I just finished reading Chan Sui-jeung’s East River Column: Hong Kong Guerrillas in the Second World War and After (Hong Kong University Press, 2009) and have a new appreciation for the brave men and women of Hong Kong and southern China during and after the war.
Hong Kong is not known for its military strength. After all, it doesn’t have its own army, navy, or air force. But during World War II, hundreds of men and women in Hong Kong and parts of Guangdong province joined together to fight the Japanese occupation and help hundreds of people escape Hong Kong for Free China (those parts of China that weren’t occupied by Japan).
I’d read about these guerrillas in Tim Luard’s new book, Escape from Hong Kong (Hong Kong University Press, 2012), but Chan takes a closer look at the organized group that was affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party.
Although WWII interrupted the brewing civil war in China, these guerrillas worked closely with KMT officials and foreigners. What I found most interesting–and thought-provoking–were the sections of this book that narrated what happened after the war. Some of the East River Column leadership went on to hold important posts in the new People’s Republic of China. But it was their collaboration with the KMT and foreigners during the war that would come back to hurt them during the Cultural Revolution.
This book led me to wonder how China would have fared had the PRC leadership in Beijing allowed the Cantonese to hold high positions during the early decades of the PRC instead of banishing them for being different from the rest of the China (a history of working with foreigners, speaking a completely different language from Mandarin, and a geographic distance far from Beijing).
With the growing tensions between Hong Kong and the mainland, it’ll be interesting to see what will happen this time around.