2014年9月9日 星期二

The True Story of Hui Bon Hoa and “Uncle Hoa’s Mansion”


Written by Chen Bichun




Many stories and legends have grown up around “Uncle Hoa’s Mansion” (Nhà Chú Hỏa), the former residence and workplace of the Hui Bon Hoa family in Saigon which now houses the Hồ Chí Minh City Fine Arts Museum. Following lengthy correspondence with Uncle Hoa’s descendants in Paris, Chen Bichun sets the historical record straight.


               Hui Bon Hoa (Huáng Wén Huá, 黃文華) was born in Xhamen in 1845. When he was 20 years old, he came to Saigon from Fujian province of China looking for work, and finally landed a job working in a pawn shop belonging to the Ogliastro company. His boss, Mr Antoine Ogliastro, suggested that he should apply for French nationality in order to build their further partnerships, and by 1887, Hui Bon Hoa had become a naturalised French citizen. The French pronounced his Chinese name according to the sounds of the Hokkien dialect as Hui Bon Hoa, so henceforth; Hui Bon Hoa became the family name. 
Family patriarch Hui Bon Hoa (photo provided by Fernand Hui Bon Hoa)

                Hui Bon Hoa’s main business activities were pawn shops and real estate. As he began to prosper, his three sons, Thang-Hung Hui Bon Hoa (黃仲訓), Thang Chanh Hui Bon Hoa (黃仲讚) and Thang Phien Hui Bon Hoa (黃仲評), also came to Saigon to help him take care of the family business. With their input, the family made other investments and gradually accumulated great wealth. In his old age, Hui Bon Hoa returned to China with his wife, and in 1901 he died and was buried in Quanzhou.

The second generation of the Hui Bon Hoa family. From left to right: Thang Chanh, Thang Hung and Thang Phien Hui Bon Hoa (photo provided by Fernand Hui Bon Hoa)

               The registered address of the Hui Bon Hoa Company was 97 rue d' Alsace-Lorraine (modern Phó Đức Chính street), and in the late 1920s, four large buildings were constructed at this site, eventually occupying much of the block encircled by rue d’Alsace Lorraine, rue Calmette, rue d’Ayot (Nguyễn Thái Bình) and rue Hamelin (Lê Thị Hồng Gấm). These were:

1. The building of the Hui Bon Hoa company;
2. The building of Thang Phien Hui Bon Hoa;
3. The building of Thang Hung Hui Bon Hoa; and
4. The building of Thang Chanh Hui Bon Hoa.



              Today, the buildings of the Hui Bon Hoa company and of Thang Hung Hui Bon Hoa are home to the Hồ Chí Minh City Fine Arts Museum, while the building of Thang Phien Hui Bon Hoa is curently rented to a tenant. Sadly, the building of Thang Chanh Hui Bon Hoa no longer exists.

An advertisement for the Société Immobilière Hui Bon Hoa in the Guide pratique, renseignements et adresses. Saigon, Imp. J. Aspar, Saïgon, 1934
              The Hui Bon Hoa buildings are very famous in Saigon, but although they are still collectively known in Vietnamese as "Nhà Chú Hỏa" or "Uncle Hoa's Mansion," they were built nearly three decades after the death of patriarch Hui Bon Hoa. Chinese people called the Huáng Róng Yuăn Táng (黃榮遠堂), which was also the company name in Chinese.

1. The building of the Hui Bon Hoa company, now part of the Hồ Chí Minh City Fine Arts Museum
Photo by Chen Bichun
                 The Hui Bon Hoa company building was the first of the four to be constructed. This was the headquarters of the Société Immobilière Hui-Bon-Hoa, SIHBH. The ground floor was reserved for company business, while the upper floor housed the family living area, including a traditional Chinese ancestral hall for worship. Thang Hung wrote poetry, and it was here in 1931 that he carved Chinese characters onto a horizontal inscribed board to commemorate the fact that he and his brother Thang Chanh could that year claim a combined age of 100. Ever since that time, the Chinese names of each successive generation have used one character from those on the board in sequence after the family name, Huáng . For example, the Chinese name of Fernand Hui Bon Hoa, the grandson of Thang Chanh Hui Bon Hoa, is 黃元仁 (fourth generation), while his father’s name is 黃慶杉 (third generation).  In this way, the family can understand which generation they are in the Hui Bon Hoa family, based on their Chinese name.

