Monthly Archives: December 2012

Emily Hahn As Source (2): Tanaka Transcends The War

Dr. Selwyn-Clarke, writing of the period after the Christmas Day 1941 surrender of Hong Kong, tells us of the first indication he had that not all Japanese officers were obstructive:

One of my first encounters with helpfulness from a Japanese officer concerned the reserve of four-gallon tins of biscuits, made of soya bean and wheaten flour with the addition of thiamine hydrochloride powder (against beri beri) which I had had baked in the leading department-store of Lane Crawford against the anticipated siege. By good fortune the Japanese had put Lane Crawford’s in charge of a certain Lieutenant Tanaka, who allowed me to remove all the tins for distribution to the P. O. W. and civilian camps and to those Chinese hospitals which had not been closed by the Japanese forces.[1]

Emily Hahn’s story ‘Silicon Dioxide’ describes a dinner hosted by Hilda Selwyn-Clarke, arranged for the purpose of persuading a Japanese officer, Captain Yamaguchi, to release a store of biscuits from Lane, Crawford – he’s been put in charge of the company’s entire stock of food.[2] As part of her unremitting campaign to denigrate Hilda, Hahn claims that she considered these delicious and nutrition-packed pieces of confectionery, baked by my father at the bakery in Stubbs Road,[3] to taste no better than ‘dog biscuits’![4] That’s a joke, but the campaign was real enough, and I’ll discuss it in a future post (while keeping an open  mind as to Hilda’s opinion of the biscuits).

Captain Yamaguchi is undoubtedly based in some sense on Tanaka – or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that one of the factors in the creation of this character was Hahn’s encounter with this real-life officer. We have a detailed first-hand account of Captain Tanaka in Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s Hong Kong Memoir.[5]A comparison between the Memoir and the story will throw light on Hahn’s intentions and on the nature of Hong Kong Holiday as a historical source.[6]

Hahn’s been forewarned that Yamaguchi’s one of the more helpful Japanese officers, yet at first she sees him as a set of stereotypes:

The captain stood in the doorway, clicked his heels, and bowed smartly, just like a German. He was stocky and spectacled and could have been a model for a wartime cartoonist; there were the teeth and the simian grin and the bandy, booted legs. Unlike most of his brother officers, Captain Yamaguchi had not shaved his head, instead he affected a Prussian haircut, half an inch long and bristling like a brush.[7]

 Such a description would be rightly seen as offensive if it came from a writer today – even though, as we shall see, it’s going to be overturned. The representation of the Japanese in terms of monkeys was not uncommon in the 1930s and 1940s, and this, and similar racist denigration,  contributed to the brutality of the Japanese occupation – although it’s worth pointing out that the British and even more so the Americans were on the whole treated better than other nationalities by the Hong Kong Japanese, so an emphasis on ‘white’ racism is very limited in its explanatory power. But what I want to draw attention to here is that Hahn first perceives Yamaguchi in terms that combine negative stereotypes of  both the Germans and the Japanese. It seems that the link with the Teutonic is not just present in the eye of the beholder: Yamaguchi says he spent a year studying in Germany and that, ‘My English too bad’,[8] while, as we shall see, his German’s  a lot better.

Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s Memoir also introduces Tanaka in a way that makes the reader think he’s going to turn out to be a typical Japanese officer– it’s Boxing Day 1941, and he’s come to take over Lane, Crawford’s Exchange Building:

The Jap Captain speaks fairly good English, his name is Tanaka, he is a communications officer and all his men are technicians. He has come to take over the Telephone Exchange and spends a lot of time with the staff on the top floor.

Meanwhile he tells Brown ((the Lane, Crawford manager)) to make out a list of names of all the people in the Building. As we look out the windows on to the street we see Jap sentries at every corner, no one is allowed to move about other than Japs….I go and see Brown and he explains to Capt. Tanaka that Hammond and I are also Military and wish to go to Murray Barracks. Tanaka orders us to stay where we are. There are two sentries on the front door, and the side doors are locked, no one is allowed to enter or leave the building.[9]

Tanaka seems here to be the kind of Japanese officer we’ve met in innumerable other accounts; he’s authoritarian and it looks like he’s going to keep the assorted crowd that’s ended up in the Exchange Building on a tight leash. But what are we to make of the contrasting assessments of Tanaka’s English-language skills, Yamaguchi’s ‘too bad’ versus ‘fairly good’? Perhaps Staff-Sergeant Sheridan was exaggerating: Tanaka had an interpreter assigned to him in the early days of the occupation: the admirable and courageous Kaneko Bush, the Japanese wife of a Hong Kong Naval officer.[10] But this arrangement didn’t last long because Mrs. Bush was arrested by the Kempeitai on January 2, 1942[11] and it’s possible that he only needed an interpreter in the first days because he was then discussing technical matters with English-speaking professionals in his capacity as Communications Officer. But, as we shall see, whatever the truth of this, Hahn’s association of the Captain with Germany and the fact that she’s made him competent in German but not English is not an accident.

Hahn’s own presentation of Yamaguchi as a not untypical Japanese officer continues. He says he’s living in the Matsabura (Gloucester) Hotel and is looking for a house; Hilda suggests their place on the Peak, but Selwyn points out that Colonel Eguchi – the Medical Officer and the man mainly responsible for allowing Selwyn-Clarke to continue his work – has already taken it. Then, Hahn tells us, Yamaguchi looks around the flat as if he’s considering and rejecting it for himself[12]– just the kind of predatory interest we might expect!

