Japanese occupation of Hong Kong

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Hong Kong Occupied Territory
Military occupation by the Empire of Japan
Map of Hong Kong
Capital Not specified
Languages Japanese
Government Military occupation
Emperor Hirohito
 •  1941–1942 Takashi Sakai
Masaichi Niimi
 •  1942–1944 Rensuke Isogai
 •  1944–1945 Hisakazu Tanaka
Historical era World War II
 •  Battle of Hong Kong 8–25 December 1941
 •  Surrender of Hong Kong 25 December 1941
 •  Surrender of Japan 15 August 1945
 •  Handover to the Royal Navy 30 August 1945
 •  1941[2][3] 1,042 km2 (402 sq mi)
 •  1941[2][3] est. 1,639,000 
     Density 1,573/km2 (4,074/sq mi)
 •  1945[2][4] est. 600,000 
     Density 576/km2 (1,491/sq mi)
Currency Japanese military yen
Preceded by
Succeeded by
British Hong Kong
British Hong Kong
Today part of  Hong Kong

The Imperial Japanese occupation of Hong Kong (香港日治時期) began when the Governor of Hong Kong, Sir Mark Young, surrendered the British Crown colony of Hong Kong to Imperial Japan on 25 December 1941. The surrender occurred after 18 days of fierce fighting against the overwhelming Japanese forces that had invaded the territory.[5][6] The occupation lasted for three years and eight months until Japan surrendered at the end of Second World War. The length of this period (in Cantonese, 三年零八個月; Sam Nin Ling Bat Goh Yuet; "three years and eight months") later became a metonym of the occupation.[6]


Imperial Japanese invasion of China

During the Imperial Japanese military's full-scale invasion of China in 1937, Hong Kong as part of the British empire was not under attack. Nevertheless, its situation was influenced by the war in China due to proximity to the mainland China. In early March 1939, during an Imperial Japanese bombing raid on Shenzhen, a few bombs fell accidentally on Hong Kong territory, destroying a bridge and a train station.[7]

World War II

In 1936, Germany and the Empire of Japan signed the Anti-Comintern Pact. In 1937 Fascist Italy joined the pact, forming the core to what would become known as the Axis Powers.

In the autumn of 1941, Nazi Germany was near the height of its military power. After the invasion of Poland and fall of France, German forces had overrun much of Western Europe and were racing towards Moscow. Although still officially neutral, the United States was actively supporting Britain, the British Commonwealth and the Soviet Union in their war against Germany through Lend-Lease and other programs.

The United States also supported China in its fight against Imperial Japan's invasion. It imposed a 100% embargo on the sale of oil to Japan after less aggressive forms of economic sanctions failed to halt Japanese advances. On 7 December 1941 (Honolulu time), Japan suddenly launched a broad offensive across the Pacific and Southeast Asia including attacking the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor and American-ruled Philippines, and invading Thailand and subsequently invading British Malaya.

Battle of Hong Kong

As part of a general Pacific campaign, the Imperial Japanese launched an assault on Hong Kong on the morning of 8 December 1941 Hong Kong local time.[8] British, Canadian, and Indian forces, supported by the Hong Kong Volunteer Defense Forces attempted to resist the rapidly advancing Imperial Japanese but were heavily outnumbered. After racing down the New Territories and Kowloon, Imperial Japanese forces crossed Victoria Harbour on 18 December.[9] After fierce fighting continued on Hong Kong Island, the only reservoir was lost. Canadian Winnipeg Grenadiers fought at the crucial Wong Nai Chung Gap that secured the passage between Victoria, Hong Kong and secluded southern sections of the island. Finally defeated, on 25 December 1941, British colonial officials headed by the Governor of Hong Kong Mark Aitchison Young surrendered at the Japanese headquarters.[2] To the local people, the day was known as "Black Christmas".[10]

The capitulation of Hong Kong was signed on the 26th at The Peninsula Hotel.[11] On 20 February 1942 General Rensuke Isogai became the first Imperial Japanese governor of Hong Kong.[12] Just before the British surrendered, drunken Imperial Japanese soldiers entered St. Stephen's College, which was being used as a hospital.[13] The Imperial Japanese then confronted two volunteer doctors and shot both of them when entry was refused.[13] They then burst into the wards and attacked all of the wounded soldiers and medical staff who were incapable of hiding in what was known as the St. Stephen's college incident.[13] This ushered an almost four years of brutal Imperial Japanese administration.


