The price of rice in wartime
Rice is Hong Kong's staple food. As shown below, the cost of rice increased over 600 times during the 3 years 8 months of the Japanese occupation.
|Date||Price per catty in HK$||Source|
|1941-12-01||0.15||WIS #14, 16.12.42.|
|1942-08-01||(official rate) 1.20||WIS #14, 16.12.42|
|1942-08-01||(black market rate) 1.20||WIS #14, 16.12.42|
|1942-11-30||(official rate MY0.30) 1.20||Harry Ching|
|1942-11-30||(black rate MY0.67) 2.68||Harry Ching|
|1943-02-28||(black market rate) 3.70||WIS #23, 14.3.43|
|1943-08-08||(Ration MY0.30) 1.20||Tom Hutchinson|
|1943-09-20||(Ration MY0.375) 1.50||Tom Hutchinson|
|1943-12-10||(Black Market MY2.35) 9.40||Tom Hutchinson|
|1944-03-14||(Black Market MY4.7) 18.80||Tom Hutchinson|
|1944-04-07||(MY7) 28.00||Harry Ching|
|1944-07-24||("Kam Fung Suet" @ MY8.10) 32.40||KWIZ #68,29.9.44|
|1944-08-02||(MY7.00) 28.00||KWIZ #67, 22.9.44|
|1944-08-22||(MY14.00) 56.00||KWIZ #72, 27.10.44|
|1944-10-17||(MY14) 56.00||KWIZ #76, 24.11.44|
|1944-11-13||(MY18.5) 74.00||KWIZ #78, 22.12.44|
|1944-12-08||(MY27.00) 108.00||KWIZ #78, 22.12.44|
|1944-12-20||(MY24.5) 98.00||Tom Hutchinson|
Price per catty in HK$
The sources above all use the "catty" as their unit of measure for retail sales of rice. It is still widely used today in food shops and markets today, and is roughly equal to 1.3 lb, or 0.6 kg.
I've used HK$ as the currency, though all the later prices are quoted in Military Yen (MY). This was the currency introduced by the Japanese shortly after the British surrendered. The initial exchange rate was HK$2:MY1, but from July 1942 it was changed to HK$4:MY1. I've used the 4:1 rate throughout.
In earlier references the sources specify whether the price quoted is the official / ration price, or the black market price. In April 1944, Harry Ching writes: "Rice rationing to cease from 15th April", and from then on all rice is bought and sold at the market rate.
"Kam Fung Suet" is a type / brand of rice. The report mentions two types, and this is the cheaper.
I don't have any prices for 1945. I wonder if it is because rice became so scarce and unaffordable, it wasn't available to the average person? If you know of any 1945 prices, please could you let us know in the comments below?
For comparison, a catty of rice costs HK$4 - 8 in the supermarkets today.
Thanks to Elizabeth Ride for giving me a head-start on this. She has compiled a list of the costs of commodities from the WIS (Waichow Intelligence Summary ) and KWIZ (Kweillin Weekly Intelligence Summary) documents produced by the BAAG (British Army Aid Group). Copies of these documents are held in the Elizabeth Ride Collection.
If you have any family diaries or memoirs from wartime Hong Kong, would you be willing to share them here on Gwulo.com?