The Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence's current exhibition "Paper Weapons: Wartime Japanese Propaganda Publications" is now on show until March 27 next year. Showcasing more than 100 original artefacts published in the 1930s and 1940s in Japan, the exhibition gives visitors a better understanding of Japanese militarists' ambition to annex Asia and reign over the whole world, as well as how these publications had become "paper weapons" used in war.
Japan started the war in China after the Mukden Incident in 1931. After that, the Japanese press began to publish photographs and photo books relating to the Japanese army's activities in China alongside their stories with the support of the government and military. This type of publication with visually stimulating photographs attracted the Japanese public, who were anxious and uncertain about the future of their country, which had been hard-hit by economic crises. Sales of these publications continued to surge, and they became mouthpieces of the military.
Later, Japan continued to spread the war in China and the country entered a state of zealousness. Numerous pictorials and journals were published to "report" on the fighting, which undoubtedly contributed to the spread of war.
During Japan's attack on Hong Kong, pictorials and journals were also published to "report" on the battles. The contents included tales of Japanese soldiers saving fellow Japanese from British hands, defeated British troops surrendering to the Japanese army and Hong Kong people cheering for and welcoming the Japanese troops, as well as stories of Hong Kong's stunning scenery. Through these publications, the Japanese army was depicted as having "liberated" Hong Kong, ending a hundred years of British colonial rule. Japan even proposed "to establish a new Hong Kong by East Asian people", where Hong Kong people were no longer exploited by Britain and could enjoy better lives. These reports were a distortion of the truth and rationalised Japan's invasion. In reality, the people of Hong Kong endured three years and eight months of darkness during the Japanese occupation. Hong Kong's population dwindled from 1.6 million before the Japanese invasion to 600,000 inhabitants when the war was over.
Also, to further restrict freedoms of the press and speech, the government of Japan released state of emergency ordinances under which publications, books and newspapers that were deemed detrimental to the authorities were either banned or forced to censor their contents. In addition, the government granted itself powers to indefinitely detain writers who criticised the government or military in print. From then on, the general Japanese public were only exposed to propaganda reports and misinformation, and they could not obtain any news from newspapers and magazines from foreign countries such as those in Europe, and from the United States in particular. Japanese society gradually fell into isolation.
When Japan lost its advantage in the war, Japanese newspapers and magazines not only suppressed negative information, but also advocated a "nationalist spirit" in various ways so as to encourage public support for the war and cover up failure on the battlefield.
Ultimately, the Japanese publications were the military's mouthpieces that helped advocate a "sacred war" (seisen) and sparked off an upsurge of pro-war sentiments across Japan, and they became "paper weapons" that eventually pushed Japan into an abyss of destruction, as well as brought indelible pain and disaster upon the people in neighbouring countries and regions.
The Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence is located at 175 Tung Hei Road, Shau Kei Wan, Hong Kong. It is open from 10am to 5pm and is closed on Thursdays (except public holidays). The opening hours have been extended to 6pm during weekends and public holidays from now until August 31. Admission is $10 and half-price concessions are applicable to full-time students, people with disabilities and senior citizens aged 60 or above. Admission is free on Wednesdays.
For more details of the exhibition, please visit the museum's website at http://hk.coastaldefence.museum/en/section3-3-18jul2012.php or call 2569 1500 .
Ends/Friday, July 27, 2012
A report entitled "Friendly Japanese soldier" in Osaka Daily Pictorial Special, published by Mainichi Shimbun, Osaka, in 1939. This exhibit is on display at the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence's "Paper Weapons: Wartime Japanese Propaganda Publications" exhibition.
An issue of Great East Asia War Graphic published by Mainichi Shimbun, Osaka, in 1942, reporting on the first anniversary of Hong Kong's "rehabilitation". This exhibit is on display at the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence's "Paper Weapons: Wartime Japanese Propaganda Publications" exhibition.
An issue of Great East Asia War Graphic published by Nichinichi Shimbun, Tokyo, and Mainichi Shimbun, Osaka, in 1942, featuring on the cover Japanese troops being enthusiastically welcomed by locals in Southeast Asia. This exhibit is on display at the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence's "Paper Weapons: Wartime Japanese Propaganda Publications" exhibition.