Catholic Churches in Hong Kong under Japanese Occupation

                                  University of Tokyo PhD Candidate Akiko Kurata


 On December 25, 1941, Hong Kong was occupied by Japan after 18 days of battle and the Japanese Occupation period that lasted 3 years and 8 months begun. The present paper’s main topic is to investigate the real situation of Catholicism in Hong Kong during the Japanese occupation.

  Actually there are many books about the Japanese Occupation period either in or outside Hong Kong.[1] Some of them describe the general situation, but few talk about the religious activity in that period. The book “Historical Document of the Hong Kong Catholic Church” presents some data about Catholicism under Japanese Occupation, but the overall situation of the Hong Kong area has not been investigated yet.

 Bishop Enrico Valtorta, who was the Vicar Apostolic of the Hong Kong Apostolic Vicariate from 1926 and throughout the Occupation period, says the following about the Hong Kong Vicariate of that time: “The Catholic population had diminished from about 20,000 to little over 3,000 so that our Churches, always full and insufficient in normal times, looked desolate and empty. All Catholic activities had been greatly reduced and some of them stopped altogether.[2]

Bishop Valtorta also uses the termthe black years” to describe the Japanese Occupation era. [3] So how did the Catholic Church in Hong Kong endure the 3 years and 8 month “black period”? This paper intends to investigate with clarity the definite situation at that time by using intensively the data in the Hong Kong Catholic Diocesan Archives and the Japanese data found in Hong Kong or Japan. However, since the writer lives in Japan, and was allowed limited time to gather information in Hong Kong, even if there is useful information in the Hong Kong Catholic Diocesan Archives, from the file titledJapanese Occupation Period”, [4]where there is data about Bishop Valtorta himself and each religious institution, the writer could not look at them carefully. There are also some data or newspaper of that time at the Hong Kong Public Record Office but the writer was not able to study them carefully either, leaving them as a future task. I hope this paper can become the beginning of the research of Catholicism in the Japanese Occupation Period.


2.Hong Kong and Religion during the Japanese Occupation Period

2-1 Ruling System under the Japanese Military Government 

   Japanese Army (The 23rd Army) immediately started forming a military system after their occupation. On December 29, 1941, the Military Government was established at the Peninsula Hotel, with the basic policy of restoring public security and maintaining the actual state of the Hong Kong Society. Under the direction of the Commanding Officer of the 23rd Army, Takayuki Sakai, 5 departments were set up: politics, civilian, economy, judiciary, and navy. Later, the “Imperial Headquarters”(大本営Dai-hon-ei) decided that they should have direct jurisdiction over Hong Kong instead of the Ministry of Military Affairs. On February 20, 1942, the Military Government was established, the first governor was Lieutenant General Rensuke Isogai, and the chief of staff was colonel Yadoru Arisue.

    The following is the name list of the General Staff Headquarter[5]

          General Staff     Hong Kong Defense Office

                  Headquarter     Hong Kong Gendarmerie Office   

                                                                 HongKong Police

                         Civil Affairs Department (EducationCommerceHygieneGeneral Affairs divisions)    Area Office   Area Committee

                Financial Department(FinanceTax division)

    Military               Transport Department(MaritimeLandCivil Engineering

   Government                   Sewer divisions)

      Official      Genral      Economic Department(ProductionMilitary Budget divisions)

                     Official    Press Department

                               Administration Department

                        Foreign Affairs Department

           Chinese People’s Assembly   Chinese People’s Agreement Committee


  All the problems concerning the ruling of Hong Kong were delegated to all the 7 sections under the command of the Military Government Official. Among the organizations of the Military Government there was also theChinese People’s Assembly and the ”Chinese People’s Agreement Committee, both were advising organizations of the Chinese People. All the members were Chinese nationals controlled by the Japanese Army after the occupation of Hong Kong, who were maneuvered by the Army in order to proceed smoothly with their ruling.

  In addition, the Hong Kong Defense Squadron, Hong Kong Gendarmerie and the Hong Kong Police were created under the Military Government. Especially about the Gendarmerie, there are many research books and memoirs that reveal their violence, and prove that the Hong Kong Citizen was often cruelly treated[6].

    Soon after opening fire with the British Army, the Japanese 23rd Army decided the main policies for the Hong Kong Occupation: migration of population, issuing of Military Scrip, restriction of Chung Ching Sect’s main members’ freedom and all the Chinese Nationals’, and use them to facilitate their ruling.

   During the pre-war era, great quantity of refugees rushed from Mainland China into Hong Kong in order to avoid the threat of war. Reportedly, there were around 2 million inhabitants in Hong Kong at the time it was occupied by the Japanese Army, but in order to be able to carry on with the Military Government successfully, it was considered their priority to decrease Hong Kong population to an “Adequate size”, by imposing the migration policy over the Hong Kong people. Only during the period that the Ministry of Military Affairs existed (Between January and February 1942) 554,000 people left Hong Kong, and until the end of September 1942, another 419,000 people migrated. [7]Furthermore, the Military Government recruited workers to the island of Hai Nan. According to records, 565 people left for Hai Nan between February 1942 to July 1943. [8]Such a policy of rapid migration forced the Hong Kong Citizen to make a great sacrifice[9].

   The Military Scrip circulation policy has also been planned with great anticipation. On December 30, 1941, a Military Scrip Exchange Center was already settled in Kowloon; on January 5, 1942, another Exchange Center was settled in the Hong Kong Island, which started exchanging Hong Kong Dollars into Military Scrip. In July 1942, the circulation of Hong Kong Dollars was totally banned, and the exchange rate of Military Scrip to Hong Kong Dollar that used to be of 1 to 2, was also changed into 1 to 4. As a result of this policy, the assets of the Hong Kong Citizen decreased greatly after the exchange[10].

