One of the things I like best to do on a sunny day in Hong Kong is go to Stanley. This small and rather upscale village on the far side of Hong Kong Island takes some energy and effort to get to, but here you can sit behind a Belgian beer and watch the ships on the horizon go by on their way to distant ports. The combination of journey, beer, and view provide a sense of holiday for the few hours one spends in this place. But Stanley was not always such a carefree place, and indeed for some it is a place where although cared for, the circumstance is not free.
The British did not do so well defending Hong Kong against the Japanese in World War Two. Despite the elaborate tunnels and fortifications, the territory fell in just two weeks and the battle for Hong Kong ended on Christmas Day 1941. Hong Kong was occupied for 3 years and eight months, during which time martial law was imposed. Those residents of Hong Kong who were from allied countries were considered enemies and were either sent elsewhere in Asia to work or interned in camps. One of the largest of the Japanese camps, housing both men and women was located in Stanley.
On 5 January 1942 all British, Dutch and American citizens in Hong Kong were assembled at Murray Parade in front of Murray House and put in temporary billets. By the end of January 1942, nearly 3000 men, women, and children were taken to the camp in Stanley (others, according to a paper by Archer and Fedorowich were taken to smaller camps located in more urban parts of the territory). A local doctor persuaded the Japanese to utilise the Stanley site for the camp because he felt the chances for contracting malaria would be less due to the winds and other geographical features of the area. The distance also meant that women were more protected from the Japanese soldiers who were reported to have gone on rampages looking for women to rape. It is somewhat appropriate, or perhaps ironic, that when the Bank of China tower was built in the 1980’s on the site of Murray House, the old colonial building was deconstructed and then reassembled in Stanley (along with Blake Pier).
Today, on the site where the internment camp was located sits a maximum security prison for men. It was established just prior to the war (and was converted to the internment camp during the war) and is the oldest remaining working prison in Hong Kong. Until 1990, when Hong Kong abolished capital punishment, the prison was also a place of execution, though the last prisoner to be hung was in 1966. Recent news about the prison includes a report of activists protesting the detainment of Koo Sze-yiu, who was jailed this February (2013) for nine months for desecrating Chinese and Hong Kong flags at two separate rallies in 2012 (see the SCMP reports here and here). Koo was protesting mainland Human Rights abuses, but local magistrates did not feel that his cause was served by burning the Hong Kong flag.
I’ve compiled a list of other things to do when visiting Hong Kong on this post: Visiting Hong Kong: Things I would do if I were coming to visit.
For more about life as an internee of the Japanese, the wonderful film, Empire of the Sun, directed by Stephen Spielberg is definitely worth a watch, though it concerns the capture of Shanghai, not Hong Kong. You can get the movie from Amazon.com
and from Amazon.co.uk.
The novel by Janice Y K Lee, called The Piano Teacher, also provides a detailed account of expat life in Hong Kong before, during and after the war. It is available in book and kindle format from Amazon.co and from Amazon.co.uk.
The web site, Gwulo: Old Hong Kong has a good list of further sources concerning the internment camp at Stanley. You can find it here.
This post is part of the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge. The theme this week is Carefree. You can find the challenge here.