Japanese occupation of Hong Kong

Japanese occupation of Hong Kong

The Japanese occupation of Hong Kong began after the Governor of Hong Kong, Sir Mark Young surrendered the territory of Hong Kong to Japan on 25 December 1941 after 18 days of fierce fighting between British and Canadian defenders against Japanese Imperial forces. The occupation ultimately lasted for three years and eight months, leading many survivors to call the occupation as simply "Three Years and Eight Months".


In the autumn of 1941, the Third Reich was at its height of power. German forces had overrun much of Western Europe and were racing towards Moscow in the invasion of the Soviet Union. With France under occupation, England was enduring devastating German bombardment almost daily, having to fend off an amphibious invasion.

In the Pacific theatre, Japan was also experiencing spectacular victories and began consolidating its territorial gains. At the time, the United States was not participating in the war but was seen by the Axis Powers as an obstacle to further global conquest. This prompted Japan to launch a sudden attack against the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor on December 7 1941. As part of a general Pacific campaign, the Japanese launched an assault on Hong Kong on the morning of December 8, 1941 (Hong Kong local time), less than eight hours after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. British, Canadian and Indian forces, supported by the Hong Kong Volunteer Defense Forces attempted to resist the rapidly advancing Japanese invasion but were outnumbered.

After racing down the New Territories and Kowloon, Japanese forces crossed Victoria Harbour on December 18. After fierce fighting continued on Hong Kong Island, the only reservoir was lost. Canadian Winnipeg Grenadiers fought at the crucial Wong Nai Chong Gap that secured the passage between Hong Kong proper and secluded southern sections of the island. Hopelessly defeated, on December 25, 1941, British colonial officials headed by the Governor of Hong Kong Mark Aitchison Young surrendered in-person at the Japanese headquarters on the third floor of The Peninsula Hotel. On 20 February 1942, General Rensuke Isogai became the first Japanese governor of Hong Kong, ushering in almost four years of brutal Imperial Japanese administration.


Throughout the Japanese occupation, Hong Kong was ruled as a detained terrain and was subjected to martial law. Headed by General Rensuke Isogai, the Japanese established their administration and commanding post at the Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon. The military government, composed of the departments of politics, civilian, economy, judiciary, and navy, enacted stringent regulations and established executive bureaus to have power over all residents of Hong Kong. On top of Governor Mark Young, 7,000 British soldiers and civilians were kept in prisoner-of-war or internment camps, such as Sham Shui Po Prisoner Camp and Stanley Internment Camp. Famine, malnourishment and sickness were pervasive. Severe cases of malnutrition among inmates, for example, occurred in the captivity camp at Stanley in 1945. Moreover, the Japanese military government blockaded Victoria Harbour and controlled warehouses.

Early in January 1942, former members of the Hong Kong Police, including the Indians and Chinese, were recruited into a reformed police, the "Kempeitai" (Military Police) with new uniforms. The Japanese gendarmerie took over all police stations and organized the Police in five divisions, namely East Hong Kong, West Hong Kong, Kowloon, New Territories and Water Police. The headquarters was situated in the former Supreme Court Building. Police in Hong Kong were under the organization and control of the Japanese government.

The onset of the new Japanese governor was the indicator for important administrative fluctuations. Japanese experts and administrators were chiefly employed in the Governor's Office and its various bureaux. These Japanese experts occupied all key posts whereas the Chinese could only take the middle and lower ranks of posts. Under the Japanese control, the basic framework of Japanese administration was created by the division of Hong Kong Island into 12 districts and Kowloon into 6. Each district was under a Chinese who represented the needs of the district residents to the Japanese authorities. Also, a Civil Affairs Bureau was set up for policy-making, exercising control and supervision. The administrative regime re-designed by Governor Isogai was under instructions from Tokyo.


Economically, all trading activities were sternly guarded, and the majority of the factories were taken over by the Japanese. Having deprived the vendors and banks of their possessions, the Japanese replaced local dollars with Japanese Military Yen. The Hong Kong Dollar was outlawed. The exchange rate was fixed at 2 Hong Kong dollars to one military yen in January 1942. Later, the yen was re-valued at 4 Hong Kong dollars to a yen in July 1942, which meant local people could exchange fewer military notes than before. While the citizens of Hong Kong became poor in forced exchanges, the Japanese government sold the Hong Kong Dollar to help finance their war-time economy. Later, the yen was made the sole legal tender for official purposes in June 1943. Prices of commodities for sale had to be marked in yen. Its gradual devaluation resulted in severe inflation and disruption of the economy, directly affecting Hong Kong citizens. The Japanese Military Yen was later declared worthless and the citizens, without possession of their original HKD, were completely destitute.