     The Military Government used the system of distribution for the food and daily necessities. In March 1942, the distribution system started with rice, then cigarettes, sugar, cooking oil, and the following year firewood, coal and matches were being distributed too. However, due to the great amount of Military Scrip in circulation, the commodity prices raised considerably, resulting in the raise of the distribution price, affecting the life of the people. In addition, in April 1944, rice started to be distributed only to the collaborators of the Military Government, and from December 1944, only the direct collaborators were eligible for the distribution. Not long before the surrender of Japan, the people of Hong Kong found it almost impossible to survive, since the repeated bombings of the Allied Forces were added to the extreme poverty caused by the April 1944 distribution system.

   The extreme policies, the poverty and the difficulties these caused during the Japanese Occupation Period mentioned above, have direct influence over the Catholic Church of Hong Kong.


2-2 The Religious Policies under the Japanese Military System

     In the data that exists today, there are very few files mentioning the Religious Policies of that time, but in the book published in Hong Kong in February 1944 called 《軍政下の香港》”Hong Kong under the Military System”, there is a paragraph that compactly describes the views of the Military Government:

         The religions of this area can roughly be divided in 4 as: Buddhism, Christianism, Indian Religions (Islam, Hinduism) and the traditional Chinese Monastery. Among them the Buddhists, Indian Religious, and Monastery followers are actually very few, therefore not causing any difficulty in guiding and supervising. But the Christian Religion is more complicated, having followers of all nationalities, and is the majority religion of this area. We expect to be especially careful. Our policy is to aid in all the possible ways, the spreading of the Japanese Buddhism and other Japanese religions”.[11].

   From the paragraph above we can deduce that the Military Government paid especial attention to the Christianity of Hong Kong (Potestantism and Catholicism). Concerning the Protestant Religion, in Feb 1943, the Hong Kong Christian General Assembly was settled with the aid of pastor Gosaku Okada. In September 1943, pastor Moritaka Samejima was assigned to Hong Kong, and became a “Top Rank Adviser” which let him act as a mediator between the Church and the Military Government. [12]Concerning the Catholic Religion, in 1942 Bishop Valtorta asked the Apostolic emissary in Japan to delegate Japanese priests and nuns to Hong Kong. In summer 1943, the Japanese Catholic Church decided to send 1 Japanese priest and 2 Japanese nuns to Hong Kong, but in November the ship were all three were traveling was attacked and sunk at the Straight of Taiwan, leaving none of them alive. [13]After that, there were no more Japanese priests or nuns being sent to Hong Kong, leaving only Bishop Valtorta himself to negotiate with the Military Government all the matters about the Church and the issues of the convents.

   On the other hand, not only did the Jodo Shinshuthe Nichiren Shu and other Japanese Buddhist sects all arrived in Hong Kong and settled their respective missionary institution, the Military Government also carried on with the construction of the Hong Kong Shrine and the Monument to the Faithful. The place chosen to erect the Monument to the Faithful was Mount Cameron, and the site for the Hong Kong Shrine was Canossa Hospital.[14]But Japan was defeated before the completion of either.

  The pastor Samejima describes the environment around the Hong Kong Protestant Religion at follows:

      Among the Japanese soldiers, government officials, educators, police officers and all the ones we consider the ruling class, there have always been a large number that considered the Catholicism an evil religion with dangerous revolutionary ideas, and with hatred, tried to either ignore or destroy it. During the war, it has been proved that there were many priests and Catholics, that have been detained, kept in custody and incarcerated without an apparent reason even inside the Japanese territory, by the police and the gendarmerie. If such is the situation in our country, the situation in the occupied territory is much worse, where the proud and ignorant victorious side oppresses and persecutes without mercy. It is a reality we cannot deny that such things happened also in Hong Kong.[15]

  Actually, the situation of the Catholic Religion has always been similar. The mission of pastor Samejima was “To penetrate into the group of believers, and help them with the kind understanding of a priest whenever they are in a problematic situation”.[16] However, due to several reasons, the person who was in charge of “Solving all the problems” that were related to the Catholic Religion, was always Bishop Valtorta.


3. Catholicism during the Japanese Occupation

3-1 General situation of the parish and the church followers at the beginning of the Occupation

Since the settlement of the parish in Hong Kong, the Prefect Apostolics and Vicar Apostolics were usually Italian Nationals, therefore, most of the priests and nuns were Italians (including Bishop Valtorta). There were also some Chinese, French, Irish, Spanish, American and Canadian priests and nuns, who were all dedicated to preaching, educating and other activities for the welfare of people. Before the war begun, besides from the Cathedral there were 10 churches and 1 chapel in the Hong Kong Island and Kowloon area. At the New Territory there were 35 churches or chapels. The Catholic population of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and New Territory was of 21,500[17].

    Actually, the battle situation in Europe even before Japan Occupied Hong Kong has already influenced the Catholic Church in Hong Kong. In June 1940, after Italy declared war, Britain became an enemy. Therefore, except from Bishop Valtorta and some sick ones at the hospital, 17 Italian priests were detained at the Stanley Internment Camp. Since Italy was an Ally of Japan, all the priests were released after the Japanese Occupation[18].

