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History of Hong Kong

This article details the history of Hong Kong.

Table of contents
1 Early history
2 Imperial China
3 First contacts with the West
4 British colony
5 World War II
6 Post-War period
7 Transition to Chinese rule
8 Handover to the People's Republic of China
9 Hong Kong since 1997
10 See also
11 External links and references

Early history

According to archaeological studies, human activity on Hong Kong dates back over five millennia. Excavated Neolithic artifacts suggest an influence from northern Chinese Stone-Age cultures, including the Longshan.

Imperial China

The territory was settled by Han Chinese during the 2nd century AD, evidenced by the discovery of an ancient tomb at Lei Cheung Uk in Kowloon. Hong Kong's history during Three Kingdoms, Southern and Northern Dynasties is virtually unknown owing to the lack of records and archaeological findings. A statue at the Castle Peak Monastery (青山禪院 qing1 shan1 chan2 yuan4) is said to illustrate an Indian Buddhist itinerant monk of the Southern Dynasties.

Guangzhou flourished into an international trading center during the Tang Dynasty. The so-called "Tuen Mun area", which can be referred to the area from the Lantau Island to Nantou in Shenzhen, served as an outer port, naval base, salt production and anchorage area. It was reduced by Mongolian conquest to a mere anchorage for the exiled Song government which controlled the area of today's Kowloon City.

Still, no significant residence occurred until the first major migration from mainland China to Hong Kong during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). This is evidenced by coins, fishery and farming utensils. Local Yue inhabitants were largely sinicized or wiped out. The last attested Yue village with its almost 1,000 residents at Chek Lap Kok and Lantau Island (location of today's Hong Kong International Airport) was destroyed by Song local troops during Qingyuan era (1195-1200) after an unsuccessful uprising.

In 1276, the Southern Song Dynasty court fled to Guangdong by boat, fleeing Mongol invaders, and leaving the emperor Gong Di behind. Any hope of resistance centred on two young princes, Gong Di's brothers. The older boy, Zhao Shi, aged nine was declared emperor, and, in 1277, the imperial court sought refuge first in Silvermine Bay (Mui Wo) on Lantau Island and later in today's Kowloon City (see Sung Wong Toi). The older brother became ill and died, and was succeeded by the younger, Zhao Bing, aged seven. When in 1279 the Song army was defeated in its last battle, the Battle of Yamen, against the Mongols in the Pearl River Delta, a high official is said to have taken the boy emperor in his arms and jumped from a clifftop into the sea, drowning both of them. These emperors are also believed to have held court in the Tung Chung valley, which takes its name from a local hero who gave up his life for the emperor. Hau Wong, an official from this court, is still revered as a god in Hong Kong.

The Mongolian conquest of the Song Dynasty triggered even more Han Chinese refugees into the area including the younger brother of the Chinese patriotic rally leader Wen Tianxiang. The Wen family was among the earliest recorded settlers of Hong Kong. Despite the immigration, the area was still relatively barren and had to rely on fishery and salt trades.

First contacts with the West

Hong Kong also features in the first contact of organized western merchants with China. When the Portuguese merchant Fernao Pires de Andrade met Chinese officials through an interpreter at Pearl River estuary in 1517 to negotiate trade with Canton (Guangzhou), the sailors landed at a so-called "Tuen Mun Island" and killed some local villagers. This "Tuen Mun island" and village has been interpreted as proof of the maritime trading decline of the aforesaid "Tuen Mun area".

During the Qing Dynasty, Hong Kong was governed under the Xin'an Prefecture (新安縣 pinyin xin1 an1 xian4). Tuen Mun was still the name on official records until mid Qing when the area took its current name.

The British East India Company made the first successful British sea venture to China in 1699, and Hong Kong's trade with British merchants developed rapidly soon after. In 1711, the Company established a trading post in Canton (Guangzhou).

British colony

Hong Kong Island was occupied by Captain Charles Eliot, Royal Navy, on January 20, 1841. The ostensible authority for the occupation was negotiated between Captain Eliot and the Governor of Kwangtung Province, the result of which was known as the Convention of Chuenpeh.

After the Chinese defeat in the First Opium War (1839-1842), Hong Kong was ceded to Britain in 1842 under the Treaty of Nanking, at which point in time the territory became a Crown Colony.

Britain was granted a perpetual lease on the Kowloon Peninsula under the 1860 Convention of Beijing, which formally ended hostilities in the Second Opium War (1856-1858).

During the 1890s, an epidemic of bubonic plague broke out in southern China. In the spring of 1894, about 100,000 dead were reported from Guangzhou. In May 1894, the disease erupted in Hong Kong's overcrowded Chinese quarter of Tai Ping Shan. At its height, the epidemic was killing 100 people per day in Hong Kong, and it killed a total of 2,552 people that year. The disease was greatly detrimental to trade and produced a temporary exodus of 100,000 Chinese from the colony. Plague continued to be a problem in the territory for the next 30 years. 1,290 people died of the disease between 1898 and 1900.

In 1898, the United Kingdom, concerned that Hong Kong could not be defended unless surrounding areas were also under British control, executed a 99-year lease of the New Territories, significantly expanding the size of the Hong Kong colony. The lease would expire at midnight, on June 30, 1997.

In the late 19th century and early 20th centuries, Hong Kong developed into a warehousing and distribution center for U.K. trade with southern China.

World War II

The development of Hong Kong was disturbed by the Japanese rule during World War II.

On December 25, 1941, British and Canadians were defeated by the Japanese at Hong Kong.

