Hong Kong is a territory on the eastern side of the Pearl River estuary in the South China Sea. Around 7.5 million people live in an area of only 1,104 square kilometres. This place is a melting pot of nationalities from practically every country in the world.
After Qing China ceded Hong Kong Island to the British, it became a colony of the British Empire. This action ended the First Opium War, in 1842. The territory expanded to included Kowloon after the Second Opium War, in 1860. Britain gained the 99-year lease of the New Territories in 1898. Subsequently, and with a great deal of publicity, the whole territory returned to China´s possession in 1997. The special administrative government is separate from the government of mainland China.
“He-Ong-Kong” was the original name of the region, back in 1780. It was a small inlet between Aberdeen Island and the south coast of the Island. Aberdeen was the initial landing point for English sailors. The name translates as “fragrant harbour”, referring probably to the sweet taste of the harbour’s freshwater from the Pearl River. Incense factories lined the coast of northern Kowloon at the time, so that could also be the reason for the name.
Humans first occupied the island during the Neolithic period, 6,000 years ago. Early settlers were semi-coastal. They migrated from inland regions bringing their knowledge of rice cultivation.
Historians believe that the Qin dynasty conquered the Baiyue people of Hong Kong, in 214 BC. The Southern Song Court used the Kowloon peninsula as its base during the Mongol conquest. Their final defeat was at the Battle of Yamen in 1279.
Several centuries later, at the end of the Yuan dynasty, seven landowning families settled in the region. Concurrently, settlers from other provinces migrated to Kowloon throughout the Ming dynasty period.
Portuguese trading post
The first European explorer was Jorge Álvares, who arrived in 1513 from Portugal. The Portuguese established a trading post called “Tamão” in the harbour for trading with China. Subsequently, military clashes occurred in the 1520s, halting trading. Trade relations were re-established in the region, by 1549.
The Opium War
The European demand for Chinese commodities was high. Luxuries like tea, silk, and porcelain were very popular. Conversely, Chinese interest in European goods was negligible. The British sold high volumes of Indian opium to China, to redress the trade balance. Qing officials pursued aggressive actions to curb the opium trade as they now faced a drug crisis. The Hong Kong Commissioner destroyed opium stockpiles and ceased all foreign trading. This action was the catalyst that led to the First Opium War. Early in the war, the Qing ceded Hong Kong Island to the British. However, both countries were dissatisfied with the agreement. After further hostilities, Hong Kong Island was formally ceded to the United Kingdom under the Treaty of Nanking on 29 August 1842.
Initially, piracy, disease, and hostilities made Hong Kong unattractive to merchants. During a rebellion, wealthy Chinese fled from the turbulent conditions of mainland China to settle in the colony. The rapid economic improvement during the 1850s attracted foreign investment. Hong Kong as we know it was born.
During the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937, Governor Northcote declared Hong Kong a neutral zone to safeguard its status as a free port. However, in case of attack, all British women and children evacuated the region, in 1940. On 8 December 1941, The Imperial Japanese Army attacked Hong Kong – the same day as the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese occupied the region for four years. Britain resumed control in August 1945.
Global financial centre
Hong Kong became the first of the Asian Tiger economies to industrialise in the 1950s. The government started reforms to improve infrastructure and public services. Hong Kong began to establish itself as a global financial centre and a significant shipping port.
The end of British rule
The colony faced an uncertain future as the end of the British lease drew closer. Careful diplomatic negotiations with China resulted in the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984. China guaranteed to maintain Hong Kong’s economic and political system for 50 years after the handover. Despite this agreement, hundreds of thousands of people left Hong Kong, afraid of the impending changes to their way of life. After 2047, no one is sure of the future of the Hong Kong government.
Currently, all travellers, regardless of nationality, must pass through border controls between Hong Kong, China and Macau. Residents of mainland China do not have the right of abode in Hong Kong.
Modern Hong Kong
The official name is now the “Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China”. The territory used to be a farming and fishing community. Since then, Hong Kong has become one of the most significant financial centres in the world. The local currency, the Hong Kong dollar, is the 13th-most traded currency worldwide. The city currently boasts the world´s highest income per capita. Nonetheless, some of the poorest people in the world live there.
Hong Kong is an attractive city with magnificent skyscrapers dominating the skyline, many around Victoria Harbour. Some colonial buildings remain, however. Flagstaff House, built in 1846, was the former residence of the commanding British military officer. It is the oldest Western-style building in Hong Kong.
Along the Ping Shan Heritage Trail, you can see architectural examples from several dynastic eras of imperial China. One of these is Tsui Sing Lau, which is the only remaining pagoda in the territory. The Tin Hau Temple is dedicated to the sea goddess Mazu. The original construction was in 1012. Even after rebuilding in 1266, it is still the oldest standing structure in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong has a humid subtropical climate, characteristic of South China. Summer is hot and humid, sometimes with rain and thunderstorms. Typhoons most often occur in summer. Winters are mild and usually sunny. The occasional cold front brings strong, winds from the north. The best seasons to visit the region are spring and autumn, which are generally sunny and dry.