File:Isogai Rensuke.jpg
Rensuke Isogai

Throughout the Imperial Japanese occupation, Hong Kong was ruled as a detained terrain and was subjected to martial law.[14] Headed by General Rensuke Isogai, the Imperial 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. They also set up the puppet Chinese Representative Council and Chinese Cooperative Council consisting of local leading Chinese and Eurasian community leaders. 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.[15] Famine, malnourishment and sickness were pervasive. Severe cases of malnutrition among inmates occurred in the Stanley Internment Camp in 1945. Moreover, the Imperial 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 called the Kempeitai with new uniforms.[16] The police routinely performed executions at King's Park in Kowloon by using Chinese for beheading, shooting and bayonet practice.[16] The Imperial Japanese gendarmerie took over all police stations and organised 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.[17] Police in Hong Kong were under the organisation and control of the Imperial Japanese government. Imperial Japanese experts and administrators were chiefly employed in the Governor's Office and its various bureaus. Two councils of Chinese and Eurasian leaders were set up to manage the Chinese population.[16]


File:Hk japo westerner.jpg
Imperial Japanese soldiers arrested the western bankers and kept them in a Chinese hotel.

Economically, all trading activities were sternly guarded, and the majority of the factories were taken over by the Imperial Japanese. Having deprived the vendors and banks of their possessions, the occupying forces outlawed the Hong Kong Dollar and replaced it with the Japanese Military Yen.[18] The exchange rate was fixed at 2 Hong Kong dollars to one military yen in January 1942.[19] 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.[19] While the citizens of Hong Kong became poor in forced exchanges, the Imperial 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. Hyper-inflation then disrupted the economy, directly affecting Hong Kong citizens.[18] Enormous devaluation of the Imperial Japanese Military Yen after the war made it almost worthless.[11]

Public transportation and utilities unavoidably failed, owing to the shortage of fuel and through 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 the agricultural field, the Imperial Japanese took over the race track at Fanling and the air strip at Kam Tin for their rice-growing experiments.[5]:157, 159, 165[20]

With the intention of boosting the Imperial Japanese influence on Hong Kong, two Imperial Japanese banks, the Yokohama Specie Bank and the Bank of Taiwan, were re-opened.[5] These two banks replaced the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) and two other British banks responsible for issuing the banknotes.[5] They then liquidated various Allied banks.[5] British, American and Dutch bankers were forced to live in a small hotel, while some bankers who were viewed as the enemy of the Imperial Japanese were executed. In May 1942, Imperial Japanese companies were encouraged to be set up. A Hong Kong trade syndicate consisting of Imperial Japanese firms was set up in October 1942 to manipulate overseas trade.[20]

Community life, social services and public hygiene

Life in fear

File:Hk population in jpo.jpg
Population decrease due to repatriation

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 China, and the population of Hong Kong dwindled from 1.6 million in 1941 to 600,000 in 1945.[21] 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 Sung Wong Toi Monument in today’s Kowloon City. Buildings of some prestigious secondary schools such as Wah Yan College Hong Kong, which is one of the two Jesuit schools in Hong Kong, Diocesan Boys' School, the Central British School, the St. Paul's Girls' College of the Anglican church and de La Salle brothers' La Salle College were commandeered as military hospitals by the Japanese. It was rumoured that Diocesan Boys' School was used by the Japanese as a place of execution.

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 licence, and every person could only buy 6.4 taels (240 g (8.5 oz)), of rice per day.[1] Most people did not have enough food to eat, and many died of starvation. The rationing system was cancelled in 1944.

According to eyewitnesses. The Japanese committed atrocities on many local Chinese and thousands of Chinese females may have been raped. During the three and half years of occupation by the Japanese. An estimated 10,000 Hong Kong civilians were executed, while many others were tortured, raped, or mutilated.[22]

Charity and social services

During the occupation, hospitals available to the masses were limited. The Kowloon Hospital and Queen Mary Hospital were occupied by the Japanese army.[23] Despite the lack of medicine and funds, the Tung Wah and Kwong Wah Hospital continued their social services but to 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.