   On the contrary, after the Japanese Occupation, all the American and Canadian priests and nuns belonging to the Maryknoll Fathers, Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic, Inc., Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception and Salesians of Don Bosco were detained. On January 1, 1942, the Japanese Army published a Public Publication to gather nationals of enemy countries. On January 6, Bishop Valtorta wrote to the Military Department, explaining that all the priests and nuns of the Catholic faith, no matter what their nationality is, have all been sent by the Church for missionary, educational and welfare activities. Therefore, the priests and nuns do not have any political relation with their nations. The Bishop also asked them to reconsider the necessity of detaining them. [19]But the Japanese did not accept this petition, so the Maryknoll Fathers and the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception were sent to The Stanley Internment Camp on January 20, and the Maryknoll Sisters were sent to The Stanley Internment Camp on February 8.[20]

     The panorama for the Catholic activities was not clear during the British Japanese battles or even afterwards, during the Japanese Occupation. It is said that at least for the Protestant, during the Japanese Occupation of Hong Kong, worshipping, preaching and other religious activities have been prohibited. [21]On April 16, 1942, the Military Government forced all the religious organizations who wished to restore their religious activities to declare the name of their group, sect, name of their representative, preacher, language, nationality and quantity of followers, activity contents, economical situation and many other details to get the approval of the Government. [22]This is the only way to be allowed to carry on their religious activities. But the Catholics already had gatherings and religious activities before this Public Publication was published.

   For example, most part of the Maryknoll Convent’s building at Kowloon Tong was taken by the Japanese Army when the war first started, but the nuns and priests that have been arrested could still pray and perform misas. Even after they have been sent to the Internment Camps, they were allowed to perform misas in their own rooms everyday, and on Sundays, they performed 3 group misas with others.[23]

   On March 12, 1942, Amadeo Duca d'Aosta, Governor-General of Italian East Africa[24]’s farewell misa was led solemnly at the Cathedral. The participants of the misa were Italian priests, and nuns mainly, and some foreign Chancellors, etc.  On the previous day, March 11, special misas were performed in all the Churches in Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.[25]

    According to the data in the Hong Kong Catholic Diocesan Archives, Bishop Valtorta handed in a report to the Catholic Church of the Public Publication No.10 of June 21, 1942. Later, in order to report to the Vatican, he handed in another parish report on October 22. [26]As written in these 2 reports, great changes have occurred inside the Catholic Church immediately from the night before the beginning of the war until October 1942.

   One of the changes was that the number of priests, nuns and teachers of each convent diminished. In the case of the Maryknoll Fathers and Sisters, almost all the priests and nuns returned to their own country after their arrest and ceased all their activities in Hong Kong. Although the situation of other convents was not that severe, some priests and nuns still had to leave Hong Kong to other areas due to economical problems.

   There is no record of the exact number of Catholics since it was impossible to make an accurate statistic, this situation is explained in the report mentioned above. In the data of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocesan Archives, there seems to be data of the research on the churches of 1943, where the name of the priests and number of believers sorted by country of the Cathedral and the 9 churches of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, and the churches of Chu’n-Wan. [27]Comparing the data above mentioned and the statistics of the Hong Kong Catholic Church Directory of 1941, we reach the conclusion that all the followers of all the churches decreased considerably compared to the pre-war era. [28]There were 18,877 followers living in Hong Kong Island and Kowloon before the war, but later there were only 7,815 left. At that time, great part of the Chinese population emigrated from Hong Kong due to the Population Migration Policy, which also leaded to the loss of a large amount of Catholics. (See chart 1)

   In the statistical data of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocesan Archives of 1943 (from July 1942 to June 19436), although the number of Catholics cannot be found, the number of priests and nuns of each church and convent, teachers, students, people living in shelters, and the numbers of baptisms, confirmations, communions performed in each church are clearly stated. [29]According to this data, the number of babies baptized in Hong Kong Island and Kowloon was 179, the baptized adults were 459, the ones who received confirmation were 443If we compare this data with the numbers of the Hong Kong Catholic Church Directory of 1941, “baptized babies 656, baptized adults 782, 1047 confirmations we can still see a decrease. We can conclude that although the activities of the Catholic Church managed to continue during the Japanese Occupation, the scale diminished significantly.

   Concerning the churches of New Territory, according to the Hong Kong Catholic Church Directory, there were 4 parishes in New Territory: Sai-Kung, Tai-Long, Yun-Long and Tai-O. But according to the statistics of 1943, there were only 2 parishes: Tai-PouCh’un-Wan. In this data, there is no total number of followers, but according to the research information of each church mentioned above, there were 70 followers in the church of Ch’un-Wan. [30]In addition, according to the draft of the “Mission Application” presented to the pertaining authorities in November 1944, the churches controlled by the Tai-Pou Catholic Church were 5, with 153 Chinese followers.[31]

   There was not only the issue of the shrinking of the religious activity, there was also the problem of confiscation of church properties by the Japanese Army, which description we can find in the 2 reports of 1942. When the war first started on December 8, 1941, many Catholic churches, schools, houses, etc were destroyed during the battles. After Japan Occupied Hong Kong, they confiscated many schools, shelters, houses and other buildings. Some time later, the Japanese Army started to confiscate in a larger scale. In order to enlarge the airport of Kai-Tak in September 1942, the Church of St. Francis of Assisi and the Holy Family Canossian Convent at Kowloon City were confiscated, even the French Procuration Building and the Canossa Hospital were continuously confiscated.

   About the confiscation problems, Bishop Valtorta has already mentioned them in the letters sent directly to governor Rensuke Isogai in March 1942. In them Bishop Valtorta asks the Japanese Army to provide “ support” while confiscating convents, especially in the case of nun convents. [32]But after the confiscation of the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, Bishop Valtorta used the wordcompensation to demand the Japanese Army to carry on in a more adequate manner. These troubles concerning the destruction and confiscation by the Japanese Army, never ceased until the day of Japanese surrender.


3-2 Negotiation with the Governor during the Japanese Occupation---- Issues of Church property confiscation and compensation.


   In the background of the issues of compensation, there is the economical crisis of the Catholic Churches cause by the Japanese ruling. The Churches and schools that were maintained with the offering of the followers and students, lost an important part of their income when the population was forced to migrate to other areas, the rent income also decreased due to the destruction and confiscation of properties. In addition, the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, Generale Belgian Bank, Standard Charted Bank and other banks of the “opposition” were closed, and later only 20% of the deposits were returned. Therefore, many convents lost their capital considerably. [33]Moreover, the prices raised so abruptly that is became obvious from the beginning of the occupation that soon their living would be in trouble.