His ‘too bad’ English means that when he tries to ask questions after dinner – during which he eats a lot of chicken – he keeps slipping into German, so he ends up writing questions on paper, in Germanic script, and giving them to Selwyn-Clarke, who passes them to Hahn.[13] Yamaguchi has previously told Selwyn-Clarke he wants an evening of scientific conversation and music[14] so it’s less of a surprise that one of these questions turns out to be ‘What are chemical composition of glass?’[15] Hahn’s answer gives the story its title, but discussion of this aspect is outside the scope of the current post. Yamaguchi, for all his friendliness, remains firmly in charge of the evening; after an hour or so of science, he announces, ‘We will now have the music’.[16] The music turns out to be the Kreutzer Sonata – Yamaguchi nods and hums, while the others sit motionless in the shadows, looking at him and thinking.[17]

Hahn would have the reader believe that Yamaguchi’s decision to hand over the bulk of the ‘siege biscuits’ – he’s already given Selwyn-Clarke a few cases– hangs on the success of the evening. This is an obviously useful literary device to provide both narrative thrust and tension, and it might or might not have some grounding in reality; but Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s Tanaka only needs to be asked to do something helpful and it’s done:

There are thousands of loaves of bread in the main store in the basement going stale. Brown makes a suggestion to Tanaka that it be distributed to the Hospitals before it becomes unfit for consumption. Tanaka agrees and provides a lorry and armed escort.[18]

Sometimes he doesn’t even need to be asked:

About 7th February 1942 we are informed by Tanaka that we must leave the Exchange Building next day. Hammond, Edgar, Peacock and myself are to move to the French Hospital in Causeway Bay to join Dr Selwyn-Clarke’s team….Tanaka orders us to make out a list for each man for a week’s supply of tinned goods, which he issues from the store the night before we go.[19]

I’ll leave out several examples of Captain Tanaka’s generosity to all those under his control. Clearly he had developed a personal relationship with the bakers:

We thank him for his kindness and later he comes up to our room.[20]

I can testify that the only time my father talked about the war without showing clear signs of suppressed fury and horror was when he mentioned one or the other kindness of Captain Tanaka.

By the time Staff-Sergeant Sheridan comes to describe Tanaka’s appearance and character he’s come to realise that he’s ‘an exception’ to the general run of Japanese officer in the way he treats the British:

So far he has treated everyone very humanely, we have received reasonably good food and fair treatment.

Tanaka is not a regular Army Officer, but a civil Telecommunications engineer in uniform. He speaks reasonably good English and has travelled quite a bit in England.

At a guess he would be about 45 to 50 years old, but it is not easy to tell the ages of Asiatics. He wears large horn rimmed spectacles, but appears to be a fit man.[21]

There is no trace of stereotyping here; Tanaka is a human being, albeit of a group that is harder in one (neutral) way for Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s group to ‘read’. And I see no reason to doubt Sheridan’s statement about Tanaka’s time in England. Hahn has deliberately transposed his European experience for the purposes of her story.

So why is Yamaguchi constantly associated with Germany? Everything from his haircut to his taste in music is German, and even the content of the evening – science and music – matches common Anglo-American perceptions of the Teutonic. Early reviewer Frances Stover writes:

The description of the Japanese captain who wanted an evening of ‘scientific conversation and music’ is typical of the Axis in each hemisphere.[22]

Yes, indeed: but that’s only the half of it. Hahn’s story was first published in The New Yorker on October 14, 1944.[23] By this time it was clear that the defeat of both Germany and Japan was inevitable. At one point in the evening, Hahn thinks she’s understood Yamaguchi’s rather strange social behaviour:

I began to understand the little man. He was trying to transcend the war. He was trying hard to spend an evening of civilized intercourse as Westerners would do it.[24]

If that dinner party really happened – and I think it probably did – it must have been in January or February 1942, close to the start of the occupation. As it’s described in the story, Hahn goes through a process of growing awareness: she first sees Tanaka as a bearer of stereotypical characteristics of both of America’s main enemies, but she comes to understand that he’s not a cartoonist’s model of any kind but a human being (with a wife but ‘unfortunately no baby’[25]). He’s been fighting for six years but has remained human; his desire to ‘transcend the war’, comic although it at first seems enables Hahn to do the same and to stop seeing the enemy in terms of stereotypes. And it acts as a recommendation for the USA, soon to be in Tanaka’s position of dominance, to find the forms of transcendence appropriate to a victor nation and not to hang on to the insulting cartoon versions of the enemy, either Japanese or German. Let’s think, Hahn is implying, of Germany as the nation of Beethoven and scientific achievement, and picture the Japanese not as predatory simians but as people capable of appreciating the best that European culture has to offer.

Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s Memoir strikes me as an unusually good historical source:  the author makes no attempt to exaggerate his own role in events or to get back at those whose behaviour he didn’t approve of but draws on an excellent memory to describe the events he was part of in a remarkably objective way. Of course, no work is an uncomplicated chronicle of ‘what really happened’ – as I pointed out earlier, Tanaka is introduced in a way that makes the reader think he’s no different from any other Japanese officer so that we can share the author’s gradual awareness of his humanitarian generosity. The Memoir is principal a historical record, but, like all such, it uses art and technique to get its stories across in an effective way.

‘Silicon Dioxide’, on the other hand, should not be read primarily as a piece of history; an earlier reviewer called it ‘very nearly a perfect short story’.[26] I discussed the ways in which another of the stories of Hong Kong Holiday has been so read in the previous post,[27] and it would be easier if the volume bore no relation to the real history of occupied Hong Kong at all! It’s based firmly on Hahn’s own experiences there and it’s hard to resist the temptation to use it – and there’s no need to if this is done with care and with awareness of what a story like ‘Silicon Dioxide’ above all is: a piece of literary art that takes real events and people and shapes them so as to make a point (a number of points in fact, although I’ve focused on only one). And personally this delights me: Captain Tanaka, so kind to my father, and to many others, is made into a symbol of transcendence, a signal to a soon-to-be victorious America to quickly shed the coarsening of perceptions brought about by war.