Public transportation and utilities unavoidably failed, owing to the shortage of fuel and tho the augmentation of American air raids on Hong Kong. Tens of thousands of people became homeless and helpless, and many of them were employed in shipbuilding and construction. In agricultural field, the Japanese took over the race track at Fanling and the air strip at Kam Tin for their rice-growing experiments. A scheme of reclamation of Tolo Harbour was also discussed.

With the intention of boosting the Japanese influence on Hong Kong, two Japanese banks, the Yokohama Specie Bank and the Bank of Taiwan, were re-opened. The Japanese banking experts were sent to liquidate enemy banks. British, American and Dutch bankers were forced to live in a small hotel, while some bankers who were viewed as the enemy of the Japanese were executed. In May 1942, Japanese companies were encouraged to be set up. A Hong Kong trade syndicate consisting of Japanese firms was set up in October 1942 to manipulate all overseas trade.

Community life, social services and public hygiene

Life in fear

The Japanese enforced a repatriation policy throughout the period of occupation because of the scarcity of food and the possible counter-attack of the Allies. As a result, the unemployed were deported to the Mainland, and the population of Hong Kong had dwindled from 1.6 million in 1941 to 600,000 in 1945 [New York Times. " [http://www.commondreams.org/headlines05/0418-04.htm NY Times] ." "Thousands March in Anti-Japan Protest in Hong Kong by Keith Bradsher." Retrieved on 2006-04-11.] . Furthermore, the Japanese reconstructed both government and private facilities for the sake of their own interests and developments. In order to expand the Kai Tak Airport, for example, the Japanese demolished the Kowloon Walled City and the Sung Wong Toi Monument in today’s Kowloon City. Buildings of some prestigious secondary schools such as Jesuits' Wah Yan College Hong Kong, Diocesan Boys' School, the Central British School (now King George V School), the St. Paul's Girls' College (now St. Paul's Co-educational College) of the Anglican church and de La Salle brothers' La Salle College were commandeered as military hospitals by the Japanese. Diocesan Boys' School was even rumoured to be the execution place of the Japanese.

Life was hard for people under Japanese rule. As there was inadequate food supply, the Japanese rationed necessities such as rice, oil, flour, salt and sugar. Each family was given a rationing license, and every person could only buy 6.4 taels (0.24 kg), of rice per day. Most people did not have enough food to eat, and many died of starvation. The rationing system was canceled in 1944.

Charity and social services

After the occupation of the Japanese, charitable activities were highly restricted. Although a fund which may be translated as "Far East Foundation Fund" was set up to collect donations, it was regarded as a means to collect money for the Japanese government, instead of providing welfare services for the Hong Kong people. The Bishop and the Chinese Representatives' Association, as organizers of charitable activities for relief of the poor, demanded assistance from the government. In September 1942, the Japanese governor Isogai promised to accept their suggestion. The implementation of this suggestion involved money from the Far East Foundation Fund being given to the governor first, and then transferred to a relief fund for the local people of Hong Kong. This was seen as a credit to Japanese administrative policy.

With the assistance of the Far East Foundation Fund, an association which may be translated as "Chinese Charity Association" was set up to organize fundraising and distribution work. In order to promote charity activities, a fundraising committee was established which created a network of donation movement. It selected famous people from trade unions to be the leaders of the fundraising groups. They were then asked to choose members to join their group and to help with activities. These members then took donations from different social strata so as to raise as much funds as possible. The activities also included propaganda works which promoted the program. This mass donation movement finally resulted in a collection of 55500 military yen (MY). Besides this, there were also charitable football competitions and drama performances which donated all of their profits for the Chinese Charity Association. The fund raising activities were continued in the following years.

During the occupation, hospitals available to the masses were limited. The Kowloon Hospital and Queen Mary Hospital were occupied by the Japanese army. The Japanese also used the Tung Wah Eastern Hospital as a military hospital.

Despite the lack of medicine and funds, the Tung Wah and Kwong Wah Hospital continued their social services but in a limited scale. These included provision of food, medicine, clothing, and burial services. Although funds were provided, they still had great financial difficulties. Failure to collect rents and the high reparation costs forced them to promote fundraising activities like musical performances and dramas.

The charitable organization Po Leung Kuk was another important organization taking in orphans. However faced with financial problems during the occupation, their bank deposits could not be withdrawn under Japanese control. Their services could only be continued through donations by Aw Boon Haw, a long-term financier of Po Leung Kuk.