   Concerning the economical situation of each convent, the central bases of the convents or the countries where the convents are placed are supposed to aid them. Bishop Valtorta had to administer the Catholic churches in Hong Kong, the theological colleges and other problems of the parish, and above this he was the leader of the Italian convents, that means he had to be in charge of asking Italy to help convents of that country. Below we will see the main problems concerning the parish and compensation problems of the Italian convents.

   When the Japanese Army was about to confiscate the Church of St. Francis of Assisi and the Holy Family Canossian Convent, Bishop Valtorta immediately wrote a letter to the Military Government to ask them to inquire the Vatican’s opinion first. But the Japanese forcefully confiscated them in September 1942. Although the Military Government promised to compensate the losses in the future, Bishop Valtorta’s idea was that the negotiations of the compensation issue should be carried with the approval of the Vatican. However the Military Government asked the present parties to discuss the compensation issue in situ. Later the Foreign Affairs Department of the Military Government carried on many meetings with Bishop Valtorta to negotiate the matter, but the Bishop insisted that the opinion of the Vatican should be heard first before making the decision, resulting in never ending negotiations. Moreover, the prices of the confiscated properties presented by Bishop Valtorta differed greatly with the ones presented by the Foreign Affairs Department; therefore, the negotiations lead to no concrete results.[34]

   In order to mend the problems faced by the Italian convents, Bishop Valtorta asked the Italian General Chancellor in Guang-Zhou for his help, who accepted to collaborate with the living expenses of the convents, in July 1943. [35]But this money has not been transferred even after a month of the promise. Therefore, Bishop Valtorta finally accepted to ask the Military Government’s Foreign Affairs Department to provide part of the compensation promised to the convents once the war was over, and use this money to help the convents in bad economical situation. Here I retake the issue of compensation of the Church of St. Francis of Assisi and the Holy Family Canossian Convent. Bishop Valtorta protested strongly against the price difference of the confiscated properties presented by the Japanese Government, but he never received any more news from the General Chancellor in Guang-Zhou. In October 1943, facing such a situation, he finally decided to accept the compensation amount presented by the Foreign Affairs Department. The amount given for the Holy Family Canossian Convent was 4,163.5 Military Yen, what is even less than the 4,487.5 Military Yen offered in April during the negotiations. Concerning the Church of St. Francis of Assisi and the subordinate school, the compensation was only 7,583.33 Military Yen, that is only 1/3 of the 22,750 Military Yen offered during the negotiations in April. The Military Government also announced that those were the “Final Compensation Amounts”. [36]Although the amounts were less than satisfactory, they accepted them since the Italian convents were already in extreme poverty.

   In 1944, the situation intensified, and the prices increased even more because Hong Kong was obliged to depend on the import of food to be able to gather enough provision. For example, the rice distribution price was 0.2 Military Yen 1 per catty, in October 1942, it was raised to 0.3 Military Yen, in September 1943, it was 0.375 Military Yen, and finally in January 1944, it raised abruptly to 0.7 Military Yen. The market price of the rice raised even more. The price was already 2.05 Military Yen in May 1943, and in May 1944, it already surpassed the 5 Military Yen. Some say that at the final days of the Japanese Occupation, the price inflated into 200 Military Yen. [37]In such a situation, the Daughters of Charity of the Canossian Institute and the Sisters of the St. Paul’s of Chartres who always dedicated to care for the poor and the orphans, faced poverty in a daily basis. Looking at such a panorama, Bishop Valtorta once again mentioned the compensation problem to the Governor, for the sake of both Italian convents and the Hong Kong Catholicism as a whole.

   On March 14, 1944, Bishop Valtorta had a face to face meeting with Jiro Kimura, head of the Education division, who was in charge of administrating religious matters in order to discuss the fairness of the financial aid to the convents that were living in extreme poverty due to their loss of income caused by the Army. Bishop Valtorta also petitioned on paper that the government should continue to provide rice to the members of the Catholic convents and the orphans they sheltered, who must not be included in the decision made by the Governor on April 15, where rice was only going to be distributed to the collaborators of the Military Government. Thanks to this petition, many convents received a special permission for food distribution.[38]

   On June 6, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Tsuneo Hattori told Bishop Valtorta that the government would give the convents special aid, but needed the convents that wished to receive the help to write a detailed economic report. In the end, the only convents that wrote the report as the government demanded were the Daughters of Charity of the Canossian Institute and the Sisters of the St. Paul’s of Chartres. The convents that decided not to receive aid from the Military Government wrote letters to Bishop Valtorta explaining that they did not expect the government to actually help them, and were more worried about the government interfering in their affairs. Just as they predicted, the arrival of the aid was continuously delayed by the Japanese side.[39]

   In March 1944, Bishop Valtorta mentioned another problem about the Canossa Hospital. It was announced in September 4, 1942, that the Japanese Army was to confiscate The Canossa Hospital. Although Bishop Valtorta petitioned the Japanese Army to ask the Vatican’s opinion first, the Army ignored it and destroyed the Hospital’s building completely. However, such a problem has never been mentioned during the September 1943 negotiations for the compensations to the Italian convents. In March 1944, Bishop Valtorta presented the problem about the trees included in the land of the Canossa Hospital. The Military Army once promised that if those trees were ever hewed, the Canossian Sisters would have the right to recover and use them as firewood, but the Government overlooked their promise and the nuns were never given that wood. Bishop Valtortas position was that the sisters should get 25,000-30,000 catties of firewood, therefore, in the Bishop’s view, the Military Government should either give them the equivalent to this amount of firewood or allow them to chop the trees themselves. In April, the Foreign Affairs Department that announced they would pay 11400 yen for the building of the Hospital to the Canossian Sisters, but the sisters qualified the amount as too absurd and refused to accept it. According to the pre-war estimations, the Cannossian Hospital’s worth was 483,730 Hong Kong Dollars, if we convert it into Military Scrip, its worth would equal 121,200 Military Yen. Bishop Valtorta sadly expressed that the compensation they offered could not even pay for the bricks of the hospital, therefore, he once again petitioned to be given land and a building fit for a hospital, and 30.000 catties of firewood. Japan did not give him an answer until December.[40]

   The problems concerning the compensation to the Catholic Church continued until September 1942, but the amount that each convent could receive was minimum, and could not save the convents from the economical crisis they were facing.