[1] Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke, Footprints, 1975, 74.

[2] Emily Hahn, Hong Kong Holiday, 1946, 123.


[4] Hahn, 1946, 124.

[5] Kindly made available to me by Helen Dodd and her sisters.


[7] Hahn, 1946, 126.

[8] Hahn, 1956, 127.

[9] Patrick Sheridan, Hong Kong Memoir, 82.

[10] Lewis Bush, The Road To Inamura, 1972 (1961), 144-145.

[11] China Mail, January 1, 1947, page 2.

[12] Hahn, 1946, 127-128.

[13] Hahn, 1946, 129.

[14] Hahn, 1946, 123.

[15] Hahn, 1946, 129.

[16] Hahn, 1946, 130.

[17] Hahn, 1946, 130.

[18] Memoir, 82.

[19] Memoir, 91.

[20] Memoir, 91.

[21] Memoir, 86.

[24] Hahn, 1946, 130.

[25] Hahn, 1946, 128.

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Lee Lam

Note: This is one of a series of posts on the people executed on October 29, 1943. I have only two sources for Mr. Lee, and one of them doesn’t use his name, so I can’t be certain they both refer to the same man. The incident described does seem the same though. Corrections and additions are very welcome.
Note 2: For more information from a new source see

 In September 1942 the British Army Aid Group was passing messages to POWs from Shamshuipo when they were sent out of camp to work on extending Kai Tak airport. This work stopped in December and for several weeks the link was broken until a ration truck driver passed a message to T. Farrell, who took it to Captain Douglas Ford.[1] The driver was thirty eight year old Lee Lam – known as ‘Sunny Jim’. He was employed before the war in the Government Finance Department. In 1942/43 he was working for the Kowloon Bus Company.

 The story of his first delivery is told in more detail by Ralph Goodwin, although he never gives the name of the agent:

 On four days a week a ‘ration party’ of prisoners was driven out on a truck to collect rice and vegetables from a market in Kowloon, and the driver of that truck was a Chinese….Agent 68 recruited him to the cause and it was still only January of 1943 when Driver T. Farrell, R. A. S. C., a regular member of the ration party, received a note from the truck driver.

Farrell had just finished unloading some sacks of rice, and as he waited for the next job the driver brushed close past him and slipped a piece of paper into his hand. At the same time he whispered, ‘For Captain Ford’.[2]

 This first message began a vigorous two-way message service:

 Requests were sent out for the urgently needed drugs which the Japanese had refused to supply, and small packages were soon being sent forward.[3]

 Farrell also took delivery of compasses set in collar studs, messages and maps of the surrounding territory – all vital to would-be escapers. [4] Lee Lam’s work expanded:

 The ration lorry which served Shamshuipo also delivered stores to Argyle Street, and the driver recruited by Agent 68 agreed to carry notes between the camps.[5]

 This brought Shamshuipo into contact with the senior officers at Argyle Street. Lee Lam’s work was highly professional:

 The Chinese truck driver was working with cool efficiency, passing most of his messages by hand.[6] [7]

 In mid-June the contacts in Argyle Street got a message from Lee Hung Hoi telling them Lee Lam had been arrested. They immediately ‘closed down the business; but it was too late.[8] Presumably they knew Lee Lam – by number only – because he was part of a system that linked the Camps.

Lee Lam was one of the 33 courageous people executed close to Stanley Beach on October 29, 1943.

[1] Oliver Lindsay, At The Going Down Of The Sun, 1981, 118.

[2] Ralph Goodwin, Passport to Eternity, 1956, 106.

[3] Goodwin, 107.

[4] Goodwin, 107.

[5] Goodwin, 108.

[6] Goodwin, 108.

[7] Some of the methods used by Lee Lam and the other ‘very courageous’ Chinese truck drivers are described by J. R. Harris in Oliver Lindsay and John R. Harris, The Battle For Hong Kong 1941-1945, 2005, 189-195.

[8] Lindsay, 122.

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Emily Hahn As Source (1): Walking With Frankie Zung

There’s no doubt that American writer Emily Hahn is an excellent source for occupied Hong Kong, perhaps the best there is. There are three works by her in the public domain that give an unrivalled picture of conditions under the Japanese and of the lives of some of the people who experienced them. The most important text is her memoir, China To Me, published in 1944 and re-released in 1986. Also valuable is a collection of articles/stories originally published in The New Yorker, and issued in book form as Hong Kong Holiday in 1946. Finally, there are a couple of chapters in No Hurry To Get Home, first published (under a different name) in 1970.

It would be fair to say that no other individual has given us anything approaching this picture of wartime Hong Kong in the two years from the start of the hostilities in December 1941 to her departure in September 1943. However, Hahn can be misleading unless the nature of her testimony is understood, so in a series of posts I’ll offer some analysis and comment on this issue.

But what was she doing in occupied Hong Kong in the first place? Why wasn’t she tucked away on the StanleyPeninsula in the internment camp alongside her compatriots, and why didn’t she leave with them in the June 29/30 repatriation of 1942?

Hahn kept herself out of Stanley by making a dubious claim to Chinese nationality on the basis of some kind of ‘marriage’ to a former Chinese lover.[1] It’s possible she was helped in her efforts to get the Japanese to accept her as a Chinese national by the fact that her latest lover (and father of her child) Major Charles Boxer had served on secondment with the Japanese military, spoke the language fluently and had influential friends in the occupation forces. I should say at this point that allegations that Major Boxer was in some way a traitor, which have resurfaced in 2012, are nonsense. All the accounts of those who were with him in hospital (he was badly wounded during the fighting), POW camp and prison (where he was sent for his role in operating a radio) show that he was more than usually courageous, altruistic and principled. Hahn declined to take part in the American repatriation to stay in Hong Kong and  do all she could to help her wounded lover, and she accepted a place on the second (Canadian) repatriation of September 1943 because she believed that she could be of no further use.

