How Did Japanese Occupation from 1941-1945 affect the History of HK


The Japanese occupation of Hong Kong commenced on December 25, 1941 after Sir Mark Young, the Governor of Hong Kong by then, had surrendered the land of Hong Kong to Japan. This surrender took place after 18 days of aggressive battle between Canadian and British defenders and the overwhelming Japanese Imperial militaries. Eventually, the occupation continued for 3 years and 8 months. This paper seeks to analyze the implications of the Japanese occupation to the people of Hong Kong and find how the British Government had reformed the political system, recovered the economy, and improved the people's living condition after 1945.



The 3rd Reich was at its climax of supremacy by the end of 1941. German forces had swamped greater part of Western Europe and they battled Moscow in the incursion of Soviet Union. With France already being controlled by German occupation, England experienced overwhelming German attacks nearly every day like an introduction to a prearranged amphibious invasion. Moreover, Japan also scored remarkable victories and started uniting its territorial improvements in the Pacific theatre. At that time, America did not participate in the fighting; nevertheless, it was perceived by the Axis Powers as a hindrance to the global overthrow of power. This encouraged Japan to introduction an unexpected fight towards the United States marine base at Pearl Harbor on 7th December, 1941. On the dawn of December 8, 1941, less than 8 hours after the blasting of Pearl Harbor as a part of the overall Pacific movement, the Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong. The British, Indian, and Canadian militaries, backed up by the Hong Kong Volunteer defense, tried to fight back the fast advancing Japanese, although they were seriously overpowered.

After seizing the Kowloon and New Territories, on December 18, the Japanese troops traversed Victoria Harbor. The single water reservoir was lost after the brutal fighting had persisted on the Hong Kong Island. The Winnipeg Grenadiers of Canada battled at the critical Wong Nai Chong Gap that protected the channel between Hong Kong apt and isolated the south segments of the isle. The eventually overpowered British foreign executives led by Mark Aitchison Young, give in at the Japanese head office at the Peninsula Hotel. General Rensuke Isogai welcomed almost four years of cruel Imperial Japanese government February 20, 1942.

Political Implication of the Occupation 

Hong Kong was governed like a captive territory and exposed to the military rule all through the period of Japanese occupation. The Japanese founded their authoritative admin office in Kowloon. Army management consisted of the units of politics, noncombatant, judiciary, economy, and flotilla, endorsed strict rules, and formed administrative offices to have the authority on each Hong Kong inhabitant. Alongside the Governor Young, 7,000 British militaries and noncombatants were kept in imprisonment camps or as prisoners-of-war in Stanley Internment Camp and Sham Shui Po Prisoner Camp, for example. Starvation, hunger, and illness were pervasive. For example, in 1945, severe instances of malnutrition among prisoners occurred in the imprisonment camp at Stanley. Additionally, the Japanese military administration managed warehouses and defended Victoria Harbor.

In early 1942, retired participants of Hong Kong Forces, counting Chinese and Indians, got employed in a transformed force - the Kempeitai Military Police, having different liveries. Japanese gendarmerie overtook police posts and rearranged the forces in 5 departments: Kowloon, West Hong Kong, East Hong Kong, Water Police, and New Territories. The head office was positioned in previous Supreme Court Construction. In Hong Kong, the police were being controlled by the association and authority of the Japan administration.

The inception of the different Japanese ruler was the sign for key governmental instabilities. Japanese administrators and authorities were primarily hired in the Administrator's Bureau and its numerous departments. The Japanese authorities filled the important positions, while Chinese would merely have the medium and inferior positions. In addition, basic agenda of Japanese government was formed by the departments of Hong Kong Isle and Kowloon into twelve and six districts respectively under the Japanese authority. Each region was controlled by a Chinese official who signified the wants of the region inhabitants to Japanese leaders. Moreover, a Civil Affairs Agency was established for decision-making, practice authority, and management. The authoritative government was under the directives from Tokyo.

Economic Implication of the Japanese Occupation in Hong Kong

With regard to economy in Hong Kong, business undertakings were strictly protected, and the Japanese authorities seized most of industries. After they had dispossessed the merchants and banks of the properties, Japanese authorities substituted domestic dollars for Japanese army yen; thus, Hong Kong currency was banned. The rate of exchange was settled at two Hong Kong dollars to one Japanese military yen. After a while, in July 1942, the yen was re-prized at 4 Hong Kong dollars to 1 Japanese yen, which implied that native persons can exchange a smaller amount of military currency than before. The Japanese administration traded the Hong Kong dollar to facilitate the funding of their wartime economy, whereas the residents of Hong Kong became poor due to the enforced exchanges. Later in June 1943, yen was the only lawful tender for formal undertakings. The prices of goods and services for selling had to be in yen. Yen’s progressive depreciation caused a serious price rises and instability, directly impacting the residents of Hong Kong. In addition, the Japanese yen was afterwards confirmed valueless, and residents, lacking ownership of their initial Hong Kong dollar, were on the breadline.