3-3 Education and Social Welfare Activities during the Japanese Occupation

   Education and Social Welfare are the areas where the Catholic Church apported the most. In the educational field, they built elementary schools, high schools, art schools, seminaries, etc, and in the Social Welfare field, there were orphanages, blind schools, hospitals, and elder homes.

   Let’s look at their Educational work first. The Japanese Army started attacking Hong on December 8, 1941, and all the schools in Hong Kong were obliged to cease their activities. Later, according to the <Rules for the Private Schools> published by the Military Government, some Chinese schools re-started classes after being approved by the government. It is said that in May 1, 1942, 20 private schools were approved and started classes, and in August 7, 9 more schools followed. [41]In the statistics of beginning of 1943, there were 34 elementary and high schools. 19 in Hong Kong Island, 9 in Kowloon, 6 in the New Territory, with a total number of students of 3,200.[42] According to the statistics of end of 1943, there were 27 elementary schools and 15 high schools, with a number of 14,600 elementary school students, and 1,700 high school students. [43]According to the statistics of the Catholic Church of 1943, there were 8 elementary schools belonging to the Catholic convents (with 2,940 students), 5 High schools (with 363 students). As we can observe from the number of schools, 1/3 of the schools in Hong Kong were Catholic Schools directed by the convents.[44]

   In a recently published recompilation book of oral history, there are stories of teachers and students of the Tak-Ching Girls School, held by the Congregation of Sisters of Precious Blood (elementary and high school) and the Canossian Convent Chinese School at Wanchai held by the Cannosian Sisters. Mr. Huey Shin He who coursed his 1st and 2nd year of high school at the Tak-Ching Girls School comments as follows:

       The Tak-Ching Girls School was founded by the Sisters of Precious Blood, and the nuns themselves were teachers there. The school was full time, classes started 8 o’clock in the morning, we went home for lunch, then came back school for the afternoon classes. Two classes shared a classroom and the teaching method was the repetition method. Students didn’t have to wear uniforms. I still remember I used to bring money to school to pay tuition. Besides, although the Tak-Ching high school was a girls’ school, they also accepted male students. In my class there were a little over 20 students, 4 boys and more than 10 girls.......The content of the classes are similar to the ones we have now, there was Chemistry class, Biology class, Geography and History, etc.[45]

  At that time, the Military Government’s rule was that it was compulsory to have 4 hours of Japanese class even in the Chinese schools, [46]but Mr. He says:

        During the Japanese occupation, it was not allowed to learn English, and the Ministry of Education sent people to teach Japanese at schools. The Japanese teachers knew some Cantonese, sometimes they even taught Japanese in Cantonese. I suppose that teacher was a Chinese Immigrant in Japan. I resisted the Japanese classes very much, at the beginning of each year when the teacher asked us the progress of the previous year, we always told them we were not sure, so we always started learning the Japanese alphabet again, and our Japanese level never improved. Besides from learning the alphabet, we also learned some Japanese songs, like the Japanese National Anthem and some easy conversation. We only had one Japanese class per week, the time was too short, so we weren’t able to learn it well.[47]

   The sister Yueh Hua Tan who was a teacher at the Tak-Ching elementary school also said that pupils from 1st to 3rd grade didn’t need to learn Japanese. The pupils started to learn the alphabet and easy conversations at grade 4. [48]Ms. Chih Ling Huang who used to study at the elementary school of St. Francis convent in Wanchai (聖嬰小學) also explained that they had only 1 Japanese class per week[49]. The Japanese education forced by the Military Government was just a false, without real results.

   Ms. Huang also said that: “ the ‘Shing-ying’(聖嬰) was backed up by the church, and had money, and those sisters were very kind.......If a student lacked the rice for paying the tuition, they could pay less or none at all, the people there were very warm, unlike the ‘Wan-chai chapel school’(灣仔堂小學) that used to come to student’s homes to ask for the payment. [50]Just as mentioned above, the economical situation of the Canossian Convent was terrible from the first days of the occupation. Nevertheless, they could make the students feel the human kindness. Ms. Huang said that she had to take a bag with rice to school to pay tuition, but later the economy at home turned worse, and had no more rice to pay for school even if the family still hoped she went. We can say that what allowed the classes to go on even when the income was extremely little, was the perseverance and hard work of the nuns.

   The Regional Seminary for South China, Seminary of the Vicariate of Hong Kong, Dominican House of Studies also continued their classes. According to the statistics of 1943, there were 53, 13 and 11 students at these schools respectively.[51]

   Concerning the Social Welfare Activities, Bishop Valtorta made a special contribution. In September 1942, with the 5000 yen Military Scrip that Bishop Valtorta donated to the Chinese Representative’s Committee as foundation, theChinese People’s Charity General Assembly was erected. This Chinese People’s Chairty General Assembly became the “Directing and Planning Organization” of the Social Welfare Activities, and their work was to gather and divide donations for the Chinese Nationals in Hong Kong.[52]

  In June 1942, he also established a fund with the transfer made by the Pope to help the war criminals and war victims of Hong Kong. He used 45,000 yen for the war criminals, and the Military Government gave this money to the Japanese and British wounded soldiers, the war prisoners and detained. And the subsidy distributed to the victims of war was "handed to everybody who turned up or brought to the private house, without any discrimination of race and religion", but "priority was given to the Catholic institutions, convents, orphanages, seminaries which were without food".[53]