The text that’s most likely to be misleading is Hong Kong Holiday. I want to discuss several stories from this collection, starting with one called ‘Asia For The Asiatics’[2] – the name comes from one of the anti-imperialist slogans with which the Japanese tried to rally Chinese and Indian support. The story focuses on the narrator’s encounters with a man called Frankie Zung, half Chinese and half black West Indian. Zung is pro-Japanese and a commodity trader friend called Lopez tells Hahn he writes a weekly report for the much-feared Kempeitai (Gendarmes), while Hahn thinks that he also acts as a pimp  for the occupying forces.[3] Zung is sometimes to be found hanging around Lopez’s office, where Hahn herself is a visitor; naturally she’s rather perturbed when Zung seems to threaten her with Gendarme trouble in order to extort money.[4] I’ll come back to this extortion attempt later. It’s not Hahn’s personal anxieties but her broader racial themes that have drawn historians to this story.

Frankie Zung has a ‘white’ American wife and the Japanese are so impressed that she was willing to marry someone of his ethnicity that they allow her to leave Stanley immediately they’re approached.[5] Hahn also brings out the way in which the position of people like Zung – close to the bottom of the brutal racial hierarchies of pre-war Hong Kong – improved so much under the occupiers that she could walk around town with him without exciting notice.[6]

American historian Gerald Horne discusses ‘Asia For The Asiatics’ in his 2004 book Race War!, one of the main themes of which is that the pervasive racism of the British Empire weakened its position vis-à-vis the Japanese in a number of ways.  Zung’s taking up with the conquerors because of their racial policy[7] is just the kind of thing he’s looking for, and although at one point he tries to deny that Japanese attitudes and actions are the subject of the book,[8] he can’t resist also using Hahn’s account of her relations with Zung to point out the overthrow of the old racial order that took place after the defeat of British imperialism.[9] Ironically, in a book that came out too late for him to use, Philip Snow showed that the Japanese, for all their anti-British rhetoric and their studied attempts to humiliate the former masters, manifested a ‘strange respect’ for the British and treated them better in some important ways than they did the Chinese.[10]

Nevertheless, Horne is, of course, absolutely right about the all-pervasive racism of pre-war Hong Kong and he is fair in acknowledging the ways that ‘white’ attitudes changed during the war (although sadly even the shared experience of occupation and resistance didn’t wipe out all sense of superiority). Nevertheless, Horne is so eager to make his case that he often ends up weakening it, and his use of Hahn’s story is a case in point.

Horne points out that Zung’s marriage to a Euro-American would have been potentially a capital offense in North America at the time,[11] and he quotes a number of passages from the story in which Hahn criticizes the Hong Kong British for their racism, including her statement that ‘the Japanese have certainly succeeded in wiping out the color bar’. But, in line with his unfortunate tendency to quote selectively, he leaves out her clear (and obviously correct) statement that the Japanese treated the Chinese worse than the British.[12] He also omits any reference to Zung’s attempt to extort money from Hahn, or to his racial flip-flopping at the end of the story (see below). But the trouble is not just that Horne quotes selectively; he’s misunderstood the nature of the source and he shouldn’t be citing it in a straightforward way at all.

Hong Kong Holiday is written just as much according to literary and journalistic conventions as history-writing ones. Most stories are well-shaped selections from and elaborations of reality that lead up to a clear and sometimes surprising ‘point’ at the end. They straddle a number of genres: factual reportage, historiography, New Yorker writing, and the kind of short story popularised in America by O. Henry  which is sometimes said to end with a ‘sting in the tail’. A good example of this is the chapter ‘It Never Happened’, which builds up to the revelation that the main character’s account of her experiences during the hostilities – which up to then the narrator has encouraged the reader to believe to be true – is in fact a defensive formation created because of her inability to face the terrible things that happened to her. I’ll discuss this fine story in more detail in another post, because fortunately the archives of the British Army Aid Group contain an account of some of the same events told by a different hand, and comparison of the two strikingly illuminates Hahn’s methods. My point for now is that Hong Kong Holiday is very hard for a historian to work with: it is indeed based firmly on Hahn’s own experiences in wartime Hong Kong, but they’re always liable to elaboration, falsification, invention and artistic shaping. Which brings me back to Frankie Zung.

Hahn’s memoir, China To Me, is a very different kind of book: although like any piece of autobiography it needs to be interrogated carefully not trusted absolutely, it does set out at least to tell the truth pretty much as it happened.[13] A passage in this book enables us to decode some aspects of ‘Asia For The Asiatics’: the commodity broker is the well-known pre-war jockey Victor Needa, who expresses himself about the USA in similar terms to ‘Lopez’ and whose office also functions as a refuge to Hahn, and is similarly liable to visits from a man who has ‘”pull” with the gendarmes.”’[14] The trouble is this man isn’t Frankie Zung at all, but Howard Tse, who seems to have been ‘pure’ Chinese with no admixture of Jamaican: China To Me calls him a ‘plump little Chinese fellow’[15] and George Wright-Nooth just calls him ‘Chinese’. [16] He’s the one who Hahn fears might get her arrested. She thinks he’s got incriminating evidence against her and she also believes that Victor Needa is paying him ‘protection money’ to keep her out of the hands of the Kempeitai.[17] It is possible, of course, that Hahn also had a broker friend called Lopez and he too was visited by a non-Japanese man associated with the Kempeitai who posed a threat to Hahn’s freedom, but she doesn’t mention what would have been a striking coincidence in China To Me! And it sounds like the war crimes investigators wouldn’t have found it hard to track down someone like Frankie Zung, but I’ve failed to find any trace of him in the collaboration trials, or indeed any other source that so much as mentions him.