Civic transport and services inescapably did not succeed because of scarcity of petroleum and increase of the United States air attacks on Hong Kong. A great deal of people became helpless and homeless, but some of them were hired in ship structure and construction. The Japanese took ownership of the airstrip at Kam Tin and the race path at Fanling for their rice-farming experiments in the agrarian field. In addition, an arrangement of reclamation of Tolo Harbor was discoursed.

With the aim of enhancing the Japanese power on Hong Kong, 2 Japanese banks, the Bank of Taiwan and the Yokohama Specie Bank, were re-introduced. The Japanese finance specialists were directed to destroy the rival banks. British, Dutch, and American financiers were enforced to reside in a hotel, whereas certain financiers who were perceived as the opponent of the Japanese were killed. In May 1942, Japanese corporations were fortified to be established. In October 1942, a Hong Kong trade organization comprising of Japanese companies was established to influence all foreign trade.

Community Life, Community Hygiene, and Social Facilities

Japanese imposed a deportation policy during time of occupation due to the shortage of nourishment and the potential counter-attacks of the Associates. Consequently, the jobless were exiled to the mainland, and the Hong Kong population had declined from approximately 1.6 million to 600,000 between 1941 and 1945. Moreover, for the sake of their individual interests and advancements, the Japanese rebuilt both private and public amenities. For example, to enlarge the Kai Tak Airport, the Japanese destroyed the Sung Wong Toi Shrine and the Kowloon Walled City in current’s Kowloon City. Constructions of several prominent high schools, for example, Jesuits' Wah Yan College Hong Kong, the Central British School (currently King George V School), Diocesan Boys' School, the St. Paul's Girls' College (currently St. Paul's Co-educational College) of the Anglican church, and de La Salle brothers' La Salle College, were taken over as military infirmaries by the Japanese. Moreover, the Diocesan Boys' School was alleged to be the killing site of the Japanese.

It is evident that life was tough for Hong Kong people under the Japanese administration. The Japanese controlled necessities such as rice, salt, oil, flour, and sugar since there was insufficient food supply. Every family was provided with a rationing license, and each individual could merely buy 6.4 tael (about 0.24 kg), of rice for one day. A large number of people did not have sufficient food to consume, and several died of hunger. However, in 1944, the rationing scheme was canceled.

Charity and Social Services

After the Japanese occupation, charitable actions were extremely restricted. Even though a fund, which may be interpreted as Far East Foundation Fund, had been established to gather donations, it was perceived as a way to collect funds for the Japanese administration, rather than delivering welfare facilities for the Hong Kong residents. The Chinese Representatives' Association and the Bishop, as the coordinators of charitable undertakings for assistance of the deprived, requested aid from the government, and Isogai, the Japanese governor in September 1942, promised to accept their proposal. The execution of this proposal involved the funds from the Far East Foundation Fund being first given to the governor, and then reassigned to a relief account for the Hong Kong residents, which was perceived as a credit to the Japanese government policy.

Moreover, an association, which may be interpreted as Chinese Charity Association, was established to organize the distribution work and fundraising with the aid of the Far East Foundation Fund. In addition, a fundraising committee was set up which formed a network of donation program to enhance charity activities. It nominated famous individuals from trade unions to be the frontrunners of the fundraising teams. They were required to select participants to join their team and to assist with events. These associates accepted donations from various social classes in order to raise as much money as possible. The events also incorporated marketing works that advocated the program. This mass contribution movement eventually contributed to a pool of 55,500 military yen (MY). In addition, there were also charitable football rivalries and drama presentations that gave away all of their earnings for the Chinese Charity Association. The money donation activities continued in the following years.

Throughout the occupation, the hospitals accessible to the public were limited. Such hospitals as the Queen Mary Hospital and Kowloon Hospital were free for the Japanese army only. Furthermore, the Japanese utilized the Tung Wah Eastern Hospital as an army hospital. Despite the lack of medicine and finances, the Kwong Wah and Tung Wah Hospitals carried on with their social facilities, although on a narrow scale. These involved the provision of food, clothing, medicine, and funeral services. Even though funds were offered, the hospitals still had huge financial challenges. Failure to gather rents and the high compensation costs enforced them to uphold fundraising events like dramas and musical presentations. Another main organization that helped in taking in orphans was the charitable association called Po Leung Kuk; nevertheless, faced with monetary challenges throughout the occupation under the Japanese control, they could not withdraw their bank deposits; thus, their services could solely be continued via donations by a long-term banker of Po Leung Kuk, Aw Boon Haw.

