Hong Kong under Japanese rule.

Submitted by Andrew Craig-Bennett on Sun, 06/20/2010 - 21:55
The Japanese were not exactly welcomed into Hong Kong by the Chinese population - after all, this was the same Japanese Army that had occupied the adjoining Chinese province of Guangdong. The abuses committed by Japanese troops in looting and raping were hardly a good start, and the severity of Japanese martial law (Hong Kong was kept under martial law for the entire duration - three years and eight months - of the Japanese occupation) did nothing to bring peoples hearts and minds round to favour Japanese rule. Food rationing was severe for the whole time, and business was at a very low ebb.

Some Chinese residents of Hong Kong actively assisted the British, and these were not confined to the middle classes and the upper class. Two British nuns spent the entire occupation in the Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter, hidden by, and teaching the children of, the boat people who live aboard their sampans there, right under the noses of the Kempeitai without once setting foot ashore. Those folks are not to be underestimated, by the way; I know a now-elderly couple, still living aboard their sampan, whose two sons trained as doctors; one now lives in the States. 

The Japanese occupation of Hong Kong generated resistance to it. This took two main forms - some Communist inspired resistance, mainly in the New Territories and the British Army Aid Group (BAAG) which was organised as an MI9 unit of the British Army, operating across the whole of South China, aimed at gathering intelligence and getting POWs out of detention and which, for the first time in the history of Hong Kong, made no differences whatever on grounds of race.

This part of our story starts with this chap:

Lord Lugard, who as you may remember founded the University of Hong Kong, against the wishes of almost everyone, back in 1911, and applied the Boxer Indemity to fund it.

A good job that he did, because in 1928 this chap:

LTR Photo Brigadier
was appointed Professor of Physiology there.

Australians who have been waiting patiently for a mention may now stand up and salute, because Sir Lindsay Tasman Ride, CBE is a genuine Australian hero.

The son of a missionary, he served on the Western Front in WW1, was injured and invalided out. He went to the University of Melbourne where he studied medicine, he was elected a Rhodes Scholar (he was best known at Oxford for his rowing) and he qualified as a surgeon at Guys Hospital,

Whereupon he was appointed Professor at HKU.

He was a real Hong Kong enthusiast; he loved the place and his students loved him and called him "Doc Ride". He played cricket, he rowed, he sang, he was commissioned in the Volunteers.

Come the invasion he ran a field ambulance, was taken prisoner, and escaped after a very few days. He got out to China and formed, with Dick Lee Ming Chak, out of HKU students and Government workers, the British Army Aid Group (BAAG), along with this chap:

Sir Ronald Holmes, then a Hong Kong junior civil servant who was attached to the SOE with orders to remain behind Japanese lines. His Cantonese was so fluent that he was able to enter Hong Kong during the Japanese occupation, dressed as a Chinese peasant, and get out again, unchallenged.

They were joined by Paul Tsui, an HKU grduate. Tsui must have been an effective secret agent as I can't find a photo of him, but his memoirs, which are a cracking good read, are here:


These three set up the BAAG, whose business was to assist escaping POWs, (who were sent off to join the Chindits in Burma) and to obtain intelligence on the situation in Hong Kong.

It was remarkably effective. The BAAG grew to be quite a sizeable operation; it replaced the SOE operation as SOE tactics were not workable in Hong Kong. It included amongst its members people from the Hong Kong upper classes, like Keswick and Clague from the Princely Hong and Lee from the Lee Hysan family as well as ordinary people like the Governor's former driver.

The reason why I have spent some time on this MI9 unit is that its members played key roles in the restoration of British rule in Hong Kong after the war - and indeed in the Star Ferry Riots, where Sir Ronald was Colonial Secretary. As you may well imagine, a man who walked into and out of Japanese-controlled Hong Kong as a British spy was not likely to be fazed by mere rioting Communists.

The BAAG was not the only anti-Japanese unit; the Gangjiu Da Dui Guerillas operated on Lantau and the Dongjiang Guerillas were in the New Territories; the latter were a force of around 6,000, and were more or less Communist led.

If you know the history of Malaya in WW2 and the Malayan Emergency you will recognise a pattern here - British and pro-British forces combine with Communist forces against the Japanese, then find themselves on opposite sides afterwards.