I’ll write more about both Tse and Zung in later posts, because they both feature in complicated evidential tangles, but for the moment it should be clear that no historian should discuss Frankie Zung as if he actually existed in the way Hahn says he did unless they can bring further evidence to the table. Hahn creates him as a character in a story, a story which is designed to exhibit the viciousness of British racism, and the limited success of the Japanese in opposing it, a success that turns out to be hollow even as far as it goes. The ‘twist’ is that as the war draws closer to the Allied victory that was clearly inevitable even before Hahn left Hong Kong in September 1943, Zung begins  to renege on his loyalty to the occupiers, claims to be British and rejoices in the whiteness of his new baby.[18]

Frankie Zung is probably a composite figure. I have a suspicion that his physical appearance and ethnicity are based on that of a man who escaped from Hong Kong in May 1943: if so, she may or may not have known that this man was a courageous and highly effective agent of the British resistance! Perhaps Hahn took his appearance, added Howard Tse’s Kempeitai activity and mixed them with the talk of an otherwise unrecorded pro-Japanese man of mixed ethnicity to create Frankie Zung and to make her points about race before and after the occupation. Perhaps. But at the moment I want to stress that ‘Asia For The Asiatics’ does not provide reliable evidence that anyone like Frankie Zung actually existed – except insofar as people of his ethnic background but completely different in every other way are known to have lived in wartime Hong Kong. Such evidence might emerge in the future but it’s not here yet.

Another writer, Stacilee Ford, also seems a little too accepting of Hahn’s description of her newly unremarkable strolls through the Hong Kong streets with Zung.[19] Nevertheless, she shows a welcome awareness of  the need to be ‘cautious’ as to the ‘truthiness’ of Hahn’s assertions,  and her use of the story is reasonable, as she cites it as evidence that the American recognized that Japanese Hong Kong had, in some ways at least, become ‘a more open and tolerant society’,  and fits this recognition into a picture of Hahn’s developing attitudes to racial issues.[20] I don’t think ‘open’ or ‘tolerant’ quite fits the bill for occupied Hong Kong, but Ford rightly confines herself to commenting on what the story tells us about the writer’s own consciousness. In fact, it probably strengthens her case that Hahn might have been inventing some of the details she provides. If so, her intention was to bring out the rebarbative racism of the old British order and to let her readers know that Japanese Hong Kong was an improvement in at least one respect – although I need to stress once more that all interpretations need to bear in mind the story’s concluding reversals.  Whether or not she came to these positions during real walks with a real individual we can’t at the moment know.

Hahn’s methods in Hong Kong Holiday will become clearer after future posts in which I’ll offer some comparisons between two or three of the stories and texts that follow more closely the conventions of purely historical writing. The trouble is Hahn’s book is such a good source – lively, well-written and packed with seemingly convincing detail – its hard not to give it more credence than it deserves. Readers might like to ponder Brian Edgar’s use of it in relation to his father:

He’s so desperate to get Hahn on board that he accepts the possibility that she might be recording things accurately, even though she contradicts a careful and convincing account by one of the main participants of how the bakers stayed out of Stanley Camp! He even rigs up a ‘composite’ theory of events in order to find a place for her testimony. Stacilee Ford’s right: a ‘troubling American woman’ indeed!

I’ve found a plausible real-life original for ‘Frankie Zung’ – a man of African-Caribbean/Chinese heritage who worked for the pre-war Health Department and whose name is not completely dissimilar. I shan’t name him, as there is no definite evidence to link him with Hahn’s story. However, even if we could be certain (if, for example, a letter from the author making the identification explicit were to turn up) this would not alter the basic point of my post: ‘Frankie Zung’ is a composite creation and conclusions based on his activities in the story must be drawn with great caution.

[1] In No Hurry To Get Home she says she told US officials she had claimed to be Eurasian. If she did tell them that my guess is it was to avoid questions as to whether she had really married a Chinese man and possible consequent immigration complications.

[2] Published in The New Yorker, June 30, 1945 –

[3] Emily Hahn, Hong Kong Holiday, 1946, 245, 249.

[4] Hahn, 1946, 256.

[5] Hahn, 1946, 248.

[6] Hahn, 1946, 251.

[7] Gerald Horne, Race War! , 2004, Kindle Edition, Location 5019.

[8] Horne, 2004, Location 118.

[9] Horne, 2004, Location 5026.

[10] See Philip Snow, The Fall of Hong Kong, 2003, 138; see also e.g. 186, 187.

[11] Horne, 2004, Location 5018

[12] Hahn,1946, 246.

[13] I think that Hahn even believed that her scandalous portrayal of Hilda Selwyn-Clarke was justified by the facts – for a good tempered corrective, see James Bertram, Beneath The Shadow, 1947, 63.

[14] Hahn, 1986, 392.

[15] Hahn, 1986, 391.

[16] Wright-Nooth, 1994, 156.

[17] Hahn, 1986, 393.

[18]Hahn, 1946, 259.


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Boris Pasco – ‘one of the nameless ones’

My guess is that few readers of the Hong Kong newspapers of the 1920s and 1930s would have expected Boris Pasco to play any part in the highly dangerous job of providing relief to the Allied prisoners, let alone to have anything to do with the resistance. The news stories don’t suggest a man willing to risk everything to help others, and after the Japanese invasion, as a ‘third national’, he could have stayed away from any activity that could be labelled ‘pro-British’ and thus spared himself the risk of imprisonment, torture and death. But, although the full story of his contribution during the occupation will probably never be known, enough is visible to suggest that when called upon to show his courage and his humanitarian commitment he responded magnificently.