Tung Wah hospital and the charitable organisation Po Leung Kuk continued to provide charity relief. Substantial donations were given by members of Chinese elite.[24] Po Leung Kuk also took 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 needy persons. In June 1943 the management of water, gas and electricity was transferred into private Japanese hands.[5]

Education, press and political propaganda

File:Jap hk edu.jpg
A hand-out of a Japanese language learning radio programme
File:Jap road hk.jpg
Names of the roads were rewritten in Japanese
File:Jap festival hk.jpg
Celebration of a "New Hong Kong" after Japanese occupation

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. Japanisation 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. According to a testimonial, English could not be taught nor was it tolerated outside the classroom.[25][better source needed] 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. The Japanese authorities tried to introduce Japanese traditions and customs to Hong Kong students through the Japanese lesson at school. Famous historical stories such as Mori Motonari's (毛利元就) "Sanbon no ya (Three Arrows)" and Xufu’s (徐福) voyage to Japan were introduced in Japanese language textbook.[26] The primary aims of this Japanisation 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. On the other hand, by 1943, only one formal language school, the Bougok School (寳覺學校), had provided Cantonese language course to Japanese people in Hong Kong. According to the instructor of Bougok School, "teaching Cantonese is difficult because there is no system and set pattern in Cantonese grammar; and you have to change the pronunciation as the occasion demands" and "it would be easier for a Cantonese people to learn Japanese than a Japanese people to learn Cantonese."[27]


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 Meiji-dori and Des Voeux Road became Shōwa-dori.[5][28] Similarly, the Gloucester Hotel became the Matsubara.[29] The Peninsula Hotel, the Matsumoto;[30] Lane Crawford, Matsuzakaya.[31] The Queen's Theatre was renamed first the Nakajima-dori, then the Meiji.[31] 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 honouring the dead. There was also a Japanese Empire Day on 11 February 1943 centred around the worship of the Emperor Jimmu.[20]

Press and entertainment

The Hong Kong News, a pre-war Japanese-owned English newspaper, was revived in January 1942 during the Japanese occupation.[32] The editor, E.G. Ogura, was Japanese and the staff members were mainly Chinese and Portuguese who previously worked for the South China Morning Post.[25][32] It became the mouthpiece of the Japanese propaganda.[32] 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.[33] 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.

War Crimes

According to the Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily, in December 1941 a group of Japanese soldiers killed ten Red Cross stretcher bearers at Wong Nai Chung Gap despite the fact that the stretcher bearers all wore the red cross armband. These soldiers captured a further five medics who were tied to a tree, two of whom were taken away by the soldiers never to be seen again. The remaining three attempted to escape during the night, but only one survived the escape.[34]

A team of amateur archaeologists found the remains of half of a badge. Evidence pointed to its belonging to Barclay, the captain of the Royal Army Medical Corps, therefore the archaeologists presented it to Barclay's son, Jim, who had never met his father before his death.[34]

Notable massacres also include St. Stephen's College massacre and a mass murder at Mui Wo called the Silver Mine Bay massacre (銀礦灣大屠殺) by some locals.

After the Japanese surrender, fifteen[35] Japanese soldiers killed seventy people[36] at Mui Wo. They burned three villages and captured three hundred villagers, many of whom were found dead.[35]

Anti-Japanese resistance

Dongjiang Guerillas fighting in trenches

East River Column

Originally formed by Zeng Sheng (曾生) in Guangdong in 1939, this group was composed mostly of peasants, students, and seamen.[2] When the war reached Hong Kong in 1941, the guerrilla force grew from 200 to more than 6,000 soldiers.[2] In January 1942, the Guangdong people's anti-Japanese east river guerrillas (廣東人民抗日游擊隊東江縱隊) was established to reinforce anti-Japanese forces in Dongjiang and Zhujiang Pearl River deltas.[37] 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.[2] In the wake of the British retreat, the guerillas picked up abandoned weapons and established bases in the New Territories and Kowloon.[2] Applying the tactics of guerrilla warfare, they killed Chinese traitors and collaborators.[2] They protected traders in Kowloon and Guangzhou, attacked the police station at Tai Po, and bombed Kai Tak Airport.[2] During the Japanese occupation the only fortified resistance was mounted by the East river guerillas.[2]

