HONG KONG, Aug. 16 - From the graceful dome of the Legislative Council building to the gaudy entertainment district of Wan Chai to the touristy warren of small shops in Stanley, Hong Kong seems as peaceful and prosperous a city as any in Asia.
Yet 60 years ago, this city suffered some of the worst ravages of World War II. The Legislative Council building was a torture center run by the Japanese secret police. Military-run brothels were set up in Wan Chai after numerous rapes of local civilians by Japanese soldiers. And Stanley held an internment camp for allied civilians, with those who violated the rules risking execution on a nearby beach.
What is remarkable is that despite all the wartime horrors - which cut the city's population to 600,000 from 1.6 million through starvation, killings and flight to better-fed communities - the war is little remembered here. The 60th anniversary on Monday of the Japanese surrender announcement was observed only by a few small gatherings: a talk by a war veteran at a local museum; a protest on Sunday against Japanese war crimes that drew 400 people by the organizers' count and only 200 according to the police.
A modest wreath-laying ceremony on Sunday attended by Hong Kong's second-ranking official, Chief Secretary Rafael Hui, was carefully choreographed so as to exclude any specific mention of Japan, even as surviving prisoners of war were honored and the dead remembered.
"We tried not to use the name of Japan anywhere, or who Hong Kong was liberated from, even though it is fairly obvious," said Ronald Taylor, who organized the event for the Prisoners of War Association here and explained that any mention of Japan would be "too controversial."
By contrast, millions in China and South Korea have signed Internet petitions or joined street demonstrations this year to denounce Japan's reluctance to teach its children about its wartime atrocities, helping make the issue one of the most contentious in Asia. Many Japanese, in turn, have defended their country's wartime record.
Even as Japan's prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, issued a historic apology on Monday for what he called the "tremendous damage and pain" his nation caused, members of his cabinet and dozens of lawmakers prayed at the Yasukuni Shrine honoring Japanese war criminals among other dead. On the same day, North and South Korean officials issued a joint declaration urging the Japanese government to "stop distorting history" and "stop paying reverence to war criminals."
But here in Hong Kong, residents have shown a surprising willingness to put the war behind them. "Sixty years is a moment to remember, but people pay more attention to economic development" these days, said Ho Pui-yin, a historian at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Professor Ho and other historians cite several factors contributing to the city's willingness to move on. The large majority of Hong Kong's 6.8 million people are not descendants of wartime survivors, but are part of families that left mainland China later, fleeing the rise of Communism.
Periodic discoveries of chemical weapons, munitions caches and other potentially hazardous wartime materials in mainland China, left by Japanese forces, have helped remind the Chinese public about the war. But there have been few such discoveries here in recent years, and historical research has languished because few combatants are left to interview.
The city's history during World War II "is something which has been comprehensively strip mined, and there's little more to say," said Jason Wordie, a local historian, adding that a broad release of still-sealed military records in Japan is an unlikely prospect given the heated political environment.
Hong Kong, like the Philippines, has also been fairly successful in attracting Japanese investment. Although heavy fighting and massacres in Manila claimed as many as 100,000 civilian lives near the end of World War II, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo did not mention the war during a speech on Monday, either.
But perhaps the largest reason for the near silence here about the war lies in the way the British excluded most of the Chinese population from the defense of the territory in 1941, when the Japanese Army gathered nearby in an already conquered area of mainland China. So few army veterans of the war in Hong Kong are Chinese.
As documented in a recent book by Philip Snow, "The Fall of Hong Kong," most of the territory's Chinese were eager to help fight the Japanese, especially after hearing horror stories about the Rape of Nanjing four years earlier. The British, however, were very leery of arming the local population, remembering earlier agitation against colonial rule, especially during the 1920's.
British defenses collapsed quickly in the face of a Japanese attack that began hours after the assault on Pearl Harbor.
After the war, the British paid limited attention to many of the Chinese guerrilla fighters who did fight the Japanese because they tended to be pro-Communist. Cai Song-ying, 80, a propaganda official for the Hong Kong-Kowloon Independent Brigade, a unit of the mainland-based East River Column, recalled how the British sent a banner of commendation in 1947 to the villages where the pro-Communist brigade had been most active in attacking Japanese units. The banner did not mention the pro-Communist groups like hers that had conducted the raids.
The territory's return to Chinese rule in 1997 brought a shift in policy, though not enough of one to rekindle public passion about the city's fate under Japanese occupation.
Hong Kong's first chief executive after the transfer, Tung Chee-hwa, soon invited East River Column survivors to what had been the official residence of British governors, and publicly thanked the former guerrillas, some of whom had been briefly thanked in 1946.
Mr. Tung also granted free medical care at government hospitals to the survivors and, in some cases, government pensions. A list of the East River Column's dead in Hong Kong was placed with a list of British dead in a little shrine at City Hall here, where a modest annual event is held, a small recognition of what for most people in Hong Kong is a fading memory.
"They are not that keen on it," Professor Ho said. "It is always a pity when people forget history."