Boris Pasco was a Russian bookseller. He first appears on the Jurors List for 1921. The name of the shop is given as Brewer and Co.[1]  On October 25, 1922 he married Kathleen Josephine Harris at St. Joseph’s Church. After a reception at the Hong Kong Hotel, the couple left for a honeymoon in Canton and Macao.[2]

But according to his own account, his involvement with Brewer and Co. goes back to at least 1920: he claimed in court to have been a partner in that year, buying the business later.[3] In 1924 the company was accused of breaches of copyright by a ‘rival’ bookshop[4] (Kelly and Walsh) and Mr. Brewer, who was then or later became a barrister, represented the company in court and stated that he himself no longer sold books. In 1926 Mr. Brewer took his former company to court in a case that hinged on his continuing liabilities as a ‘retiring partner’, and two statements made at the trial establish that he was involved with the firm until 1925, which was presumably the year Mr. Pasco bought him out:

Mr. Lo {acting for the Company}said the partnership of Brewer & Co. had been dissolved. Mr. Pasco was the sole tenant and he was carrying on the business under the name of Brewer & Co.[5]


Plaintiff ceased to be a partner in the defendant from last year. [6]

This case was not to be the last appearance in court for either party. N. I. Brewer went on to be involved in other litigation,[7] to see the affairs of his Instone Banking Corporation legally probed during liquidation,[8] and to be dramatically arrested in Shanghai and brought back to Hong Kong to face charges of making false statements designed to deceive shareholders and potential shareholders.[9] He was convicted on one of three counts, the Crown dropping but not withdrawing the two others.[10] Boris Pasco, although he avoided criminal prosecution, was to have an equally lively time of it in the courts.

But the next time I’ve been able to find him mentioned in the Hong Kong press is for something very different. In October 1928 Kowloon Football Club presented him with a chiming clock in oak with a silver plate attached to mark his long association with the club, and his services as a player of ‘no mean merit’. The reason for the presentation was that an accident had brought his playing career to an end.[11]

The next month a Chinese ‘public car driver’ accused Mr. Pasco of striking him, something which he admitted, while cross-summoning the driver for behaving in a disorderly manner that might have led to a breach of the peace by abusing and spitting at him. Mr. Lindsell, presiding, adjourned the case for a week, in spite of Mr. Pasco’s pleading that this was the busy season for him and that he’d gathered all his witnesses; Mr. Lindsell made his decision in the hope that the case might be settled out of court. Perhaps it was, as there was no further report in the press.[12]

It seems that in late 1928 the book shop was in Pedder Street, as that’s the address given in the report.[13] In the 1930 Jurors List he’s given as living ‘on premises’, although this was almost certainly a postal address.[14] In 1936 Jurors List he’s given as living at in Causeway Bay. It was on a journey in that part of Hong Kong that the incident that was to lead to his next appearance before Mr. Lindsell took place. This time his attendance in court was at his own instigation.

In July 1938 he sued the Tramway Company on behalf of his daughter, who’d been injured at about 8 p.m. on November 28, 1937 by an ‘emergency stop’ as she preparing to leave the tram with her father and mother. All three were thrown downstairs, Miss Pasco suffering concussion.[15] The driver claimed that Mr. Pasco did not fall down himself, as he’d claimed: rather he shouted at and hit him in the chest and chased him from the first class compartment.[16]

It seems like Mr. Pasco’s attempt to win $10,000 dollars in compensation might have been a last ditch effort to solve his financial problems, but it actually made them worse: the Pascos lost the case, and had to pay costs.[17] Before 1938 had arrived, he was filing for bankruptcy. Two creditors opposed his application and the resulting court case gives us a glimpse of his business affairs in the 1930s.

It seems that in 1931 Mr. Pasco bought exchange to the value of £2,500 and when Britain went off the Gold Standard in May he incurred losses of $15,000. The China Mail report makes this sound like financial speculation, but that in the Daily Press suggests rather that Mr. Pasco chose an unlucky moment to finance a large book order. To pay off his debt to the Chase Bank, he had to borrow money, which was lent on the condition that Brewer’s Bookshop become a limited concern.[18] Pasco was appointed manager but his salary was gradually decreased and he was dismissed on December 31, 1934. He was unemployed for three months and then became manager of Harris’s bookshop which was set up by his wife, using capital obtained from her mother. He was accused of withholding details of debts from John Dickinson and Co, who had lent him the money to pay off the Chase Bank, and even of having taken books from Brewer’s to stock Harris’s, which he denied. Mr. Justice Liddell, who’d tried to get his assault case settled out of court and later found against him in the Tramways suit,  refused to make the bankruptcy order, which had been opposed by Mr. Hong Sling and Mr. Tobias, a former partner of Mr. Pasco.[19] Both these men said they had lost money as a result of guaranteeing loans for the would-be bankrupt, who it was claimed, in 1933 had begged Hong Sling with tears in his eyes to save his business.[20]

The Hong Kong Daily Press put the story on its front page, and led off by detailing the ‘serious allegations’ made against Mr. Pasco – ‘not only of fraud, or of misconduct amounting to fraud, but that he had been guilty of criminal actions in obtaining property and money by false pretences’.[21] Mr. Pasco denied these charges, but did admit in the witness box that he’d concealed liabilities while obtaining the Dickinson loan. The representatives of the two men opposing the grant of bankruptcy attempted to make Mr. Pasco sound thoroughly dishonest and self-serving, a man ‘who had been living in the past five years on creditors’. Living well at that: evidence and debate focused on Mr. Pasco’s cars, his lunching habits, and his enjoyment of the best seats at the cinema. Whatever the truth of the matter, Mr. Lindsell refused his bankruptcy application, although Mr. Pasco could console himself with the fact that although criminal actions had been alleged, no charges were brought.

We must, of course, remember that no-one appears at their best when judged by newspaper accounts of their court appearances alone. Nevertheless, the Hong Kong public might be forgiven for getting an impression of a rather irascible man who put himself first when it came to financial matters – although some might have noted that he was accused of making a loan to a friend even when he was obviously short of money himself. But whatever the truth of thee matter, war has the potential to change everything and everybody, and Mr. Pasco was to be drawn into relief work by one of the greatest figures of the Hong Kong conflict, the Japanese interpreter, Kiyoshi Watanabe.

The Rev. Watanabe – he was a Lutheran pastor who’d trained in the USA – came to Hong Kong to work for the occupation forces in February 1942[22] and was still present at the surrender. He carried out countless acts of highly dangerous humanitarian smuggling and other relief work on behalf of the defeated, without ever for one moment betraying the interests of his country. This was the man who became a regular customer at Mr. Pasco’s ‘small well stocked’ bookshop.[23]

According to Watanabe’s biographer, Liam Nolan, the Japanese took over the Gloucester Hotel during the occupation, so Mr. Pasco was forced to move his business to nearby Ice House Street.[24] In fact Harris’s seems to have been in the Gloucester Arcade[25] in premises first leased from the Hong Kong Hotel in 1935.[26] But there’s no doubt that the wartime (and post-war) location was Ice House Street.

Mr. Pasco, although naturally wary at first, gradually came to trust the Rev. Watanabe (‘Uncle John’) and accept him as a friend.[27] When the interpreter wanted to get help sending parcels to Canadian soldiers in Bowen Road Hospital he turned to the bookseller:

Mr. Pasco listened patiently. Yes, he had heard that parcels were sent to Shamshui Po, and that Hilda Selwyn-Clarke was doing great work in providing comforts for Bowen Road. He would be pleased to help Uncle John in any way he could, but How?[28]

Watanabe asked him to get his friends to send parcels to men on a list he provided:

Pasco was hesitant at first. Could this not be a trick, subtly led up to, to land him and his family and friends into the hands of the Kempeitai? Perhaps this Watanabe was a cunning agent of the secret police.[29]

As should be evident, Nolan’s narrative is presented in semi-fictional form, but it seems to be basically accurate, and I suspect it’s based on contact by letter with Mr. Pasco after he (Nolan) had met the Rev. Watanabe in London in 1960 and decided to write a book. The account continues with Mr. Pasco deciding to trust the Japanese interpreter and arranging for everyone on his list to receive a parcel.[30]

Nolan goes on to mention a Sunday morning visit to the bookshop[31] and describes an important occasion on which the Rev. Watanabe goes to Ice House Street on ‘business’:

While he was in Pasco’s shop, a Chinese girl came in. Pasco called her over and introduced her to Uncle John.

‘This is Miss Helen Ho,’ Pasco said. ‘She is one of the – eh – nameless ones who have been helping.[32]

 I think the two recorded visits, one for ‘business’, suggest that Mr. Pasco continued to help the Rev. Watanabe in his humanitarian activities, and the form of his introduction to Helen Ho leads to the almost inevitable conclusion that he was himself ‘one of the nameless ones’. This meeting took place after the arrest of Dr. Selwyn-Clarke, the organiser of much of the legal and illegal relief activity in occupied Hong Kong, on May 2, 1943. Helen Ho was one of the two ‘Chinese ladies whom I knew that {if arrested} I could trust to carry on {my work} at any sacrifice’.[33] It seems that as well as whatever work he continued to do with the Rev. Watanabe, Mr. Pasco was helping Helen Ho to carry on Selwyn-Clarke’s campaign. Of the three who met in the shop in Ice House Street that morning, only the Rev. Watanabe would avoid arrest (in Helen Ho’s case, on more than one occasion). Mr. Pasco was taken by the Kempeitai in the course of their crackdown on the resistance, which reached its height in the spring of 1943.

According to a report that reached the British Army Aid Group, Mr. Pasco was arrested and taken to the Kempeitai Headquarters at the Supreme Court at about the same time as the Jesuit Fathers Joy and Casey, the Canadian Thomas Monaghan, and the British banker David Edmondston.[34] Giving evidence at a post-war collaboration trial, Mr. Pasco added ‘Kookel’ (probably the man Selwyn-Clarke calls Khorkel) and George Kotwall to the list of his fellow detainees.[35] He was taken in because he was suspected of allowing his bookshop to be used as a meeting place for Charles Hyde, Chester Bennett, Marcus da Silva and other BAAG agents. On preliminary questioning, the Japanese could find nothing to substantiate this charge and he was released about a fortnight after being sent to Stanley Goal. When the BAAG’s informant left Hong Kong in October 1943 he was back at his bookshop.[36] At the 1946 trial of three Supreme Court Gendarmes for war crimes, Mr. Pasco was called on to ‘corroborate and confirm’ the statements of witnesses who did not appear in court. In other words, he gave evidence as to alleged abuses committed against others – the Defence Counsel wanted it dismissed as ‘hearsay’ – not against himself.[37] This might suggest he avoided torture, although he would have been very lucky indeed to have escaped without at least a beating. Unfortunately the online trial records are only available from HKU computers and the online newspaper archive for the period of the trial lacks any English numbers so I am unable to be certain on this point. All we know is that Mr. Pasco did whatever he needed to do to avoid incriminating himself and others. Further, there’s a strong possibility he was ‘guilty’.

