In This Review

Not the Slightest Chance: The Defence of Hong Kong, 1941
Not the Slightest Chance: The Defence of Hong Kong, 1941
By Tony Banham
UBC Press, 2003, 280 pp
The Fall of Hong Kong: Britain, China, and Japanese Occupation
The Fall of Hong Kong: Britain, China, and Japanese Occupation
By Philip Snow
Yale University Press, 2003, 384 pp

When its governor surrendered to the Japanese army on Christmas Day in 1941, Hong Kong became the first British colony to fall since 1791. Banham provides a blow-by-blow account of the events leading to this surrender, largely from the perspective of those involved. His title sums up the basic predicament: although at times spirited, resistance was chaotic, despite Churchill's desire for a show of defiance. Snow's canvass is altogether broader. His book is beautifully written, with many telling anecdotes, and also thoroughly researched, drawing on Chinese, Japanese, and British archives and all other available sources. It follows the story from prewar complacency through the savage Japanese occupation to the British return. As Snow shows, the British made it back for their "second innings" because they moved in quickly as the Japanese left, when warring Nationalists and Communists would rather have ceded Hong Kong to the British than to each other. The local population, after being subjected to extraordinary Japanese cruelty, was ready for calm, and the British realized that they could not reinstate the snobbish, racist prewar order. They guaranteed security and allowed a distinctive, dynamic, and prosperous society to emerge. The end of colonialism eventually came with the expiration of the lease, by which time the British had rendered themselves largely irrelevant.