Hong Kong Industry during World War One

HF:  This is an initial attempt to analyse the impact of World War One on industry in Hong Kong.

HF: May 2019 I have not been able to research further on the topic since originally posting this article in September 2015 and would be grateful if someone could poke around a bit and send in more information/images on the subject.

First some rather surprising evidence of pro-German feelings immediately prior to the outbreak of WW1. During research at the national archives in Berlin for his forthcoming book, The Germans and Hong Kong, 1843-1997, Bert Becker, associate professor of history at the University of Hong Kong, recently unearthed documents that demonstrate the strength of pro-German sentiment in Hong Kong at the outbreak of the first world war. Becker found a telegram sent by the governor to the German consul, Arthur Voretzsch, on August 3, 1914, just two days before war was declared. “In that telegram, the governor of Hong Kong, Sir [Frances] Henry May, assures Voretzsch that if war broke out he would still allow Germans to do their business in Hong Kong under oath that they would not seek to damage British interests,” says Becker.

It seems an astonishing guarantee, given the circumstances, even though, as Becker points out, “the relationship with the British was relaxed, friendly and good” and German merchants held board positions at HSBC and on the Chamber of Commerce. “Sir Henry May was extremely German-friendly and even criticised the editor of The China Mail for negative stories about Germany in his newspaper,” says Becker. (1)

Within two months Germans and German companies and their staff were however affected. From late October 1914, all German women and children were expelled, German businesses were wound up and German men of serving age were interned, first on Stonecutters Island and later at a special internment camp in Hung Hom. I believe some were even transported to Australia.

I thought we would start by looking at how various industries were affected by looking at the annual HK Government Administrative Reports from this period.

The Hong Kong Memory Project has a series of extracts from these Reports and I thought it would useful to see those from 1914 to 1918 though it may well be worth looking at those immediately before and almost definitely those following the War to gain a fuller picture.

HK Memory says the 1914 “report was originally under the section of Trade and Shipping, Industries, Fisheries, Agriculture and Land of the Administrative Reports for the year 1914. It reported on the conditions, operation of major companies, and import and export trends affecting the selected industries in the year. The outbreak of war in Europe was found to have affected some industries in Hong Kong.”

To give you an idea of what this section in the reports cover I have highlighted that of 1914  which is divided into the following subheadings. I have a snippet of information under a few of the sections to give you a idea of how the events particularly in Europe affected industry and trade in Hong Kong during that year.

a) Shipping and Trade

Industries 1914 Shipping

b) Industries under European Management
– Engineering and Shipbuilding
– Sugar Refineries
– Cotton Spinning

Industries 1914 Cotton
– Rope Manufacturing

Industries 1914 Rope
– Cement

Industries under Chinese Management
– Tin

Industries 1914 Tin
– Rattan and Fibre Furniture
– Native Tobacco

HF: Orient Tobacco Manufactury
“The Hong Kong factory was put under supervision by the Hong Kong authorities but returned to him [ie the company owner, Carl Ingenohl] after this war.” ie WW1
– Tinned Goods
– Samshu
– Vinegar
– Knitted Vests and Socks
– Leather and Hides
– Ginger and Preserves

Industries Ginger
– Soy
– Paper
– Vermilion

Industries 1914 Vermilion
– Lard

Industries 1914 Lard
c) Fisheries

d) Forestry, Agriculture and Botany

e) Land Grants and General Value of Lands

Supplementary Information

Hong Kong Companies

Arnholds -“As a German company in the British colony of Hong Kong, it was liquidated during World War One. It revived as the British-registered Arnhold Brothers & Company in Shanghai, returning to Hong Kong in the early 1920s.”
Arnholds: China Trader, Vaudine England, Pub Arnhold & Co, 2017

Industries 1914

Industries 1915

Industries 1916

Industries 1917

Industries 1918


  1. SCMP article 25th January 2014 SMS Emden: Hong Kong’s favourite foe – author, Stuart Heaver

This article was first posted on 5th September 2015.


  1. The Hong Kong Memory Project Hong Kong Memory (HKM) is a multi-media web site that gives free and open access to digitized materials on Hong Kong’s history, culture and heritage. The materials include text documents, photographs, posters, sound recordings, motion pictures and videos.

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. The German Speaking Community in Hong Kong 1846-1918 – Part One
  2. The German Speaking Community in Hong Kong 1846-1918 – Part Two

Our Index contains a large number of articles about Hong Kong during World War Two including:

  1. Hong Kong Industry during World War Two
  2. Hong Kong Industry during World War Two – Fishing, Food and Beverages, Tobacco
  3. Hong Kong Industry during World War Two – Transport
  4. Hong Kong Industry during World War Two – Utilities


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *