About the Project

In June 2008, the Hong Kong SAR government’s Research Grants Council awarded me HKD$ 542,500 to conduct research on Hong Kong’s War Crimes Trials [Project No. HKU 748208H, Year 2008/2009].  With this grant, I was able to identify, purchase copies of and study 46 case files of war crimes trials involving 123 accused persons, held in Hong Kong in the period 1946-1948. These files are held in original form at The National Archives in the United Kingdom.  With the assistance of my research assistants and the staff of the University of Hong Kong Libraries, I have been able to create a database to house the HKWCT Collection, prepare case notes and make these materials electronically accessible to the public. 

All the cases in the HKWCT Collection concerned Japanese nationals as accused, with a small number of Formosans as co-accused in the cases from Formosa.  The accused were from the Imperial Japanese Army, including the Kempeitai, Imperial Japanese Navy and included civilians who worked with them, such as interpreters, merchant seamen, medical unit staff, and employees of a private Japanese company that used Prisoners of War as forced labour.  These were British military trials, with the United Kingdom exercising its jurisdiction over those who committed crimes against British and Commonwealth nationals.  This is not to say that they were ‘all-British’ trials; there was, for example, active participation from Canada via seconded personnel. These cases were not just about crimes committed in Hong Kong, Kowloon and the New Territories, but extended to Formosa, Japan, China (Shanghai and Waichow) and the High Seas.  One case tracked the activities of an individual accused across several territorial jurisdictions.

The HKWCT Collection does not contain all the case files relating to World War II atrocities that were tried in Hong Kong.  With British consent, 13 war crimes trials were also held in Hong Kong by Australia from 1947-1948, in relation to crimes committed against Australians.  These Australian trials, under the War Crimes Act, are currently the subject of a separate research project at the University of Melbourne.  There were other trials, of British and Commonwealth nationals, for collaboration with the enemy amounting to High Treason.  These cases were tried through the regular civilian courts that started functioning soon after the return of the British administration. One of these cases does concern our collection of war crimes trials, the matter of Innouye Kanao, a Japanese-Canadian who was tried initially for war crimes as a Japanese, but was later found to have been born in Canada.  He was ultimately tried and sentenced to death by the Hong Kong Supreme Court.  This Supreme Court judgement, and a number of the local High Treason cases can be found at the Hong Kong Public Records Office.  However, this project on Hong Kong’s War Crimes Trials only deals with the British military trials of Japanese and Formosan persons accused of war crimes against British and Commonwealth citizens (in a few instances, these cases did cover crimes against Chinese and other nationals).  As a final caveat, it is acknowledged that while best efforts have been made to identify all the relevant Hong Kong case files held in The National Archives, it is possible that there are others that are not yet ‘discovered’. The HKWCT Collection is drawn from the WO/235 collection and there may be case files that have been misplaced in other collections, or are permanently lost. 

More details about Hong Kong’s War Crimes Trials, including statistics about this collection, can be found in this website’s section on Hong Kong’s War Crimes Trials.

The casenotes are open to everyone to use, with proper credit given.  The originals of the HKWCT Collection are held at The National Archives in Kew, United Kingdom.  The copyright in the files comprising the HKWCT Collection remains with the Crown.  They have kindly been made available on licence and subject to conditions of access imposed by The National Archives.  The files in the HKWCT Collection may only be accessed directly from the Government-funded universities in Hong Kong: the University of Hong Kong (香港大學), the Chinese University of Hong Kong (香港中文大學), the City University of Hong Kong (香港城市大學), the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (香港科技大學), Hong Kong Polytechnic University, (香港理工大學), Hong Kong Baptist University (香港浸會大學) and Lingnan University (嶺南大學)The Hong Kong Institute of Education (HKIEd) 香港教育學院, as a UGC funded higher education institution has also been given access. The attention of all users of the HKWCT Collection is drawn to other conditions imposed by The National Archives:

“Crown copyright images  are reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England www.nationalarchives.gov.uk.  Images may be used only for the purpose of research, private study or education.  Applications for other use should be made to image.library@national.archives.gov.uk.  Please advise The National Archives, London, of any intention to reproduce images within any form of published works, in order to help them track useage.”

