The Japanese “Total-State” Experiment in Hong Kong, 1942-1945

Project: Research project

Project Details


The proposed study uses Hong Kong’s experience under occupation by the Japanese government (honkon senryōchi sōtokubu, December 1941 to August 1945) as an example to elucidate strategic, institutional, social, and economic perspectives in regard to the inner workings of and tensions within the Japanese empire, a “total-state” that was created according to the ideals of “total war”. Utilizing primary sources, most of them previously unused, from multiple archives in the United Kingdom, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the United States, this project argues that in addition to military failure against the Allies, problems inherent in the total-state, and a lack of coordination between different areas under Japanese control played a role in this collapse. This research will deepen our understanding of the wartime experience of Hong Kong and its relationship with other areas under Japanese control.

When the Japanese Army captured Hong Kong in December 1941, the ex-British colony was not treated as one of the European possessions that the Japanese promised to liberate, or as one of the Chinese cities that would be handed to the Nanjing government under Wang Jing-wei or other local collaborationist regimes. Instead, Hong Kong was designed as a stronghold of Japanese influence in South China and Asia, a political base from which to rally the overseas Chinese and to undermine Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalist government, a shipping hub serving a Japan-centered trading bloc, and one of the overseas industrial centers of the Japanese empire. To turn Hong Kong into a valuable strategic possession, the Japanese authority in Hong Kong attempted to establish a total-state modelled after Manchuria and Japan.

However, despite its efforts and investments, more often than not backed by coercion, the Japanese total-state in Hong Kong ended in failure because of the lack of cooperation between the many departments in the Japanese government, between Tokyo, Hong Kong, and the many Japanese authorities in Asia, and between Japanese corporations and the state. Its failure was also the result of unrealistic planning and of trying to establish and sustain the total-state through mainly coercion and excessive centralization. Chinese and Allied resistance and counterattacks also played a key role in the total-state’s failure. These factors, although insufficient to bring down the Japanese empire, eroded its ability to mobilize resources to sustain the war against the Allies especially after 1943, when the Allies started to enact counterattacks on multiple fronts.
Effective start/end date1/01/2031/12/22


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