History of Hong Kong

Southern China and Hong Kong’s development in the early 19th century grew mainly through international trade relations when foreign nations lived in Canton and traded in tea, silk and spices. When the British introduced opium from India to the market, the drug quickly made traders wealthy and in uential, while wreaking a devastating e ect on the health of the local population. Fearing further escalation in public addiction to the drug, the Chinese Imperial Government tried to ban opium resulting in war with the British, commonly referred to as the Opium War of 1841. The Chinese army and navy were unable to defeat the British feet and in 1842 peace was found in the signing of the Treaty of Nanking, granting Britain trading rights in Chinese ports and giving sovereignty of Hong Kong island to the British. The Chinese continued trading in Hong Kong, although relations remained hostile and war erupted again, resulting in 1860 with Britain gaining control of the Kowloon peninsula and Stonecutter’s Island under the Convention of Peking. Wanting to consolidate its position of strength, Britain signed a 99-year lease in 1898 on land north of the Kowloon peninsula known as the New Territories. The entire area became the British Dependent Territory of Hong Kong, virtually self-governing. The colony was developed as a trading port and infrastructure bene ted from the introduction of the Peak Tram, a new city tramway system and a railway to Canton. Thousands of refugees from China swarmed into Hong Kong during the first half of the century and Hong Kong became a haven to those seeking relief from China’s civil turbulence; although Hong Kong’s stability was itself interrupted by four years of Japanese occupation during World War II.

After the war, Hong Kong’s population increased from 600,000 to 1.8 million by 1947 with returning émigrés. By 1950 the population reached 2.2 million and since then it has continued to rise, now totaling around 6.9 million. Radical social programmes raised the standard of living far beyond that of other regional developing countries and the 1950’s saw international trade ourish along with Hong Kong’s development as a manufacturing and industrial centre. Hong Kong remains today one of the world’s largest exporters although the nancial service industries have been largely instrumental in the territory’s growth since 1970. With China maintaining that all three land treaties giving control to the British were signed under duress and were therefore unjust, discussions throughout the late 1970’s and early 1980’s led to the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984, agreeing that all Hong Kong territory would be returned to Chinese sovereignty on 1 July 1997, Deng Xiao Ping, then China’s leader, promised the now famous “one country, two systems” political agenda. On 1 July 1997, Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region (SAR) within People’s Republic of China with a high degree of autonomy. Its constitution, called the “Basic Law” was implemented to ensure that Hong Kong’s territorial borders and immigration control remain separate from mainland China, that the Hong Kong and US Dollar peg will remain intact, and that the judicial system will continue largely unchanged for a further 50 years, until 2047. The border with China continues to be policed and visas are still required for Hong Kong residents wishing to visit China, and vice versa.