The Hong Kong Public Records Office has kindly permitted us to use some of the photographs that they hold from the Second World War period.  Images may be used only for the purpose of research, private study or education.  Applications for other use should be made to the Government Records Service of the Hong Kong Public Records Office (Mr. Bernard Hui, Senior Assistant Archivist) at bernardhui@grs.gov.hk.

The Special Collections section of the University of Hong Kong Libraries has also kindly permitted us to use some of their photographs from the Second World War period.

The electronic database through which the HKWCT Collection can be viewed online has been created by the University of Hong Kong Libraries using the omeka system.

Several individuals have been indispensable in the creation of the HKWCT Collection, its website and the information that it contains.  My deepest gratitude goes to my wonderful students and research assistants Ernest Ng, Dixon Tse and Janet Man, and to the ever patient and cheerful Dave Low of the University of Hong Kong Libraries.  David Palmer from the University of Hong Kong Libraries  provided essential support, guidance, advice and input.  The family of the late Peter Vine and the Journal of the Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society have kindly allowed us to include his 1995 account of his experiences as a War Crimes Prosecutor in Hong Kong.  Tony Banham and the Hong Kong University Press have kindly allowed us to include the account of the trial of Kyoda Shigeru, from Tony Banham’s book entitled The Sinking of the Lisbon Maru: Britain’s Forgotten Wartime Tragedy.  Immense thanks go to Stephen Tsui who shared his memories, including of his maltreatment at the hands of the Kempeitai; Luba Estes for sharing details of some of her extraordinary life and encounters with Col. Tokunaga Isao during the War; and to Raymond Chung, who shared his memories about the War and the Japanese detainees whom he met when he worked at the Stanley Prison Hospital. Chan Sui-jeung generously shared his recollections of the Silver Mine Bay trial and the conditions in Hong Kong at the time.  Thanks must also go to the staff of The National Archives, with whom lengthy negotiations were conducted, ultimately leading to the successful conclusion of a purchase and licensing agreement, and transfer of the materials.  Thanks are also due to the staff of the Hong Kong Public Records Office and the Special Collections section of the University of Hong Kong Libraries.   There are many other persons who assisted in different ways: Lawrence Tsui, Carmen Tsang, Bonnie Cheng, Trinni Choy, Hayley Ryan, Bill Kam Wong, Tony Banham, Elizabeth Ride, Tom Kabau, Yvonne Ngai, Cai Guo and others whom I am sure I have forgotten to mention by name and for which I apologise. My mother, with failing eyesight, spent hours helping me with proof reading  - my gratitude and love for this, and all else that she has done.

But above all, thanks are due to the Hong Kong government’s Research Grants Council, for recognising the potential of the proposal that led to this project, and for providing me with the generous funding that has allowed this window into Hong Kong’s history to be opened, enabling further research and study.  I sincerely hope that this new resource will lead to much fresh and original research and scholarship from across the disciplines.  As a teacher of International Law, I personally hope that the law students of Hong Kong will, from now on, learn about the important legal events that took place here from 1946-1948, and that what happened here was part of the wider global movement towards international justice that now finds its nadir in the International Criminal Court.  It is so easy, in the rush of modern life, to forget or ignore the past.  This treasure trove will, I hope, inspire many others, young and old, local and international, to discover some of the lessons for humanity that lie in these old and long forgotten files.  I believe that we honour by remembering, and deter by learning the lessons of the past.  

When relying on material from the HKWCT Collection and/or its website, it would be appreciated if the following acknowledgement is used for citation purposes:
[Name of the particular document], Suzannah Linton & HKU Libraries, Hong Kong’s War Crimes Trials Collection, at http://hkwctc.lib.hku.hk.


Suzannah Linton, Associate Professor,
The Department of Law, The University of Hong Kong.
25 December 2010