    Moreover, each Catholic convent also worked in Social Welfare Activities. Although part of the establishments have been confiscated by the Japanese Army, orphanages and elder homes still had the Military Government’s support. According to the statistics of the Military Government of 1943, there were 9 orphanages, with 1,144 orphans. There were 2 elder homes, with 196 people. There was also an institution for the Blind, that sheltered 32 people. [54]According to the data of the Catholic Church, in October 1942, there were total 6 orphanages (including schools) and an elder home. The Sisters of the St. Paul’s of Chartres and the Canossian Sisters all had institutions for the Blind, but which one was the one that the Military Government accepted and put in the statistics, it is still unclear. [55]We conclude that most of the Social Welfare activities that the Military Government accepted belonged to Catholic Churches. Besides, the Sisters of the St. Paul’s of Chartres, Canossian Sisters, Sisters of Precious Blood etc, all had clinics, even a free of charge clinic for the poor.

   Most of the convents that did Social Welfare Activities were nun convents. To actually take care of hundreds of children and elders is not an easy task. For example, the Canossian Sisters could not solely survive of the aid that the government provided, so some of the sisters taught music or language, some worked as seamstresses, others planted vegetables to support their living. When none of this effort was enough, they even sold the convent’s furniture or construction to help with the income. [56]They even went to Japanese companies directly to ask for some contribution[57]

   At that moment, the fire of the Allied Army became worse. There were more than 10 bombards during 1943 and 1944, and in 1945, the number became too large to count. The scale and violence of the attacks also escalated. Under the repeated attacks, the Catholic Church hospitals sometimes received wounded soldiers. For example in December 1944, St. Paul Hospital received the 100 workers that were injured during the attack of the Tai-Ku vessel.[58]

   In such a terrible environment during the Japanese Occupation, the Catholic Church, especially the sister’s convents made a great contribution to the education and welfare.


3-4 The parish and convent situation during the final period of the Japanese Occupation

  There are is no data or statistics about the situation of the Hong Kong parish after 1944, therefore, it is extremely difficult to mention exact numbers. Concerning the number of people working at each convent or being sheltered there, there is a chart in Bishop Valtorta’s letter to petition compensation to the Military Government of March 1944, from which we have a general idea of the situation of the convents at that time (See Chart 2). The general situation of the Catholics after 1944 cannot be found in the Hong Kong Catholic Diocesan Archives that the writer of the thesis read, and the number of followers of each Cathedral is also unclear. We can only imagine the situation from the following words that Bishop Valtorta said after the war was over: “The Catholic population had diminished from about 20,000 to little over 3,000 so that our Churches……looked desolate and empty. Actually, the period between the second half of 1944 and August 1945 when Japan surrendered was the hardest during the whole Japanese Occupation.

   After the cease in the distribution of rice in April 1944, the distribution of rice to some Catholic convents completed stopped on December 31, 1944 making the gathering of food provisions even harder. [59]According to Bishop Valtorta’s memoirs, the price of rice sometimes rose to 200 Military Yen a catty, but he could only ask the convents tosell anything you can sell, borrow money, mortgage your convent, make debts, but carry on”. Luckily, some “Kind and generous friends came to rescue. Some anonymous, some not even Christian, and they gave and gave again generously”, what allowed them to finally win this battle. [60]Bishop Valtorta was always hoping that generous people would help them, and never stopped fighting for the compensation the Military Government owed them.

   In March 30, 1945 in order to help the Canossian Sisters and the Sisters of the St. Paul’s of Chartres, Bishop Valtorta once again petitioned the government to compensate the Canossian Hospital and the trees (firewood) at the Pokfulam, owned by the Paris Foreign Missions. [61]This time he mentioned the problem to a lower rank official of the Foreign Affairs Department, Mr. Keiji Makimura, unlike previous times where he wrote letter directly to the head of the department. From this moment until the end of the war, Bishop Valtorta only negotiated with Makimura, and no matter how bad the situation turned, he never tried to contact the higher rank officials anymore. According to the data of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocesan Archives, Makimura made a great effort in 1945 to let Bishop Valtorta visit the prisoner’s camp. In February 1945, when the St. Joseph' s Home for the Aged run by the Little Sisters of the Poor was forced to move, Makimura dealt things according to the wishes of the Bishop and the convents and compensated them with rice urgently. Makimura was a person who showed a lot of mercy to the Catholic Church and Bishop Valtorta. [62]There is a possibility that Bishop Valtorta retook the compensation problems that did not show any improvement in months, due to the help and existence of a person like Makimura.

   On April 4, the Allied Army bombed the Sisters of the St. Paul’s of Chartres’ orphanage and destroyed it. 7 nuns and 50 orphans died that day. [63]As a result, the hospitals and schools of the Sisters of the St. Paul’s of Chartres were all closed, and the activities of the sisters were abruptly interrupted. The lucky 169 children that did not perish were sent to the Canossian Sisters and the Po Leung Kuk, but their situation did not allow them to accept such number of new orphans, so finally Makimura negotiated with the Apostle of Macao, and made the children go under Macao’s protection. The 63 sisters that survived the attack to the orphanage lived from selling the wood that has not burnt out and other objects in the convent.[64]

