Stanley Ho’s escape to Macau in World War II laid the foundation for his luck. But it was not without controversy

Remembering the life of Stanley Ho, Macao's 'godfather of gambling'

But before Ho produced Macau, he had to build himself.

Born in 1921, Ho went through difficult times when his father fled to Saigon, after his business collapsed in the late 1920s, leaving that side of the family penniless. Not long after World War II broke out.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Britain and America declared war on Japan. The Japanese army invaded the British colony of Hong Kong where, despite fierce resistance, the city fell on Christmas day.

Ho, who had worked as an air raid guardian, had thrown his uniform away for fear of being executed while Hong Kong was under Japanese rule, he recalled in Jill McGivering’s book “Macao Remembers”.

But unlike the thousands of people who starved to death, in battle or at the hands of the Japanese, Ho had options.

His great-uncle was Sir Robert Hotung, the rich Eurasian companion, the first Chinese man to live in Hong Kong’s Peak, a wealthy neighborhood where only Westerners had been allowed to reside.

In the 1940s, Sir Robert lived in Macau and invited Ho, then twenty years old, to join him in the Portuguese colony where many opportunities were expected.

In the 1990s, Ho told historian Philip Snow, who wrote a book on the fall of Hong Kong and the Japanese occupation, “I made a lot of money from the war.”

Here’s how he did it.

Macau: city of peace

In the early 1940s, with much of China under Japanese control, Macau found itself in a unique position in Asian theater.

Portugal remained neutral in the war, until 1944, and as such, Macau was also considered neutral territory. The colony was administered by the Portuguese governor Gabriel Maurício Teixeira and the enigmatic dr. Pedro José Lobo, known simply as dr. Lobe.

Japan, however, controlled the seas and ports around Macau. This meant that Macau had to cooperate with the Japanese to allow food and supplies to enter the colony. For Teixeira and Lobo, it was a delicate balance between preserving the neutral integrity of the territory and avoiding open collaboration with the Japanese.

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War conditions were difficult in Macau. Food supplies were low, inflation was rampant and the colony was facing an increasing number of Chinese and European refugees. Smuggling and the black market flourished.

To solve this problem, Lobo created the Macau Co-operative Company (CCM) and Lobo asked Sir Robert Hotung if there was anyone he could trust to work as company secretary.

Sir Robert recommended Ho.

The CCM was arguably Macau’s most important institution during the war – the organization that kept the colony nurtured. Its main role was to keep Macau both economically alive, capable of feeding itself, and to balance the delicate relationship with the Japanese.

It was one third owned by Lobo, one third owned by the wealthiest Portuguese families in Macau, and the last third was owned by the Japanese army.

I knew the installation when it joined.

In an interview with Simon Holberton of the Financial Times over half a century later, Ho said: “I was in charge of a barter system, helping the Macau government to exchange machinery and equipment with the Japanese in exchange for rice, sugar, beans .

“I was then a semi-government official. I was the intermediary.”

The king of kerosene

As CMM secretary, Ho has been authorized by Lobo to keep Macau powered by trading whatever the island has to offer.

It wasn’t an office job. I had to travel regularly by boat with payments to receive the goods and bring it back to Macau. His job was to recite the Portuguese authorities, the Japanese military, the triad bands and the various factions of China.

In his memoirs, Ho recalled that his first and most urgent task was to learn Portuguese and Japanese because his job was to trade between the two.

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There is an element of audacity in Ho’s life at war in Macau. Navigating with rice, vegetables, beans, flour, sugar and other supplies between French Indochina and Macau, along the southern Chinese coast and around the island of Hainan, meant avoiding the pirate gangs that would bring your gold on the trip to gone and your incoming supplies.

The Macau coast in 1941.

Chinese nationalist or communist guerrillas were equally eager to procure supplies or money themselves, and many saw CCM activities as a collaboration with the enemy.

Japanese naval ships were known to shoot all types of civilian vessels while, later in the war, according to historian Geoffrey Gunn, American and British submarines were able to sink any ship they thought had to do with the Japanese .

Around this time, Ho opened a kerosene factory when public fuel supplies were running low, according to Joe Studwell, who conducted many interviews with Ho family members for his book “Asian Godfathers”.

Towards the end of the war, America – worried that Japan would completely take over Macau and use it as a base to defend southern China and Hong Kong – bombed the Macau gas terminal in early 1945 to deny the supply. to the Japanese navy and air force.

The attack, wiping out the only other source of Macao’s kerosene, inadvertently made Ho both essential to Macau’s continued functioning, and extremely rich.


After the war, Ho faced criticism for collaborating with the Japanese.

But Macau’s wartime neutrality was always subject to Japanese influence, especially after the fall of Hong Kong. And in 1943, when Tokyo asked for Japanese advisors to be installed to oversee Macau, a virtual Japanese protectorate was created on the island. Contact was inevitable. Ho claimed to have given English lessons to Colonel Sawa, chief of the Japanese military secret police in Macau.

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The Chinese nationalist government, however, which had fought Tokyo loudly since 1937, considered Ho and CMM’s commercial transactions insidious and supportive of Japan’s war against China.

Stanley Ho had amassed a fortune by the end of World War II. This image is from 1971.

Chinese officials attempted to arrest Ho for collaboration but, according to his account of the attempt, Portuguese colonial police protected him. By the end of 1945, Ho was too deep-rooted, too important for Macau’s economy for the Portuguese administration to deliver it to China.

In his defense, Ho wrote that when asked why he should work with the Japanese given their treatment of the Chinese, he claimed that he was told that “it was an order from the Portuguese government” and that “the people of Macau without food will starve. “.

After the war

By the end of World War II in 1945, Stanley Ho had acquired four fundamental things: first, he cemented a permanent relationship with Lobo, the great unofficial chief of Macau.

Then, in 1942, he married the daughter of a wealthy Portuguese family, offering him protection and social standing. Third, he accumulated a fortune and was a millionaire on his 24th birthday. Fourth, he founded business in the rice trade, kerosene and construction.

A few weeks after the Japanese surrender in August 1945, Ho returned to Hong Kong to make strategic investments, such as purchasing a boat to start the first post-war ferry service between the two colonies.

He had money, position, family and good friends in useful positions.

He was ready to redo Macau and invest heavily in the post-war period in Hong Kong. In his memoir of the Ho period he wrote: “Macau was paradise during the war”.

I have had, as they say, a very good war.


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