Published on Monday, April 18, 2005 by the New York Times
Thousands March in Anti-Japan Protest in Hong Kong
by Keith Bradsher
HONG KONG -- Thousands of protesters marched here today to denounce Japan, as anger at Japan’s record in World War II spilled over from mainland China.
Hong Kong has a long history of rare but occasionally violent anti-Japanese protests, with rallies taking place in 1971, 1982 and 1986. Today's march was peaceful, as protesters chanted slogans and carried banners calling for Japan to apologize for its wartime conduct, to let China control a string of disputed islands and to stop seeking permanent membership on the United Nations Security Council.
Organizers estimated the crowd here at 12,000 people, but the police put it at 5,000.
While mainland China seldom tolerates unapproved demonstrations in big cities, political demonstrations have been common in the last few years in Hong Kong. The territory was a British colony until its return to Chinese rule in 1997, and retains a separate legal and economic system from the mainland.
L.Y. Lau, a 76-year-old retired radiotherapy technician who joined today's march, said he still recalled when Japanese troops broke into his boyhood home here soon after their capture of the city in December 1941. “They came into our house and grabbed some women and took them away,” he said. “We never saw them again.”
Y.C. Yung, a 75-year-old retired ship repair worker at the march, said he and his family nearly starved to death in mainland China during the Japanese occupation, and emigrated here soon after the war. “This is the first time I have come to a protest,” he said, explaining that he had suppressed his feelings and memories about the war until now.
Historians estimate that as many as 10,000 women were raped in the first few days after the Japanese capture of Hong Kong on Christmas Day in 1941. The Japanese turned the city into a military base, summarily executing many residents suspected of opposing them.
To conserve food for soldiers, the Japanese cut rations for civilians to starvation levels and deported many to famine- and disease-ridden areas of the mainland, and even dumped some on barren islands, said Philip Snow, a prominent historian of the period.
The territory’s population dropped to 600,000 by the end of the war, from 1.6 million before the invasion, Mr. Snow said, adding that many of those deported had died.
Hong Kong schools teach almost nothing about the occupation, a legacy of the British, who were close allies of Japan.
David Wong, a 30-year-old office clerk who joined today's demonstration, said he opposed permanent Japanese membership in the Security Council. But when asked about the Japanese occupation here, he said he was only aware that residents had to line up for food then.
The Democratic Party and other pro-democracy groups critical of Beijing organized today's march, part of a tradition here among democracy advocates of using criticisms of Japan as a way to show Chinese nationalism without embracing China’s Communist Party.
The biggest pro-Beijing party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, did not join today's march even though it held an anti-Japan protest two weeks ago.
“We always do it separately because our supporters think we have different styles than the democrats - we always think they are too radical,” Ma Lik, the party’s chairman, said in a telephone interview. “They would criticize Beijing and have more radical slogans.”
Mr. Ma said that his party had not received any guidance or suggestions from Beijing authorities to avoid involvement in today's march.
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company