Health and public hygiene

There were very few public hospitals during the Japanese occupation as many of them were forced to be converted to military hospitals. With the inadequate supply of resources, Tung Wah Hospital and Kwong Wah Hospital still continuously offered limited social services to the needy persons.

Education, press and political propaganda

Through schooling, mass media and other means of propaganda, the Japanese tried to control the mindsets of Hong Kong people so as to build up a stronger administration regime. Japanization was a common means for restricting people's thinking, and it prevailed in different aspects of daily life.

Japanese education

It was the Japanese conviction that education was an imperative means in infusing Japanese influence. Teaching of the Japanese language was obligatory, and students who received bad results in Japanese exams risked corporal punishment. English could not be taught. Some private Japanese language schools were established to promote oral Japanese. The Military Administration ran the Teachers' Training Course, and those teachers who failed a Japanese bench-mark test would need to take a three-month training course. Also, Japanese culture, affairs, ethics and rituals were introduced through education. The primary aims of this Japanization of the education system were mainly to facilitate the Japanese control over the local people and to establish the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere. Therefore, what it was trying to create was a rush to learn Japanese.


The Japanese promoted a bilingual system of English with Japanese as a communication link between the locals and the occupying forces. English shop signs and advertisements were taken away, and in April 1942, streets and buildings in Central were renamed in Japanese. For example, Queen's Road Central became Shōwa-dori and Des Voeux Road Meiji-dori. Similarly, the Gloucester Hotel became the Matsubara; the Peninsula Hotel, the Matsumoto; Lane Crawford, Matsuzakaya. Their propaganda also pointed to the pre-eminence of the Japanese way of life, of Japanese spiritual values and the ills of western materialism.

The commemoration of Japanese festivals, state occasions, victories and anniversaries also strengthened the Japanese influence over Hong Kong. For instance, there was Yasukuri or Shrine Festival honoring the dead; there was also a Japanese Empire Day on 11 February 1943 centered around the worship of the Emperor Jimmu. The Japanese also built shrines to honor the war dead. A monument of the Japanese war heroes was laid at a site on a spur of Mount Cameron.

Press and entertainment

The "Hong Kong News", a pre-war Japanese-owned English newspaper, was revived on January 1942. Ten local Chinese newspapers had been reduced to five in May. These newspapers were under press censorship. Radio sets were used for Japanese propaganda. Amusements still existed, though only for those who could afford them. The cinemas only screened Japanese films, such as "The Battle of Hong Kong", the only film made in Hong Kong during the Japanese occupation. Directed by Tanaka Shigeo and produced by the Dai Nippon Film Company, the film featured an all-Japanese cast but a few Hong Kong film personalities were also involved. This film appeared on the first anniversary of the attack. Horseracing continued to be held.

trikes and anti-Japanese activities

During this period, people organized strikes and refused to buy or use Japanese products. Owing to hostilities to Japanese aggression, many Hong Kong trade unions which had disappeared in the past ten years again revived in the 1930s. They were moved by their patriotic feeling to renew their activities, this time against the Japanese.

The Japanese Occupation of Hong Kong did not mean the immediate termination of Chinese anti-Japanese patriotism. In fact, these activities turned underground and continued in secrecy.

Gangjiu Da Dui Guerillas

Founded by the Communists in January 1942, the Guangdong Renmin Kangri guerrillas were established to reinforce anti-Japanese forces in Dongjiang and Zhujiang (Pearl River) deltas. The third and fifth branches under Cai Guoliang, which were sent to Hong Kong and Kowloon, became known as Gangjiu (Hong Kong-Kowloon) da dui (brigade) (港九大隊). Led by Wong Kwun Fong and Lau Hak Tsai, the guerillas endeavored to attack robbers, traitors and enemies, and secure farm produce and human lives in Hong Kong. In April 1942, the guerillas extended their influence over Lantau Island, which enhanced communication with Macau and Guangzhou. The spread of their activities into multi-ethnic Hong Kong Island, in particular, led to Chinese collection of classified information on Japanese strategies of South China, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia. Furthermore, the force played a central role in saving British and foreigners of the Allied cause. 20 British, 54 Indians, 8 Americans, 3 Danish, 2 Norwegians, 1 Russian, and 1 Filipino were estimated to have been saved. The Gangjiu Da Dui helped undermine the Japanese military position in Hong Kong, and fostered friendships among Chinese, British and Americans.