The case of Hong Kong however was even more complicated, because FD Roosevelt had been prevailed on by Soong Mei-Ling, wife of Chiang Kai-Shek, to promise that, at the end of the War, Hong Kong would be returned to China and the British would be kicked out.

The British were not terribly happy about this and neither were the Communists...

The Japanese made absolutely no attempt to gain the hearts and minds of the Hong Kong population. Nor did they understand the Hong Kong economy, which of course collapsed. The HK$ was replaced by the "Military Yen", the banks were replaced with branches of Japanese banks (British and Chinese bankers were held separately from other internees and sometimes tortured in an attempt to make them hand over deposits).

Japanese language tuition was introduced in the schools. A curfew was maintained but since there was very little electric power most homes were lit with candles.

Food rationing was introduced and maintained, at about half the level of a normal diet, throughout the occupation. In a desperate attempt to eke out the food supply, rather over a million of the population of around one million six hundred thousand were deported to China.

Atrocities against the civilian population were numerous.

In short the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong was a fiasco; the Japanese tried to replace the British but they had no idea of how to go about it. They don't seem to have been at all interested in liberating their fellow Asians from colonial rule*. The only economic benefit was the slave labour of six thousand prisoners of war, but the Japanese occupation forces numbered more than that. They would have done better not to bother with the place.

There are two remaining traces of the Japanese occupation.

For some reason a tower was built on the Governor's house; it's still there.

The other lasting legacy is that the Hong Kong Jockey Club holds races on Sundays, which it did not do before the War. This was the only popular move of the Japanese administration.

Hong Kong had not been much damaged during the Battle of Hong Kong; this was partly because the defenders artillery was mainly using AP rounds rather than HE (they had been expecting an attack by sea).

However later in the War Hong Kong's infrastructure was very heavily damaged by US bombing of anything and anywhere that had strategic value, like the dockyards.

This is Taikoo Dockyard under attack by the US Air Force:

Air Raid 1945-01-16 (1)

When the reclamation for Chek Lap Kok Airport was under way, Hong Kong United Dockards calculated that there was not a single week when they did not have a dredger with a USAF 500lb bomb caught in a bucket to sort out.

* So far as the Chinese were concerned. The Japanese attitude to the Indian population was rather different - for the first time in their lives, the Indian population of Hong Kong, used to being looked down on by British and Chinese alike, found themselves treated better than either. The reason of course was that the Japanese were trying to foment an uprising against the British in India.

Not all of them, though. The Japanese tried to "turn" Captain Ansari of the 5th Battalion, the Rajput Regiment, when they found that he was related to a Ruling Prince. When he refused he was tortured and eventually beheaded; he was awarded the George Cross pusthumously:




Came across a very enjoyable book a few years back "From Peking to Perth" by Alice Briggs. Born in China, grew up and educated in UK and then returned to HK after her marriage. Spent three years in a Japanese internment camp. Now lives in Perth WA. In this account she dispels the image of the Japanese as cruel captors!

A great addition to the library of HK addicts. published by Artlook Books, PO Box 8268 Stirling Street, Perth WA.

I'll be happy to correspond with anybody interested in the BAAG. 

My father, Paul Ka-cheung Tsui, was a fresh grad of HKU when the Japanese invaded HK.  He was recruited by Col. (later Sir) Lindsay Ride and joined the BAAG at Kukong (Shaoguan today) in March 1942 at its inception. [Admin: Click here for more about Paul Tsui.]

I have been conducting research on the BAAG for a number of years, and would be happy to share or tell what I know about it.  It is the story of Hong Kong people's resistance to the Japanese invasion during the 3 years & 8 months after the Battle of HK in December 1941. 

Thank you, Mr. Tsui.  Besides BAAG, I am also interested in the history of Wah Yan College founded by your grandfather.

I'll be happy to share about the two Wah Yan Colleges (HK & Kowloon). I attended WYHK and have researched on the establishment of WYK. I also attended St Joan of Arc Primary School which was using the 2-8 Robinson Road premises vacated by WYHK & St. Joseph's College in the mid-50s. Questions help me focus.