Thang Hung’s carved poem (photo provided by Fernand Hui Bon Hoa)
              By 1975, all of the Hui Bon Hoa family had left Việt Nam and the horizontal inscribed board disappeared. However, when one of the cousins of Fernand Hui Bon Hoa visited Việt Nam in 2007, he was lucky enough to find it in the hands of a street vendor, so he bought the board and took back to Paris.

              Many important events were held in the Hui Bon Hoa company building; guests were usually hosted in a large dining hall, located behind the first floor lobby. Behind the building was a family tennis court.

The funeral of Thang Chanh Hui Bon Hoa, held in front of the company building in 1934 (photo provided by Fernand Hui Bon Hoa)

2. The building of Thang Phien Hui Bon Hoa
Photo by Chen Bichun
                The building of Thang Phien Hui Bon Hoa was the second building to be constructed in the Nhà Chú Hỏa complex, and when it was completed, some of the family moved into this building. The architectural style was similar to the building of Thang Hung. Today, the lower floor is rented out to the Nostalgie Club, while the third floor is rented out as an apartment. However, the building will also soon become part of the Hồ Chí Minh City Fine Arts Museum.

 3. The building of Thang Hung Hui Bon Hoa
 
Photo by Chen Bichun


               Currently the main exhibition space of the Hồ Chí Minh City Fine Arts Museum, this was the most luxurious residential building in the Nhà Chú Hỏa complex. According to the brief of the Fine Arts Museum, construction of the building began in 1929 and it was completed in 1934. Recognized for its subtle fusion of oriental and western art deco design elements, the building became very famous in the Chinese world and in 1933 it was singled out for praise by The Chinese Times newspaper in Canada as the most luxurious building in Saigon.

           The building was constructed as the residence of Tang Hung Hui Bon Hoa, a second generation member of Hui Bon Hoa family. Born in 1876, he grew up in Xiamen and went to Việt Nam to work with his father after his marriage. In the 1910s, he went to Gulangyu Island, Xiamen, where set up the Huáng Róng Yuăn Táng (黃榮遠堂) and became involved in the real estate business, quickly becoming a successful and wealthy businessman in Gulangyu. Even today, there are still many luxurious buildings there which were constructed by Huáng Róng Yuăn Táng.

           After his brother Thang Chanh died, Tang Hung returned Saigon to manage the family business in Việt Nam. He remained there throughout the colonial period and passed away in 1951 in Saigon.

              The Hui Bon Hoa family left Việt Nam in the early 1970s, and after Reunification in 1975, the Vietnamese government took possession of the Nhà Chú Hỏa complex, which was initially used as an information and culture center. In 1987, the Hồ Chí Minh City Fine Arts Museum was established here and in 1992 it officially opened to visitors.


              According to the law of the Vietnam War Convention in 1996, French citizens who lived in Vietnam before 1975 are eligible get compensation for loss of property; therefore the Hui Bon Hoa family received a little compensation from the French government for the loss of the Nhà Chú Hỏa.

4. The building of Thang Chanh Hui Bon Hoa
Photo provided by Fernand Hui Bon Hoa

               Although this building was known as the building of Thang Chanh, he never actually lived in it. It was constructed after Thang Chanh passed away, when the family asked a French architect to design a residence for Chung Chanh’s wife and sons in the art deco style.

               Thang Chanh Hui Bon Hoa was the third son of Hui Bon Hoa. He was born on 10 November 1877 in Quanzhou, and after his marriage he went to Saigon to assist his father in business. He was known as a very smart businessman and under his management the family’s real estate business boomed. He purchased a great deal of land when real estate prices were low and built up a portfolio of many houses to sell and rent to others. It was thanks to Thang Chanh’s successful stewardship of the family business that the Hui Bon Hoa family became the richest family in Saigon. Thang Chanh lived in Saigon until his death in 1934.

                 After he died, Thang Chanh’s sons continued to work in family company. However, from the 1950s, members of Thang Chanh’s family began to move one after the other to other countries. After 1975, the Thang Chanh building became a Vietnamese bank, but a few years ago it was demolished.