Dongjiang Guerillas

During the Japanese Occupation the only fortified resistance was mounted by the Dongjiang guerillas (東江游擊隊). Originally formed by Zeng Sheng in Guangdong in 1939, this was mostly comprised peasants, students, and seamen. When the war reached Hong Kong in 1941, the guerilla force grew from 200 to more than 6,000 soldiers. In the wake of the British retreat, the guerillas picked up abandoned weapons and established bases in the New Territories and Kowloon. Applying conventional tactics of guerilla warfare, they killed Chinese traitors and collaborators, protected traders in Kowloon and Guangzhou, attacked the police station at Tai Po, and bombed Kai Tak Airport. Additionally, the guerillas were noteworthy in rescuing prisoners-of-war, notably Sir Lindsay, Sir Douglas Clague, Professor Gordan King, and David Bosanquet. The guerillas' most significant contribution to the Allies, in particular, was their rescue of twenty American pilots who parachuted into Kowloon when their planes were shot down by the Japanese.

British Army Aid Group

The British Army Aid Group was formed in July 1942 at the suggestion of Colonel Lindsay Ride. After the fall of Hong Kong in December 1941, all British side personnel were sent into various prisoners-of-war camps on Hong Kong Island and in Kowloon. Ride later escaped from his camp and arrived in Chongqing, where he formed the unit, with its headquarters in Guilin, Guangxi as a frontline base in the south. They mainly rescued POWs from the camps, smuggled medicine and other supplies in and out of the camps, and gathered intelligence for the Allied Forces. In the process, the Group provided protection to the Dongjiang River which was a source for domestic water in Hong Kong.


Japanese surrender

The Japanese Occupation of Hong Kong ended in 1945. The United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Another one was dropped on Nagasaki three days later. Japan finally surrendered on August 15, 1945. The British sovereignty over Hong Kong thus was restored.

The Sino-Japanese War Victory Anniversary ("the Saturday preceding the last Monday in August" and "Liberation Day, being the last Monday in August" (重光紀念日) before the handover) became a public holiday, before being replaced by Labour Day and the PRC National Day.

Political stage of Hong Kong

The surrender of Japan in 1945 brought with it a new question: who, now, should rule Hong Kong? Several years earlier, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt argued that the British government should give up Hong Kong to the Chinese Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek. But the British moved quickly to regain control of Hong Kong. As soon as he heard word of the Japanese surrender, Franklin Gimson, Hong Kong's colonial secretary, left his prison camp and declared himself the territory's acting governor. Gimson set up a temporary government, which welcomed a British naval fleet into Hong Kong harbour several days later. British Rear Admiral Sir Cecil Halliday Jepson Harcourt then formally accepted the Japanese surrender.

Hong Kong's post-war recovery was astonishingly swift. The population returned to its pre-war levels in next to no time; business boomed; eight months after the Japanese surrender, the territory's civilian administration was restored. Colonial taboos also broke down in the post-war years as European colonial powers realized that they could not administer its colonies like it did before the war. Chinese were no longer restricted from certain beaches, or from owning assets on Victoria Peak.

ee also

*History of Hong Kong
*Battle of Hong Kong
*Sino-Japanese War
*World War II
*Japanese Military Yen
*Comfort women
*Hong Kong on Fire - a Hong Kong film about the Japanese occupation


*"The Fall of Hong Kong: Britain, China, and the Japanese Occupation" by Philip Snow. ISBN 0-300-09352-7.
*"The History of Hong Kong" by Yim Ng Sim Ha. ISBN 962-08-2231-5.
*"Journey Through History: A modern Course 3" by Nelson Y.Y. Kan. ISBN 962-469-221-1.Website
* [http://www.hku.hk/cas/ Centre of Asian Studies]


External links

* [http://www.fanlingbabies.com/index.html Fanling Babies Home - Home for War Orphaned Children - Hong Kong Orphanage]
* [http://www.cofepow.org.uk/pages/asia_hongkong2.htm Hong Kong Atrocities: A True Christmas Story]
* [http://home.netvigator.com/~hkra2002/ Official page of Hong Kong Reparation Association]
* [http://hk.geocities.com/snowman_mod/liberationhistory.htm Liberation of Hong Kong]
* [http://www.far-eastern-heroes.org.uk/James_OToole/ Dairy of POW Staff Sergeant James O’Toole]
* [http://www.britain-at-war.org.uk/Canadians_in_Hong_Kong/ Canadians in Hong Kong]
* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-A3jMC7UyU A video clip on YouTube about the occupation]

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