Education, Media, and Political Propaganda

The Japanese attempted to control the minds of Hong Kong residents in order to form a tougher administration regime through education, mass media, and other ways of propaganda. The Japanese way of doing things was a collective means for narrowing people's thinking, and it manifested itself in various aspects of everyday life.

It was the Japanese belief that schooling was an authoritative means in imparting the Japanese power. Training of the Japanese language was compulsory, and learners who showed poor results in the Japanese examinations risked physical punishment. More to say, teaching English was prohibited, and several private Japanese language institutes were set up to enhance skills in the oral Japanese language. The Military Government operated the Teachers' Training Course, and the trainers who had failed to pass a Japanese benchmark examination would require taking a three-month teaching course. Moreover, the Japanese culture, morals, affairs, and rites were introduced via education. The main aims of this imposition of the Japanese education system were primarily to enhance the Japanese control over the locals and to create the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Domain. Thus, what the administration struggled to generate was a haste make people to learn the Japanese language.

The Japanese endorsed a fluent system of English with Japanese as a communication linkage between the locals and the inhabiting militaries. English shop symbols and posters were removed, and in April 1942, buildings and roads in Central were renamed in Japanese. For example, Des Voeux Road became Shōwa-dori and Queen's Road became Central Meiji-dori. Correspondingly, the Gloucester Hotel was renamed and it became the Matsubara, Lane Crawford became Matsuzakaya, and the Peninsula Hotel became the Matsumoto. Additionally, their marketing pointed to the supremacy of the Japanese lifestyle, the Japanese religious values, and the evils of the Western materialism.

It should be noted that the remembrance of Japanese centenaries, national events, triumphs and anniversaries reinforced the Japanese control over Hong Kong. For example, there was Shrine Festival or Yasukuri, venerating the dead; also, on February 11, 1943, there was a Japanese Empire Day concentrated on the worship of the Ruler Jimmu. Moreover, the Japanese constructed shrines to respect their fallen during the war. A memorial of the Japanese war champions was laid at a location on an outgrowth of Mount Cameron.

In January 1942, a pre-war Japanese-possessed English newspaper called the Hong Kong News was revived, and by May 10, 1942, the number of local Chinese newspapers had been condensed to 5. These newspapers were under press control. Radio was utilized for the Japanese propaganda. Nevertheless, entertainment still existed but solely for people who could manage to pay for them. The cinemas exclusively screened Japanese movies, for example, The Battle of Hong Kong, the single movie produced in Hong Kong during the Japanese occupation. Produced by the Dai Nippon Film Corporation and directed by Tanaka Shigeo, the movie presented an all-Japanese cast, although a small number of Hong Kong film characters were also included. This movie appeared on the first centenary of the attack. 

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British Government Reforms after 1945

The Japanese Occupation turned Hong Kong into a captivated territory. However, during the post-World War II period, the city was permitted to develop under the British law into free society in East Asia. Generally, the media and the press were able to prosper and the Rule of Law, applied mainly via a sovereign judiciary, was able to grow deep roots. Early in 1966, after the Cultural Revolution instigated in mainland China, Hong Kong was astounded by an extraordinary level of violent politics and rioting for a number of years. Specific small circles within the budding middle class had a strong interest in politics, and left-wing protesters continued to exist even after the Cultural Revolution motivated tumult had waned. Hong Kong reserved a small, main community of Kai-Shek’s Kuomintang (KMT) - Taiwan supporters. However, the British keenly and effectively disheartened mass interest in superior consciousness rising of Hong Kong. This obeyed the unrecorded provisions in their “deal” with Beijing, which went on until the early 1990s, and it suited Hong Kong’s Non-Chinese and Chinese business influential. They naturally felt that the lack of democratic politics was suitable for trade and business, and during this period, they were highly powerful with the Government.

After the war, the average mass of people openly remained mainly apolitical. The massive majority of the post-war people had migrated or the mostly fled from the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Some of them perceived Hong Kong as a staging post, as their purpose was to migrate to a variety of Western, English speaking nations. In addition, even though people lived in extremely difficult conditions (which resulted from the Japanese Occupation) with numerous new migrants from the previous post-war period obliging them to live in hillside shantytowns, they had moved in an economy that developed at a remarkable rate. This realism provided hope, and thus generated a more positive overall mood than one would usually encounter in such a poverty-cantered environment. It helped form an atmosphere, where focusing on the improvement of family economic instead of politics made good sense to many people. In addition, the government sought a policy, chiefly after the uprisings of the 1960s, of consulting broadly by offering institutional avenues for public leaders and others to express the opinions on policy progress and implementation. If one needed to pick a single initiative of the government, it would be the founding of the Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) in the year1974.