The Hui Bon Hoa Family cemetery

                  In times gone by, most overseas Chinese wished to return to China to be buried in their homeland after their death. That is why, in their old age, family patriarch Hui Bon Hoa and his wife returned to live in Quanzhou, Fujian province, where they were buried. However, their tombs later fell victim to grave robbing.

               Second-generation members of the Hui Bon Hoa family were Franco-Chinese, even they had been born and brought up in China. Since by this time the foundation of the family business was in Việt Nam, they hoped that their descendants would remain in Việt Nam forever, so they decided that after their deaths they should be buried in Việt Nam. For this reason, they acquired a family plot in a Chinese cemetery in Đồng Nai province, where Thang Hung, Thang Chanh and other family members were buried. A master sculptor from China was brought to Việt Nam to design and build the ornately-carved tombs. A local person was also hired to take care of the tombs and a house was provided for this grave keeper to live in. To this day, the grave keeper and his family still live there and look after the tombs for the Hui Bon Hoa family.

           Since 1991, several members of the Hui Bon Hoa family from all over the world have travelled to Việt Nam to visit their ancestral tombs.

The tomb of Thang Chanh in the Chinese cemetery in Đồng Nai province (photo provided by Fernand Hui Bon Hoa)
          When the Hui Bon Hoa family was living in Việt Nam, they became skilled in the art of generating family wealth, but they also understood the importance of giving back to the community which had made them rich. In this way, the famous Vietnamese historian Vương Hồng Sển pointed out that Hui Bon Hoa was famous in Saigon, not only for being one of the wealthiest men in Cochinchina, but also for his philanthropy.

              Many of the houses in Saigon, Gia Định and Chợ Lớn owned by the Hui Bon Hoa company were made available at very low rent to poor people who would not otherwise have had a place to live. The important contribution this made is borne out by the old Saigonese proverb ở phố Chú Hỏa,” which suggests that the best place to live was on a street of houses built by Uncle Hỏa.

            Today, many valuable buildings constructed by the Hui Bon Hoa company still exist in Hồ Chí Minh City. Apart from the Hồ Chí Minh City Fine Arts Museum, these include the Majestic Hotel (Khách sạn Majestic, 1925), the Government Guest House (Nhà khách Chính phủ, 1930s) on Lý Thái Tổ street and many Chinese schools in the Chợ Lớn. In 1937, the Hui Bon Hoa Company also provided both the land and the money to build the Từ Dũ Hospital (Bệnh viện Từ Dũ), still one of the most important hospitals in Hồ Chí Minh City. Many old Saigonese people still remember the generosity of the Hui Bon Hoa family.

               In 2011, Fernand Hui Bon Hoa received an email from a Vietnamese American who wanted to come and visit Fernand in Paris to thank the Hui Bon Hoa family for what they had done. He explained that when he lived in Saigon he had been too poor to cure his seriously ill mother, but the Hui Bon Hoa hospital had treated her and cured her of her illness. All these years later, he still appreciated the help he had received from the Hui Bon Hoa family, and in 2011 he got the chance to express his appreciation by travelling to Paris and presenting Fernand with a special plaque for Hui Bon Hoa family.

Photo provided by Fernand Hui Bon Hoa
             Since the Nhà Chú Hỏa complex became the Hồ Chí Minh City Fine Arts Museum, it has attracted the attention of thousands of tourists from all around the world. Today, more and more people have expressed interest in the history of the Nhà Chú Hỏa and I am one of them.

             On the first occasion I visited the Fine Arts Museum, five years ago, I only knew that the owner of the building was a Chinese man named Hui Bon Hoa. For a long time I tried to find out more information about this Hui Bon Hoa, but I couldn’t find anything about him in Chinese, nor from books in Vietnamese and French. Fortunately, at the end of last year I received a response from Fernand Hui Bon Hoa, and since that time we have corresponded regularly to clarify the history of Hui Bon Hoa family. This year, I visited the Hồ Chí Minh City Fine Arts Museum again and it inspired me to write this article. The story of the Nhà Chú Hỏa is not just a story, it’s an important part of Saigon’s history.



