The Fall of Hong Kong

Britain, China, and the Japanese Occupation

Philip Snow

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The definitive account of the wartime history of Hong Kong

On Christmas Day 1941 the Japanese captured Hong Kong, and Britain lost control of its Chinese colony for almost four years. The Japanese occupation was a turning point in the slow historical process by which the British were to be expelled from the colony and from four centuries of influence in East Asia. In this powerfully researched narrative, Philip Snow for the first time unravels the dramatic story of the occupation from the viewpoint of all the key players—the Hong Kong Chinese, the British, the Japanese, and the mainland Chinese—and reinterprets the subsequent evolution of Hong Kong in the light of this half-buried episode.

Drawing on an unprecedented range of sources across continents and across languages, Snow reveals what really happened: the widespread desertion of the British by Chinese personnel during the invasion; the acquiescence of the Asian upper class in the Japanese takeover; the vicious cruelty of the Japanese conquerors towards the Chinese masses; and the post-war British decision to draw a veil over the occupation’s murkier aspects. Now, with Hong Kong returned to the Chinese and its future closely tied to the commercial influence of Japan: the colony’s wartime nemesis may hold the key to its survival in the twenty-first century.

Philip Snow is an orientalist educated at Oxford University. The son of the writers C. P. Snow and Pamela Hansford Johnson, he is author of the acclaimed The Star Raft: China’s Encounter with Africa.

A selection of the History Book Club

“Finally, here is a solid history of Hong Kong under the Japanese, written with empathy and skill, and filled with choice detail.”—Mishi Saran, Asian Wall Street Journal


"In tracing the shift of power back to the 1940s, Snow writes vividly of the sleep colony and its forgotten administrators, some well-meaning, others stuck in outdated aspic. . . . The 1997 handover and the political stagnation that has followed were an inevitability dictated by history and the realities of contemporary international power politics. Snow shows that their roots reach much further back, and his book valuably illuminates the reality left by the defeat of 1941."—Jonathan Fenby, BBC History Magazine

“Snow admirably tells the story from all points of view, including the Japanese, and does not simply concentrate on Europeans as most of the previous literature has done. This book, based on solid research and using material from archives in Britain, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan as well as numerous Chinese primary and secondary sources, also provides an excellent case study of the difficulties experienced by an occupation government in a heterogeneous environment. Highly recommended.”—Choice

"Magnificent. . . . [Snow] has done an enormous, Stakhanovite job in the archives, and the result is a synthesis not only of the British perspective . . . but of the Chinese and Japanese sources as well. . . . The amount of work involved, and the clarity of mind Snow brings to his labor of storytelling and contextualizing are amazing."—John Lanchester, Daily Telegraph

"[The Fall of Hong Kong] is very different, and very good. . . . Where [Snow] comes into its own is in his use of Japanese and Chinese as well as British sources, which offer a much more nuanced picture than has appeared before in English of life among Hong Kong’s different communities before and during the Japanese occupation."—Economist

“This is a very thorough and well-written study, which can be heartily recommended to anyone interested in the history of Hong Kong, in the origins and course of the Pacific War, or more generally in British imperialism.”—Anthony Best, History Vol. 89

“Despite the considerable quantity of detail presented in this book, the author has succeeded through clarity of organization and immaculate writing style in producing an immensely readable work which, without in any way compromising high standards of academic rigour, will be accessible to non-specialist readers. Thoughtful and well researched, there is not a better book on this subject nor any as full in its treatment.”—Hugh D. R. Baker, The China Quarterly

"An exciting narrative. . . . Worth waiting for. . . . This book is so rich in its sources (the footnotes are fascinating) that a reviewer quails at his task. . . . Stimulating and highly informative."—Jonathan Mirsky, Times Literary Review

"Snow has written a worthwhile book that deserves a wide readership." —A. Hamish Ion, International History Review

ISBN: 9780300093520
Publication Date: June 10, 2003
528 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
20 b/w illus.