Post-War period

After the end of World War II and the communist takeover of Mainland China in 1949, hundreds of thousands of people emigrated from China to Hong Kong. Some of the new immigrants brought with them skills and capital while others became a vast pool of cheap labour. At the same time, many foreign firms moved their offices from Shanghai to Hong Kong. This helped Hong Kong achieve its first economic success and become a major manufacturing centre.

However, despite the economic success, many bosses did not treat their employees well. The ideal of communism impressed many young Hongkongers in the 1960s. In 1967, a labour movement under the influence of the Cultural Revolution in China became violent. A famous radio host, Lam Bum, who openly criticized the movement, was murdered. After the Hong Kong government brought down the labour movement, the communists' web in Hong Kong was completely broken and the Hongkongers' view of the communists became negative.

In 1974, Murray McLehose founded ICAC, the Independent Commission Against Corruption. The situation was so bad that there was a mass petition by policemen against prosecutions. Hong Kong was quite successful in its anti-corruption efforts, eventually becoming one of the least corrupt societies in the world.

The opening of the mainland Chinese market and rising salaries drove many manufacturers north. Hong Kong transformed into a commercial and tourism centre. High life expectancy, literacy, per capita income and other socioeconomic measures attest to Hong Kong's achievements over the last four decades of the 20th century.

Transition to Chinese rule

In 1982, fifteen years before the lease on the New Territories would expire, the governments of the UK and the PRC began talks on the future of Hong Kong. The British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, hoped that the increasing openness of the PRC government and the economic reforms on the mainland would lead the Chinese to agree to a continued British presence. However, not only did the PRC want to see the New Territories returned to Chinese control but it refused to recognise the "unfair and unequal" Treaties under which Hong Kong Island and Kowloon had been ceded to Britain in perpetuity. China refused to recognise British sovereignty in Hong Kong, only its administration.

In fact, a decade earlier on November 8, 1972, the 27th United Nations General Assembly had adopted a resolution affirming China's stand and demands on the issue of Hong Kong. In a letter to the chairman of the UN Committee on Decolonization in March 1972, Huang Hua, the Chinese permanent representative to the United Nations wrote that 'Hong Kong and Macau are parts of the Chinese territory occupied by the British and Portuguese authorities. To solve Hong Kong and Macau issues is completely within the sphere of China's sovereign rights. It does not at all fall into the general category of the so-called "colony"'. He added that 'China will use peaceful means to resolve the Hong Kong and Macau issues when the conditions become ripe. The status quo will be kept until the settlement.'

Regardless of the competing claims for sovereignty, the PRC's 'paramount leader' Deng Xiaoping recognised that Hong Kong, with its free market economy, could not be assimilated into the mainland overnight and that any attempt to do so would not be in the interests of either. He advocated a far more pragmatic approach known as the One Country, Two Systems policy in which Hong Kong (as well as Macau and Taiwan) would be able to retain their economic systems within the PRC.

On December 19, 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong (The Joint Declaration) was signed between the PRC and UK Governments. Under this agreement, Hong Kong would cease to be a British Crown Colony from July 1 1997 and would henceforth be a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the PRC. Hongkongers opposing the handover led to the first wave of emigration. The Governor, Sir Edward Youde, died in 1987, and was replaced by Sir David Wilson.

On June 4, 1989, one million Hongkongers marched in support of the Beijing students in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. After the suppression of the protests, Hongkongers was polarised into two groups, the pro-Beijing who supported the suppression and the pro-democratic who opposed it. The unpleasant feelings led to the second and largest wave of emigration. Australia, Canada, Singapore, and the United States emerged as the favourite emigration destinations. Richmond, British Columbia gained the nickname "New Chinatown".

On April 4, 1990, the Hong Kong Basic Law was officially accepted as the mini-constitution of the Hong Kong SAR after the handover. The pro-Beijing bloc welcomed the Basic Law, calling it the most democratic legal system to ever exist in the PRC. The pro-democratic bloc criticized it as not democratic enough.

In July 1992, Chris Patten was appointed as the last British Governor of Hong Kong. Patten had been Chairman of the Conservative Party in the UK until he lost his parliamentary seat in the general election earlier that year. He was the only professional politician to hold the post of Governor of Hong Kong, his predecessors having been from the diplomatic service. By contrast, Patten had little knowledge or experience of Hong Kong or China, and spoke neither Mandarin Chinese nor the local Cantonese dialect.

Relations with the PRC government in Beijing became increasingly strained, as Patten introduced democratic reforms that increased the number of elected members in the Legislative Council. This caused considerable annoyance to the PRC, which saw this as a breach of the Basic Law. See Politics of Hong Kong.

Handover to the People's Republic of China

On July 1, 1997 Hong Kong was handed over to the People's Republic of China by the United Kingdom. The old Legislative Council of Hong Kong, elected under Chris Patten's measure, was replaced by the Beijing-appointed temporary Legislative Council. Tung Chee Hwa became the Chief Executive of Hong Kong.

Some of the changes were purely symbolic:

In other respects, many things remained unchanged:

Hong Kong since 1997

In 1998, another election was held. The real estate market, a key component of the Hong Kong economy, went into free-fall as a consequence of the Asian financial crisis.

In 2003, concerns about the proposed anti-subversion arising from Hong Kong Basic Law Article 23 and the unpopularity of Tung Chee Hwa and his officials, plus dissatisfaction about the poor state of the economy, prompted half million people to march on July 1, making it the largest protest aimed at the Hong Kong government ever in the history of Hong Kong.

For more details about the political situation, see Politics of Hong Kong.

See also

External links and references