   After these events, the compensation issue of the Canossa Hospital and the trees at Pokfulam of the Paris Foreign Missions made some progress. On April 24, Makimura promised Bishop Valtorta that the Military Government would accept to pay 10,000 catties of rice. [65]Makimura started to negotiate with the sectors involved, asking them to pay for the compensation, however the negotiation did not advance smoothly since those sectors did not cooperate. In June, the Government agreed to let Makimura help the Paris Foreign Missions and paid them 300catties of rice to compensate the Pokfulam construction. Finally, the promise of paying 10,000 catties of rice for the trees was broken. Bishop Valtorta urged them several times, later on July 22, Makimura answered that the quantity of rice they could gather was only 1/10 of the promised amount, only 1000catties. Makimura promised to continue trying, and Bishop Valtorta decided to be more patient because he believed his words. Finally, soon before the Japanese surrendered, they paid 3000 catties of rice to the Canossian Sisters and the Sisters of the St. Paul’s of Chartres. Bishop Valtorta says the following about these events: Although I have been freatly annoyed by the exasperating delay, yet I know that you have actually done your best. Therefore, I beg to thank you for your personal efforts, which I greatly appreciate...”[66] Bishop Valtorta wrote this letter on August 15, which is also the date the Japanese surrendered. This became the last action to help the convents to gather food provision of the Bishop Valtorta, and he did it by relying on the “personal efforts” of Makimura.


4. Conclusion

   Although the Hong Kong Catholic Church was in a terrible situation, it endured the 3 years and 8 months Japanese Occupation.

   In the policies set by the Hong Kong Military Government, they accepted that the Catholic Religion was one of the main religions of Hong Kong; therefore, they accepted the activities of the Catholic Church in order to pacify the people. As a result, the education and social welfare activities at the beginning of the Occupation Period have not been obstructed or prohibited. The Catholic Church played a central part in the education and social welfare of Hong Kong. The Church established schools, orphanages and elder homes in a period of many restrictions.

    On the other hand, a great amount of the parishes’ or convents’ property had been confiscated by the Japanese Army, putting them in a terrible economical situation. The distribution system for the daily necessities and other restrictions to their lifestyle and activities obliged the convents and their followers to live in a state of extreme lack of freedom. All these are things we cannot deny. There were also often incidents of destruction of churches or confiscated convent buildings and Saint Figures by the gendarmerie or the army. It was also harder to gather food provisions with the intensification of the war. Bishop Valtorta often became the window of negotiation between the Church and the Military Government, since he was the representative of the Catholic Church. He negotiated with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the head of the gendarmerie and other top rank officers of the Military Government, or with the head of the General Staff Headquarter, sometimes even wrote letters directly to the Hong Kong Military Government. He did all this effort to protect the Catholic convents, the followers, orphans, and elders. Without Bishop Valtorta’s effort, all the problems faced by the churches and convents should have been much graver.

   In the last days of the Occupation Period, Bishop Valtorta met Makimura, who was much eager to help the Catholic Church. According to the data of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocesan Archives, Makimura was the only Japanese that Bishop Valtorta called his “friend”. After Japan surrendered, the Japanese non-military Nationals that remained in Hong Kong were 3500 people. They were first gathered at the Kowloon Whitfield Barrack. Later in October they were sent to the Stanley internment camp. Some Japanese were allowed to leave the camp because they acted as interpreters.This permission was to favor those Japanese that we especially humanitarian during the Occupation Period”. Among the list of these Japanese, appeared the name of Makimura. [67]It is possible that Bishop Valtorta was behind this. These non-military Japanese Nationals were mostly sent back to Japan in January 1946.

   In the post-war Hong Kong, the population increased rapidly due to the civil war in Mainland China. The Catholic population that once decreased to 3,000 also increased to 33,000 in only 1 year. [68]On April 11, 1946 the Catholic Hierarchy was established in China, and the Hong Kong area elevated in rank from being a Vicariate to a Diocese, and later the Catholic Church made their first step forward with Bishop Valtorta as the first bishop.


   (TranslatorJessie Lin

[1] Some representative books are: 謝永光《戰時日軍在香港暴行》,明窗出版社,1991.同《三年八個月的苦難》,明報出版社,1994.關禮雄《日佔時期的香港》,三聯書店,1993.張慧真,孔強生《從十一萬到三千》,Oxford University Press,2005.鮫島盛隆《香港回想記 ――占領下教会されて,創元社、1970.小林英夫,柴田善雅《日本軍政下の香港》,社會評論社,1996.

[2] Ticozzi, SergioHistorical Document of the Hong Kong Catholic ChurchHong Kong 1997, p.171.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Hong Kong Catholic Diocesan Archives, Section I, Box24-26

[5] 小林英夫,柴田善雅《日本軍政下の香港》,p.79.

[6] 謝永光《戰時日軍在香港暴行》,pp.104-118. 謝永光《三年八個月的苦難》,pp. 190-210.

[7] 東洋經濟新報社編《軍政下の香港:新生した大東亞の中核》,1944,pp.97-99.

[8] 小林英夫,柴田善雅《日本軍政下の香港》,p.94.

[9] 謝永光《三年八個月的苦難》,pp.20-32.


[11] 東洋經濟新報社編《軍政下の香港》,p.284.

[12] 鮫島盛隆《香港回想記》,p.73.

[13] Hong Kong Catholic Deocesan Archives, Section I, Box 24, Folder 3Simplified as:HK-DA/SI/B24/F3,3rd May 1943,7th Sep. 1943. 鮫島盛隆《香港回想記》,pp.108-109.

[14] 香港占領地總督部報到部編《在香日本人の參考》,堀內書店,1943,pp.13-19. HK-DA/SI/B24/F1, 18th May 1944 “memorandum De Canossa Hospital”.

[15] 鮫島盛隆《香港回想記》,p.105.

[16] Ibid,p.104

[17] HK-DA/SI/B25/F2, 21st Jun. 1942. Hong Kong parish included Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, New Territory, Pou-On,Wai-Chau and Hoi-Fung.There were 37300 Catholic believers before the war.

[18] HK-DA/SI/B25/F2, 22nd Oct. 1942.

[19] HK-DA/SI/B24/F1, 6th Jan. 1942.