17 則留言 :

  1. Great stuff! I've also heard a story of Hui Bon Hoa's son moving back to Quanzhou and building a near replica of the building that now houses the Fine Arts Museum. If you could contact me at ed [@] wordvietnam.com I'd love to see if we can find out more about this further legacy...

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  2. Thank you for writing down our family's history. Much appreciated!

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  3. My mom told me Uncle Hoa had a daughter who suffered mental illness then she died young in mansion and became a ghost haunted that house what is now HCM Fine Art Museum. Thank you very much for your writing , I will tell my mom. Great article.

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  4. 你好。可否告訴我那個坟場在dong nai 的哪里嗎?謝謝

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  5. Thank you very much for your thorough research on my family history. I would like to make a clarification regarding my grandfather THANG CHANH - he was the SECOND SON not third son as mentioned in the 2nd paragraph after photo no 4 in yoir article. Please make necessary amendments.

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    1. Fernand Hui Bon Hoa who is a grandson of Thang Chanh replied to you as below in French. I think you can understand French, so i did translate for you. :仲訓 était le N° 2, mon grand-père N°3, et le dernier frère N° 6. Les autres frères n' ont pas joué de rôle important dans la famille, et ne sont pas connus de l'extérieur. Agnès ne sait peut-être pas. Vous pouvez lui transférer ma réponse. J'écris en français, parce que mon nouveau PC n'est pas encore configuré pour le chinois. Lynn.

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  6. Great information on a prominent family of my hometown. Thank you.

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  7. Such a wonderful story of an elite family used to live and run business in Saigon. They contributed much for Saigon.
    Thank you!

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  8. À l’auteur CHEN,

    Merci beaucoup pour votre article de grande qualité.

    Je suis retraité en France.

    Durant mon adolescence à Cho Lon Viêt Nam vers 1967, j’avais un camarade au collège français, il s’appelait HUI Bon Hoa. J’avait un médecin à Cho Lon, il s’appelait HUI Bon Hoa.

    De mémoires d’adolescent et d’ouï-dires familiaux à Cho Lon – même dans la communauté Chao Zhou à laquelle je faisais partie – le nom de famille HUI Bon Hoa était célèbre.

    Quand j’étais étudiant en France en 1971, j’ai fait connaissance d’un jeune ingénieur télécom, il s’appelait HUI Bon Hoa Daniel.
    Les vicissitudes de la vie ont coupé mes contacts amicaux avec les deux HBH n-ième génération.

    La lecture de votre article complète ma connaissance de cette célèbre famille durant l’administration coloniale française au Viêt Nam.

    Que de très bons souvenirs.

    Mon humble suggestion :
    Les autorités chinoises pourraient produire la série youtube labellée « HUANG jia da yuan » «黄家大院».

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  9. Monsieur,
    J’ai lu « The True Story of Hui Bon Hua and Uncle Hoa’s Manson », ayant vu votre nom. C’est pour une de mes amies, qui a très bien connu André, Félix et Françoise Hui Bon Hua, qui aimerait avoir de leurs nouvelles. Vous pourriez m’écrire : mon mail : rainwasterland@hotmail.com, Je serai heureuse d'avoir votre réponse le plus tôt possible, étant depuis trop longtemps de leur nouvelle (Ils ont quitté Saigon en 1975.)

    Je vous remercie de l’attention que vous donnerez à ce courriez, et vous prie d’accepter mes respectueuses salutations.

    Etoile WU 吴湜珏珊

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  10. Hi Agnes! Are you you really Hui Bon Hoa's great grand daughter? That is so interesting! Have you gone back to see his house and see your family history yet? Recently I visited Saigon and passed by the museum of fine arts, I was so amazed at its beauty. So I researched on the building's history and found such a cool story on the Hui family. Just want to let you know that I am really interested in your family history , well since I love learning about elite families in general.Hope you don't find this creepy in any way haha. I would love to talk about the Hui family with you, only if you want to of course haha
    Have a nice day :)

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  11. Thank you so much for your precious article. It means a lot to learn and to remember the history of my family.

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  12. Thank you for the inputs. We are descendants of th Hui Bon Hua Family here in the Philippines and was trying to trace our roots as well. We have visited the Huang along Yuan House in Gulangyu with our grandmother as she also wanted to see Shuzhuang Garden from her fathers side. Keep us posted thanks.

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