company’s business in Hong Kong and Macau in the 1930s. His family has been running a tea business in Fujian for decades, and thus they had a deep friendship with the local gentry and cultural figures.

Cheng Kinlo served as the principal of Guishan Public Primary School in Xiangshan County, Guangdong in his early years. He travelled to Shanghai in the early 1920s and served as the sales director of Nanyang Brothers Tobacco Company, founded by patriotic businessmen Jian Zhaonan and Jian Yujie. During his tenure, he met Huang Manshi (1890-1963), who was also working in Nanyang Brothers Tobacco Company, and the two became working partners and close friends. Huang Manshi was transferred to Singapore in 1923 to be in charge of the company’s business in the Nanyang region. Later, Cheng Kinlo was appointed as the director of the Fujian Branch in 1925. Despite being separated by thousands of miles, the two remain close friends.

Various Artists, Three Albums of Correspondences. A set of three albums, ink on paper. Sold for HK$189,000 on 1 September at Christie’s Online

Various Artists, Three Albums of Correspondences. A set of three albums, ink on paper. Sold for HK$189,000 on 1 September at Christie’s Online

Various Artists, Correspondences from Persons of Virtue in Fujian. A set of four albums, with a total of eighty-three double leaves, ink on paper. Sold for HK$478,800 on 1 September at Christie’s Online

Various Artists, Correspondences from Persons of Virtue in Fujian. A set of four albums, with a total of eighty-three double leaves, ink on paper. Sold for HK$478,800 on 1 September at Christie’s Online

In the early 1930s, Cheng Kinlo was recruited by Lu Feikui to join Chung Hwa Book Company, and served as the director of the South China Region, overseeing the eight branches of Fujian, Guangdong, Shantou, Hong Kong, Singapore, Xiamen, Yunnan and Wuzhou. He stationed in Hong Kong and oversaw the construction of the Hong Kong printing factory. In 1933, Cheng Kinlo was asked by Lu Feikui to go to Singapore to inspect the business. During this trip, he visited his old friend Huang Manshi, and Huang often accompanied him on his trip in Singapore. Their interaction were well recorded in the book Nanyang Sanyue Ji, written by Cheng Kinlo and published by Chung Hwa Book Company in 1935.

Cheng Kinlo, Huang Manshi and others visiting the Lian Shan Shuang Lin Monastery in Singapore on 7 June 1933
Cheng Kinlo, Huang Manshi and others visiting the Lian Shan Shuang Lin Monastery in Singapore on 7 June 1933

Cheng Kinlo was well acquainted with the cultural circles, and had a lasting friendship with Xu Beihong (1895-1953). The two met in 1928, when Xu Beihong was invited by Huang Menggui (1885-1965), then Minister of Education of Fujian and the elder brother of Huang Manshi, to live in Fuzhou and participate in the first ever Exhibition of Fine Arts in Fujian. During the 1930s and 1940s, Xu Beihong often visited the Lingnan region. Whenever he was in Guanghzou, Hong Kong, or Macau, he was hosted by Cheng Kinlo and Marcus C.C. Cheng, and was introduced to the local cultural and art circles. In his trips to Hong Kong, Xu Beihong stayed at the residence of the Cheng brothers on Village Road in Happy Valley, and a temporary studio was set up for him to paint and for artists and scholars to gather.

Xu Beihong, Cheng Kinlo and Monk Xuyun.
Xu Beihong, Cheng Kinlo and Monk Xuyun.

Many of the albums in Cheng Kinlo's collection presented in the “Summer Reverie: Chinese Paintings Online” sale have titleslips inscribed and signed by Xu Beihong in 1938. Xu Beihong was taking photographing of his paintings in the Hong Kong Chung Hwa Book Company Printing Factory that year to publish his infamous paintings album. These titleslips were likely written during Xu’s stay at the Cheng’s residence. At the end of 1941, the Japanese army occupied Hong Kong. Cheng Kinlo and Marcus C.C. Cheng left Hong Kong in 1942 and went to Chongqing and Macau respectively to escape the war. Liao Jingwen (1923-2015), Xu Beihong's wife, recalled that Xu Beihong and her would travelled from Panxi, risking air raids by the Japanese through the Jialing River to visit Cheng Kinlo in Chongqing, they would always be delighted to see each other and would have long talks, demonstrating a very close relationship.

A sketch of Cheng Kinlo by Xu Beihong, dated May 1937
A sketch of Cheng Kinlo by Xu Beihong, dated May 1937
Many of the albums in Cheng Kinlos collection presented in this sale have titleslips inscribed and signed by Xu Beihong in 1938.
Many of the albums in Cheng Kinlo's collection presented in this sale have titleslips inscribed and signed by Xu Beihong in 1938.
Lin Ji (1660-1723)  Lai Hongren (17th-18th Century), Calligraphy in Regular Script  Handwritten Letter to Mr. Lei Hong from Lai Hongren. A set of two albums, ink on paper. Sold for HK$352,800 on 1 September at Christie’s Online
Lin Ji (1660-1723) / Lai Hongren (17th-18th Century), Calligraphy in Regular Script / Handwritten Letter to Mr. Lei Hong from Lai Hongren. A set of two albums, ink on paper. Sold for HK$352,800 on 1 September at Christie’s Online

Summer Reverie: Chinese Paintings Online is proud to present the collection of Cheng Kinlo, a vital educator in modern China, former supervisor of the South China Region and manager of the Hong Kong branch of Chung Hwa Book Company in the 20th century. The collection includes a series of paintings and calligraphy, fan leaves, rubbings, and albums of correspondences with important historical significance, enriching the essential historical materials for studying the interaction of intellectuals in modern Chinese cultural circles. This is truly an important collection not to be missed.

Wen Qiqiu (1862-1941), Landscape after Ancient Masters. Album of fourteen leaves, ink and colour on silk. Each leaf measures 14.7 x 10.8 cm. (5 34 x 4 14 in.). Sold for HK$88,200 on 1 September at Christie’s Online
Wen Qiqiu (1862-1941), Landscape after Ancient Masters. Album of fourteen leaves, ink and colour on silk. Each leaf measures 14.7 x 10.8 cm. (5 3/4 x 4 1/4 in.). Sold for HK$88,200 on 1 September at Christie’s Online
He Jing (1816-1888), Correspondences. Album of twenty-two double leaves, ink on paper. Sold for HK$151,200 on 1 September at Christie’s Online
He Jing (1816-1888), Correspondences. Album of twenty-two double leaves, ink on paper. Sold for HK$151,200 on 1 September at Christie’s Online
Yi Mo (1850-1905) and Others, Calligraphy Round Fan Leaves Collection. A set of nine round fan leaves, mounted for framing, ink on silk  ink on gold paper. Various sizes, each leaf measures approximately 25 cm. (9 34 in.) in diameter. Sold for HK$25,200 on 1 September at Christie’s Online
Yi Mo (1850-1905) and Others, Calligraphy Round Fan Leaves Collection. A set of nine round fan leaves, mounted for framing, ink on silk / ink on gold paper. Various sizes, each leaf measures approximately 25 cm. (9 3/4 in.) in diameter. Sold for HK$25,200 on 1 September at Christie’s Online