Hong Kong Kowloon brigade

In January 1942 the HK-Kowloon brigade (港九大隊) was established from the Guangdong People's anti-Japanese Guerilla force.[38] In February 1942 with local residents Cai Guo-liang (蔡國梁) as commander and Chen Da-ming (陳達明) as political commissar, they were armed with 30 machine guns and several hundred rifles left by defeated British forces.[9] They numbered about 400 between 1942 and 1945 and operated in Sai Kung.[9] Additionally, the guerillas were noteworthy in rescuing prisoners-of-war, notably Sir Lindsay Ride, Sir Douglas Clague, Professor Gordan King, and David Bosanquet.[2] In December 1943 the Guangdong force reformed the East river guerillas, absorbing the HK-Kowloon brigade into the larger unit.[38]

British Army Aid Group

The British Army Aid Group was formed in 1942 at the suggestion of Colonel Lindsay Ride.[9] The group rescued allied POWs including airmen shot down and workers trapped in occupied HK.[9] It also developed a role in intelligence gathering.[9] In the process, the Group provided protection to the Dongjiang River which was a source for domestic water in Hong Kong. This was the first organisation in which Britons, Chinese and other nationalities served with no racial divide. Francis Lee Yiu-pui and Paul Tsui Ka-cheung were commissioned as officers.[9]

End of Japanese occupation

Japanese document of surrender
File:Signing of the Japanese Surrender of Hong Kong.png
The document of surrender was signed by Japan on 16 September 1945 in Hong Kong.
Japanese war criminals prepare for their transfer to Stanley Prison
The British cruiser HMS Swiftsure, entering Victoria Harbour through North Point on 30 August 1945
Liberation of Hong Kong in 1945. Picture taken at the Cenotaph in Central, Hong Kong.

Japanese surrender

The Japanese occupation of Hong Kong ended in 1945, after[6] the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945.[39] Another one was dropped on Nagasaki three days later, on the same day that the USSR began its Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation, which crippled the last grand Japanese army in China.[39] Japan finally surrendered on 15 August 1945.[40] Hong Kong was handed over by the Imperial Japanese Army to the Royal Navy on 30 August 1945; British control over Hong Kong was thus restored. 30 August was declared as "Liberation Day" (Chinese: 重光紀念日), and was a public holiday in Hong Kong until 1997.

General Takashi Sakai, who led the invasion of Hong Kong and subsequently served as governor-general during the Japanese occupation, was tried as a war criminal and executed on the afternoon of 30 September 1946.[41]

Political stage of Hong Kong

The surrender of Japan in 1945 brought with it a new question of who should rule Hong Kong. The Kuomintang's Chiang Kai-shek assumed he would resume the role of controlling the whole of China.[14] Several years earlier, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt insisted that colonialism would have to end, and promised Soong Mei-ling that Hong Kong would be restored to Chinese control.[42] However 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.[2] A government office was set up at the Former French Mission Building in Victoria on 1 September 1945.[14] British Rear Admiral Sir Cecil Halliday Jepson Harcourt sailed into Hong Kong on board the cruiser HMS Swiftsure to re-establish the British government's control over the colony.[14] On 16 September 1945, he formally accepted the Japanese surrender[14] from Maj.-Gen. Okada Umekichi and Vice Admiral Fujita Ruitaro at Government House.[43]

Hong Kong's post-war recovery was astonishingly swift.[16] By November 1945, the economy had recovered so well that government controls were lifted and free markets restored. The population returned to around one million by early 1946 due to immigration from China.[16] Colonial taboos also broke down in the post-war years as European colonial powers realised that they could not administer their colonies as they did before the war. Chinese people were no longer restricted from certain beaches, or from living on Victoria Peak.


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  • 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.
  • Mathers, Jean (1994). Twisting the Tail of the Dragon – The Story of Life in the Japanese POW Camp on the Stanley Peninsula, Hong Kong from 1941 to 1944. Sussex, England: Book Guild. ISBN 978-0-86332-966-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Memoirs of an interned British Army wife.

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