[20] HK-DA, 22nd Oct. 1942. Chu, Cindy Yik-yi, The Maryknoll Sisters in Hong Kong, 1921-1969, New York, 2004, p.52. In January 1943, all the nuns and priests of The Maryknoll Fathers and Sisters, except for 3 priests and 4 nuns were sent back to their countries as an exchange, or were released then left Hong Kong. On September 1, 1 priest and the rest of the nuns returned to their countries after being released, only 2 priests remained at the internment camps. See TicozziHistorical Document of the Hong Kong Catholic Church,p.163.


[22] HK-DA/SI/B25/F2, the Hong Kong News, 16th Apr. 1942.

[23] Chu, Cindy Yik-yi, The Maryknoll Sisters in Hong Kong, 1921-1969, p.50, 54.

[24] In 1936, Italy occupied Libya, Zambia and established the East African Empire. Duke of Aosta also had the title of Viceroy of the East African Empire. In May 1941 he surrendered to the British Army, and died in a hospital in Nairobi Kenya on March 4,1942.

[25] HK-DA /SI/B26/F1, 12th Mar. 1942.

[26] HK-DA/, 21st Jun. 1942., 22nd Oct. 1942.

[27] HK-DA/SI/B24/F2.

[28] Hong Kong Catholic Directory 1941, pp.58-59.

[29] HK-DA/SI/B07/F2.

[30] HK-DA/SI/B24/F2.

[31] Ibid. The 5 Churches are:大埔敏圍、元朗舊墟、屯門良田村、金錢圍村、新田古洞村.

[32] HK-DA/SI/B24/F1, there was no date but deducting from other data, he sent his report to the Foreing Affairs Department on March 27, 1942.

[33] HK-DA, 22nd Oct. 1942.

[34] HK-DA/SI/B25/F1, 1st Jun. 1943.

[35] Early in October 1942, Bishop Valtorta asked the Italian Government to use the       aount of compensation owed by the Japanese Military Government as mortgage and provide them the necessary income for living. However, the communication with the Chancellor in Guang- Zhou was not smooth, so it took 9 months to reach an agreement. HK-DA/SI/B26/F1, 10th Oct. 1942. 3rd Feb. 1943, 18th Feb. 1943.

[36] HK-DA/SI/B26/F1, 11th Jul. 1943, 30th Aug. 1943, HK-DA/SI/B24/F1, 16th Aug. 1943, 23rd Sep. 1943, 12th Oct. 1943, HK-DA/SI/B25/F1, 1st Oct. 1943.

[37] 東洋經濟新報社編《軍政下の香港》, pp.215-220.小林英夫,柴田善雅《日本軍政下の香港》,pp.259-275.

[38] HK-DA/SI/B24/F1, 14th Mar 1944, 27th Mar. 1944, 10th May 1944.

[39] HK-DA/SI/B24/F1, 6th Jun. 1944, 16th Jun. 1944, 19th Jun. 1944. From the copy of the letter that Bishop Valtorta wrote on June 19 we found out that this issue was mentioned to Tokyo late in August. The letter does not mention if Japan concluded whether to help.

[40] HK-DA/SI/B24/F1, 28th Mar. 1944, 5th Apr. 1944, 8th Apr. 1944, 18th May 1944, 23rd Dec. 1944.

[41] 東洋經濟新報社編《軍政下の香港》,p.337, 339.

[42] 關禮雄《日佔時期的香港》,p.137.

[43] 東洋經濟新報社編《軍政下の香港》,p.280.

[44] HK-DA/SI/B07/F2.

[45] 張慧真,孔強生《從十一萬到三千》,p.51.

[46] 東洋經濟新報社編《軍政下の香港》,p.284.

[47] 張慧真,孔強生《從十一萬到三千》,p.53.

[48] Ibid.,p.46.

[49] Ibid.,p.190.

[50] Ibid.

[51] HK-DA/SI/B07/F2.

[52] 關禮雄《日佔時期的香港》,p.127.

[53] Ticozzi, Historical Document of the Hong Kong Catholic Church, p.162.

[54] 東洋經濟新報社編《軍政下の香港》,p.285.

[55] HK-DA, 22nd Oct. 1942.

[56] HK-DA/SI/B24/F1, 13th Jun. 1944.

[57] 《香港東洋經濟新報》第一卷第三號(19448),p.19.

[58] HK-DA/SI/B24/F1, 19th Jan. 1945.

[59] HK-DA/SI/B24/F1, 18th Dec. 1944.

[60] Ticozzi, Historical Document of the Hong Kong Catholic Church,p.171.

[61] HK-DA/SI/B24/F1, 30th Mar. 1945.

[62] HK-DA/SI/B24/F1, 26th Jan. 1945, 11th Feb.1945, 19th Feb. 1945.

[63] Ticozzi, Historical Document of the Hong Kong Catholic Church,p.69.

[64] HK-DA/SI/B24/F1, 12th Apr. 1945, 18th Apr. 1945, 5th May 1945. Makimura suggested to exchange the place where the sisters lived with the “Bethanie”of Pokfulam occupied by the Japanese, originally belonging to Paris Foreign Missions.

[65] At that time, the rice was only distributed to the people who directly collaborated with the Japanese Army, and the distribution price was of 3 yen per kg. The distribution price of firewood in August 1944 was 0.5 Military Yen per kg. The comparative worth of 10,000 kg rice equals 60,000 kg firewood.

[66] HK-DA/SI/B24/F1, 21st May 1945, 13th Jun. 1945, 22th Jul. 1945, 15th Aug. 1945. At the same time, Bishop Valtorta also asked that they compensate for the farmland they used to own in Kowloon, but never reached an agreement.

[67] 鮫島盛隆《香港回想記》, p.171.

[68] HK-DA/SI/B07/F2, “Statistiche 1945-1946”.