In this connection, I have also been learning about 'Shek Lo' (Peter Lodge) of Lung Yeun Tau (Head of the Leaping Dragon) Heritage Trial which was the house Peter Tsui Yan-sau built when he was developing Wah Yan.  In the 70s, I had a cosy hideout in the house my father Paul Tsui grew up.  The house also contains much of the collective memories of the extended Tsui family.   

Meanwhile, I'm trying to rediscover all I could about 'Dunrose' at Castle Peak opposite the Gold Coast Resort Hotel.  It was a colonial bungalow serving as the residence of the District Officer Yuen Long.  I believe it is still standing there today, obscured behind big trees.  British Officers from the adjacent garrison camps used to attend mass there on Sundays, and had tea in the garden after mass. Paul Tsui was DO-YL 1950-52 before he left for London for his HMOCS Devonshire Course II at Oxford & LSE.  The place contains my first recollection of childhood.



It is great to see another fellow Wahyanite on Gwulo.com.  The following threads mentioned Wah Yan College Hong Kong: 

Photos of Old Houses

St Joseph's Building [????-1988]

The first thread (3 pages long) contains some information and queries about the similarly-named St. Joseph's Building, St Joseph's Mansion and St Joseph's Terrace, and their relationship with Wah Yan College on Robinson Road.  Perhaps you can enlighten us?  Thank you!

Hello Lawrence, do you have any information on what were the circumstances or how Rudy Choy joined BAAG? I know that he had founded Kowloon Dairy in 1940, so obviously he was already a successful business man.


[Admin: I've moved the replies about Rudy Choy to his own page.]

Hi Andrew,

Thank you very much for your efforts, I really enjoy reading your articles- great stuff.

Please keep up the good work.

Ps: Minor Correction: The photo of Taikoo docks being bombed is actually the work of the US Navy carrier task force stirkes on HK (Aircraft from the USS Hancock I believe)- 16th Januray 1945 (sorry to be padantic).

As you wil know, your father became the first non-European Hong Kong Cadet after the war. in his book, governing hong kong, Steve Tsang describes how he came to be appointed (p56) and has a splendid photograph of him in dress uniform.

Paul Tsui was given commission in the British Military under the Intelligence Corp GHQ India in July1945.  He was appointed to an emergency commission of 2/Lt. and elevated to Captain (IO) soon after. He did not seek that appointment. Until then, he was civilian Secretary of BAAG AHQ Wai Chow and played key roles in the Field Intelligence Group as well as liaison with the local Chinese authorities.  

Being a Commissioned Officer, he was assigned in the British Military Administration upon return to Hong Kong, stayed at the Peninsular Hotel, and posted to ADO New Territories.  His knowledge of the NT including North-east New Territories where he grew up, as well as South-east NT (Saikung) through which the BAAG operated, stood him in good stead.  As ADO NT, he traveled on a Catalina seaplane with the Governor Sir Mark Young and other Exco Members touring the NT.  He impressed them by his knowledge.  Sir Mark Young asked if he wanted be to a Cadet Officer.  He did not take that too seriously as there was a racial bar to the service.  Later, his superior, Mr. Barrow, the DO/NT, wrote in his performance report that he might be interested in joining the administrative service upon demob.  In Dec 1947, the Colonial office informed him that he has been offered a probationary appointment to the Colonial Administrative Service as an Administrative Officer in Hong Kong.  The probation was for three years. He accepted the offer. 

His career was seemingly more organic than planned.  The first time he arrived London for his training, the retired former Governor, Sir Mark Young, personally came to greet him at Victoria Station.  I believe Sir Mark Young had a lot to do with breaking that racial barrier to the Administrative Service for local officers for his vision of a new Post-War Hong Kong.

In April 1956, Paul Tsui was enrolled as a Member of HM Overseas Civil Service.  Perhaps there was a change of titles for the Colonial Service.  I don't recall seeing any other Local AOs wearing that white HMCS or HMOCS uniform. 



Dear Andrew,

You wrote:

Come the invasion [Ride] ran a field ambulance, was taken prisoner, and escaped after a very few days. He got out to China and formed, with Dick Lee Ming Chak, out of HKU students and Government workers, the British Army Aid Group (BAAG)...

I wonder if the reference to Dick Lee should be to Francis Lee Yiu-piu instead? There's more about Francis at https://gwulo.com/node/17846, including how he helped Ride escape to China, and also took part in laying the foundations for the BAAG.

Regards, David