There’s an interesting article in today’s Sunday Morning Post about Wang Jingwei, the wartime Chinese leader who collaborated with the Japanese to set up a puppet government in Nanjing, and who has been reviled by Chinese ever since as a traitor. Indeed, his very name carries the same derogatory associations as ‘Quisling’ in the West. It seems that Wang’s calligraphy and artworks, shunned since his death in 1944, are now becoming collectables for the first time.
Peter Hui — the subject of our book King Hui: The Man Who Owned All the Opium in Hong Kong — had a different view of Wang. Hui saw Wong Ching-wai (in the Cantonese pronunciation) as doing his best to ensure a stable life for the Chinese under Japanese occupation. Of course, Hui was a collaborator too. Here we print an excerpt from King Hui covering the fall of Hong Kong in 1941.
As soon as we knew the Japanese were going to invade we thought there would be chaos and looting. It seemed inevitable. But nothing like that happened. The first thing everyone thought of was to get money out of the banks and to buy food. By the time the Japanese invaded everyone had prepared themselves as far as they could. Now, we just waited. We didn’t know how long the battle would last or how long. I think we all knew the Japanese would win but we expected the fight to be very hard and long. Actually, Hong Kong fell very quickly. The sound of explosions stopped. We waited. We had no idea what was going to happen. Most of the people hated the British but they also hated the Japanese. Maybe the British were better. Maybe the Japanese were better. Who could say? On the one hand the Japanese were Asians like us. On the other hand, they were famous for being very cruel. The massacre at Nanjing was still a recent memory. What would they do to us? Everyone stayed indoors and waited to see what would happen.
On Kowloon side the Japanese quickly pushed the British back. The Peninsula Hotel was the command headquarters for the British generals. But there were many civilians there too. My brother-in-law’s colleague, Tsui Tim, was the Chinese superintendent of the hotel. As soon as he saw the situation was getting worse and that the fighting was getting closer he ordered the British flag to be pulled down. The British commanding general was furious. He ordered Tsui Tim to put it back up again but Tsui refused. He told the general: “If we have the flag up the Japanese will aim their guns at this building. There are women and children here. Also I am responsible for the safety of the hotel staff. I think for everyone’s sake this is the sensible thing to do.” And so the flag stayed down. That’s why the Peninsula Hotel was not damaged by gunfire.
The Japanese rode into Central a few days later on horseback. They immediately took over the Hong Kong Hotel as their headquarters and put the staff quarters under their control as well.
For the majority of the people of Hong Kong food became the big problem. Some people were starving on the streets. The poor people had nowhere to live and no money to buy rice. But it was no problem for my family. My brother-in-law was the Superintendent of the Hong Kong Hotel. Naturally, we had access to all the food supplies in the hotel. We had caviar, salmon, steak, lobster — anything we wanted. We just went into the food store and took it. My father and the rest of my family didn’t like western food so much so he would choose food to make Chinese dishes. And there was plenty of wine and brandy. My father was always a heavy drinker and by this time so was I. Every night we had a feast. Each of us drank two or three bottles of brandy a day. My father liked Hennessy. That was the best in those days. The brand he liked had an axe-head on the label. I remember that. As soon as the invasion started, Ho Tim had closed the hotel up and told all the staff that because of the emergency they were all being made unemployed immediately. There was no possibility of paying them off because there was no money on hand. He told them they were welcome to stay as long as they wanted at the staff quarters but from now on they would have to find their own food. If they ate in the canteen they would have to pay for it. He advised them to go back to China. What else could they do?
China was better for two reasons. First it was under the control of the puppet government of Wong Ching-wai which had been set up by the Japanese. It was therefore more stable and it was possibl