This is American journalist Hal Boyle’s account of Marcus da Silva and Chester Bennett at work:

Da Silva would collect the money {raised illegally to provide relief for Stanley Camp} and put it in a small basket swinging from his arm –{figure illegible- perhaps 40,} to 50,000 dollars at a time – and walk boldly past Jap soldiers to a book store around the corner. Bennett would be waiting in the rear of the bookstore. He would take the money to another rendezvous and they’d smuggle it into Stanley by putting it in the bottom of lard cans. This went on for several months. They got hundreds of thousands of yen in to helpless internees – money that was translated into food and kept them going.[38]

During the war Marcus da Silva lived at 11, Ice House Street[39] and he was using that as his professional address in 1941.[40] I strongly suspect that Mr. Pasco’s was the bookshop that is referred to in Boyle’s account, and that the owner, as well as his relief work, gave at least this much help to the resistance.

His last appearance in the Hong Kong press is as a witness in the trial of Mohammed Yusuf Shah, a former policeman charged with collaboration. Mr. Shah had indeed worked for the Kempeitai – like everyone else in occupied Hong Kong he had few choices as to how to earn a living – and been present at the arrest of Dr. Selwyn-Clarke. However, his trial in 1947 provided ample proof that he’d used his position to render great aid to those being held at the Supreme Court. Frederick Tyndall, one of many witnesses in Mr. Shah’s favour, said he saw the accused helping people, including Pasco. Mr. Pasco himself said that Shah had helped many prisoners, including Chinese ones, without thought of reward, by bringing in and out messages and smuggling in food and medicines. He added that he often saw the policeman on the street after his release and was given warnings of impending trouble.[41] In spite of this, and much else to the same effect, Mr. Shah was given the shocking sentence of seven years hard labour.

That’s all I’ve found out so far about Boris Pasco. He died aged 65 on March, 8, 1966 and was buried in the Jewish Cemetery, Happy Valley.[42] Perhaps this lifetime bookseller was able to hold in his hands Liam Nolan’s book on Kiyoshi Watanabe, which was published in the year he died- the only one to give a hint of his own service in the dark world’s fire of occupied Hong Kong.

[2] China Mail, October 26, 1922, page 8.

[3] China Mail, December 8, 1938, page 12.

[4] The headline is Rival Book Shops, but it seems that Kelly and Walsh were a Shanghai-based publishing company at the time –

[5] Hongkong Daily Press,December 1 4, 1926, page 5.

[6] Hongkong Daily Press, December 14, 1926, page 5.

[7] China Mail, April 27, 1928, page 6.

[8] China Mail, August 6, 1929, page 1.

[9] China Mail, November 21, 1929, page 6.

[10] China Mail, January 28, 1930, page 1.

[11] Hongkong Telegraph, October 13, 1928, page 12.

[12] China Mail, November 21, 1928, page 1.

[13] China Mail, November 28, page 1.

[15] China Mail, July 5, 1938, page 4.

[16] China Mail, July 6, 1938, page 4.

[17] China Mail, July 14, 1938, page 6. A week or so before the accident Miss Pasco had been praised by the Hong Kong Sunday Herald for a  brilliant display in goal on the hockey pitch – November 20, 1938, page 19.

[18] China Mail, December 8, 1938, page 12.

[19] China Mail, December 8, 1938, page 12 (mis-numbered 16 in index).

[20] Hongkong Daily Press, December 9, 1938, page 9.

[21] Hongkong Daily Press, December 9, 1938,page 1.

[22] Liam Nolan, Small Man of Nanataki, , 1966, 21

[23] Nolan, 84; for its ‘very limited’ size see

[24] Nolan, 84.

[25] China Mail, December 8, 1938, page 12.

[26] Hongkong Daily Press, December 9, 1938, page 9.

[27] Nolan, 84-85

[28] Nolan, 85.

[29] Nolan, 85.

[30]Nolan, 86.

[31] Nolan, 103.

[32] Nolan, 106.

[33] Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke, Footprints, 1975, 83. The other was Dr. Po-chuen Lai, and both she and Helen Ho were awarded the OBE after the war.

[34] Ride Papers, KWIZ 41/4.

[35] China Mail, February 26, 1947, page 3.

[36] Ride Papers, KWIZ, 41/4/ continued.

[39] China Mail, March 8, 1946, page 1.

[41] China Mail, February 26,, 1947, page 3.

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The Executions of October 29, 1943

I’m trying to establish the names of the 33 people who were executed for resistance activities on Stanley Beach on October 29, 1943. Here’s what I’ve found so far. Any help, particularly from someone who reads Chinese, would be gratefully received.

This list contains the same names as Tony Banham’s Roll of Honour in We Shall Suffer There (pages 151-152). The source is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Roll of Honour (















LAU TAK OI (wife of David Loie)




















Yan Cheuk Ming must be James M. Kim, as the entry names his wife as Annie Choi (see

Note: Paul Tsui’s Memoirs gives a further  name, but I suspect it’s on the list in a different form

They assisted 68 Li Fong, who for a short while, succeeded in establishing an effective line of communication with the inmates at Shamshuipo Camp. Unfortunately, Li Fong seemingly successfully project went burst. A few of his young assistants Chau For (仇火 and ) were arrested, jailed and subsequently executed.

Note: Ts’o Sun On = was the joint Honorary Secretary of the Victoria League, a body which helped Hong Kong students studying in Britain  (Hong Kong Daily Press, January 27, 1937, pages 1 and  7).

He’d been Honorary Aide de Camp to H. E. Liet-Gen E. F. Norton, relinquishing the post on March 13, 1941, along with many others – I think Norton left the Colony at this point. He’s described as a Police Reservist:

The Government Gazette of May 23, 1941 recorded that he was switched from Adjutant to Senior Superintendent and Officer Commanding Chinese Company with effect from April 9.

He might have been related to the Hon. Doc. S. W. Ts’o, an Unoffical Memebr of the Executive Council with an interest in Police matters. Hongkong Telegraph, October 12, 1933, page 4

Note: Preston Wong Pui Pun was involved with the HK Scout Assocation, as was John Fraser.

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