During the Japanese era, Hong Kong had become a land of corruptionand doing evil was seen as a necessary thing. However, the government had to discontinue this. The ICAC explained that Hong Kong was in a situation of rapid modification in the 1960s and 1970s. The huge growth in population and the rapid expansion of the industry enhanced the speed of social and economic development. Within a year of the ICAC starting its operations, main inroads were formed into the huge level of dishonesty prevailing. The police force in Hong Kong was brought to account, with several corrupt police being jailed. Particularly, in 1975, the ICAC was successful in deporting and prosecuting Godber, a Chief Superintendent, who was jailed for 4 years. Since then, the ICAC broke the mainstay of corruption in Hong Kong, and the city enjoyed a desirable reputation for being a “clean” city and a suitable place to do business. 

Since the Occupation led to political instabilities, the factors noted above jointly produced a generally stable political environment, the government led by an elite subjective civil service, and poor predictions for the development of party politics after 1945. The system was essentially rigid to the growth of the popular politicization groups pursuing government assistance. In addition, the government aided deflected community dissatisfaction and tension by moving to address various key issues on its own initiative, as it had the finances to do so. Therefore, the government introduced comprehensive programs addressing education, health, housing, and infrastructure development.

The British established Hong Kong as a “free port” (which were seized by the Japanese during the occupation), which meant that commodities could enter and leave free of any taxes or similar duties. This practice is still in place today.  In fact, Hong Kong has prided itself for having a small and simple tax regime for a long time. A limited type of income tax was only successfully introduced after World War II. Now, tax rates remain among the lowest ones in the industrialized world. Despite this low tax regime, Hong Kong has still been able to provide community housing on an enormous scale, to finance outstanding communications, transport systems, and comprehensive education as well as proper health systems.

The reason for this apparent economic phenomenon has several facets. To begin with, the Hong Kong government has accessed a revenue source hardly available in the contemporary age to many governments - land. From its foundation, British Hong Kong did not permit any auction of freehold land. All land was made obtainable as leasehold land. Additionally, the practice grew of limiting the availability of land for expansion, which pushed up the price of land and income receipts. The government could always depend on accessing any extra revenue it required by leasing land long-term into a bazaar with ever increasing prices. In addition, the government took a huge monetary bite from several secondary market dealings. Strict utilization conditions were specified in all government leases. 

An immediate concern thrown up by this system was the ways to house everyday people reasonably, if residential flats were valued per square foot at Tokyo or New York levels. The government’s solution to this dilemma had been to construct public housing on an enormous scale. Since the government owns all land, the land comes as zero nominal cost, and incomes from the land-associated transactions and undertakings have readily financed public housing spending. 

In addition, the British Government in Hong Kong was able to regulate the expenditure quite successfully. Cultural reasons provide a vital part of the clarification for this. Concisely, Hong Kong residents have long depended heavily on family and associated networks to deal with a multitude of life’s demands. This inferred with the fact that the government had been put under considerably less pressure to improve a “welfare state” of the complication encountered in most other industrialized economies. Hong Kong constantly spent the bulk of its public benefit dollars on direct education, health, welfare, and accommodation infrastructure instead of on transfer payments from the public to individuals.

Hong Kong is adjacent to the most populace nation in the world, China. Hong Kong has acted as an entry-pot to China since the arrival of the British. The closeness and similarity to China have been vital to the success of Hong Kong. They have provided Hong Kong a special role with respect to China and they have enabled Hong Kong to share China’s economic growth experience more than any other town exterior of the mainland since 1980.


Under the Japanese government, it is evident that life was tough for Hong Kong people. The government rationed food, limited accessibility to hospitals, and took over the main harbors, police posts, and banks. The Japanese also controlled the press and used it to spread their influence over the people of Hong Kong. However, Hong Kong was fairly well-served by its constitutional tools, but it was other influences that had been more crucial in shaping Hong Kong’s social, economic and political arrangements after 1945. Within the remarkably stable political atmosphere, an economic system grew in Hong Kong that highly favored the private sector. The government, for example, improved the living conditions of people through the construction of public housing on a large scale and reformed its political aspect through the initiatives of the Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC).

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