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Hong Kong began as a coastal island geographically located off the southern coast of China. While pockets of settlements had taken place in the region with archaeological findings dating back thousands of years, regular written records were not made until the engagement of Imperial China and the British Colony in the territory. Starting out as a fishing village, salt production site and trading ground, it later evolved into a military port of strategic importance and eventually an international financial centre that has the world's 6th highest GDP (PPP) per capita, supporting 33% of the foreign capital flows into China.
Archaeological findings suggesting human activity in Hong Kong date back over 30,000 years. Stone tools of the pre-historic people during the old stone age have been excavated in Sai Kung in Wong Tei Tung. The stone tools found in Sai Kung were perhaps from a stone tool making ground. Religious carvings on outlying islands and coastal areas have also been found, possibly related to Che people in Neolithic. The latest findings dating from the Paleolithic suggest that Wong Tei Tung (黃地峒) is one of the most ancient settlements in Hong Kong.
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The territory that now comprises Hong Kong was incorporated into China during the Qin Dynasty (221 BC – 206 BC), and the area was firmly consolidated under Nanyue (203 BC – 111 BC.) Archaeological evidence indicates that the population increased since the Han Dynasty (206 BC – AD 220). In the 1950s, the tomb at Lei Cheng Uk from the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25 – AD 220) was excavated and archaeologists began to investigate the possibility that salt production flourished in Hong Kong around 2000 years ago, although conclusive evidence has not been found.
During the Tang Dynasty, the Guangdong region flourished as an international trading center. The Tuen Mun region in what is now Hong Kong's New Territories served as a port, naval base, salt production centre and later, base for the exploitation of pearls. Lantau Island was also a salt production centre, where the salt smugglers riots broke out against the government.
In 1276 during the Mongol invasion, the Southern Song Dynasty court moved to Fujian, then to Lantau Island and later to today's Kowloon City. Emperor Huaizong of Song, the last Song Dynasty emperor, was enthroned at Mui Wo on Lantau Island on 10 May 1278 at the age of 8. This event is commemorated by the Sung Wong Toi in Kowloon. After his defeat at the Battle of Yamen on 19 March 1279, the child emperor committed suicide by drowning with his officials at Mount Ya (modern Yamen Town in Guangdong). Tung Chung valley, named after a hero who gave up his life for the emperor, is believed to have been one of the locations for his court. Hau Wong, an official of the emperor is still worshipped in Hong Kong today.
During the Mongol period, Hong Kong saw its first population boom as Chinese refugees entered the area. The main reason for them to enter Hong Kong was because of wars and famines, and some groups even went there to find jobs. Five clans of Hau (侯), Tang (鄧), Pang (彭) and Liu (廖) and Man (文) lived mostly in the New Territories were Punti (Locals, 本地人) from Guangdong, Fujian and Jiangxi in China. Despite the immigration and light development of agriculture, the area was hilly and relatively barren. People had to rely on salt, pearl and fishery trades to produce income. Some clans built walled villages to protect themselves from the threat of bandits, rival clans and wild animals. The famous Chinese pirate Cheung Po Tsai was legendary in Hong Kong.
The last dynasty in China, Qing Dynasty, was also the last to come in contact with Hong Kong. As a military outpost and trading port, the Hong Kong territory later gained the attention of the world.
|20 January 1841||Convention of Chuenpee||Preliminary cession of Hong Kong Island to the United Kingdom|
|29 August 1842||Treaty of Nanjing||Cession of Hong Kong Island, founded as a crown colony of the United Kingdom|
|18 October 1860||Convention of Beijing||Cession of Kowloon (south of Boundary Street)|
|1 July 1898||Second Convention of Beijing||Lease of the New Territories (including New Kowloon)|
By the early 19th century, the British Empire trade was heavily dependent upon the importation of tea from China. While the British exported to China luxury items like clocks and watches, there remained an overwhelming imbalance in trade. China developed a strong demand for silver, which was a difficult commodity for the British to come by in large quantities. The counterbalance of trade came with exports of opium to China, opium being legal in Britain and grown in significant quantities in the UK, and later in far greater quantities in India.
A Chinese commissioner Lin Zexu voiced to Queen Victoria the Qing state's opposition to the opium trade. It resulted in the First Opium War, which led to British victories over China and the cession of Hong Kong to the United Kingdom via the enactment of the new treaties in 1842.
Christian missionaries founded numerous schools and churches in Hong Kong. St. Stephen's Anglican Church located in West Point was founded by the Church Missionary Society (Church Mission Society)(CMS) in 1865. Ying Wa Girls' School (英華女學校) located in Mid-levels was founded by the London Missionary Society in 1900. The Hong Kong College of Medicine for Chinese (香港華人西醫書院) was founded by the London Missionary Society in 1887, with its first graduate (in 1892) being Sun Yat-sen (孫中山). The Hong Kong College of Medicine for Chinese was the forerunner of the School of Medicine of the University of Hong Kong, which started in 1911.
Along with fellow students Yeung Hok-ling, Chan Siu-bak and Yau Lit, Sun Yat-sen started to promote the thought of overthrowing the Qing Government while he studied in the Hong Kong College of Medicine for Chinese (香港華人西醫書院). The four students were known by the Qing Government as the Four Bandits. Sun attended To Tsai Church (道濟會堂, founded by the London Missionary Society in 1888) while he studied in this College. Later Sun led the Chinese Revolution (1911), which changed China from an empire to a republic.
In April 1899, the residents of Kam Tin (錦田) rebelled against the rule of the British colonial government. They defended themselves in Kat Hing Wai (吉慶圍), a walled village. After several unsuccessful attacks by the British troops, the iron gate was blasted open. The gate was then shipped to London for exhibition. Under the demand of the Tang (鄧) clan in 1924, the gate was eventually returned in 1925 by the 16th governor, Sir Reginald Stubbs (司徒拔爵士).
After the territorial settlements, the achievements of the era set the foundation for the culture and commerce in modern Hong Kong for years to come. The territory's commerce and industry transitioned in numerous ways: Hong Kong and China Gas Company to the first electric company; Rickshaws transited to bus, ferries, trams and airline, there was no shortage of improvements. Every industry went through major transformation and growth. Other vital establishments included changes in philosophy, starting with a western-style education with Frederick Stewart, which was a critical step in separating Hong Kong from mainland China during the political turmoil associated with the falling Qing dynasty. The monumental start of the financial powerhouse industry of the far east began with the first large scale bank.
In the same period there was the onslaught of the Third Pandemic of Bubonic Plague, which provided the pretext for racial zoning with the creation of Peak Reservation Ordinance and recognising the importance of the first hospital. On the outbreak of World War I in 1914, fear of a possible attack on the colony led to an exodus of 60,000 Chinese. Statistically Hong Kong's population continued to boom in the following decades from 530,000 in 1916 to 725,000 in 1925. Nonetheless the crisis in mainland China in the 1920s and 1930s left Hong Kong vulnerable to a strategic invasion from Imperial Japan.
Hong Kong was occupied by Japan from 23 December 1941 to 15 August 1945. The period, called '3 years and 8 months' halted the economy. The British, Canadians, Indians and the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Forces resisted the Japanese invasion commanded by Sakai Takashi which started on 8 December 1941, eight hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Japan achieved air superiority on the first day of battle and the defensive forces were outnumbered. The British and the Indians retreated from the Gin Drinker's Line and consequently from Kowloon under heavy aerial bombardment and artillery barrage. Fierce fighting continued on Hong Kong Island; the only reservoir was lost. Canadian Winnipeg Grenadiers fought at the crucial Wong Nai Chong Gap, which was the passage between the north and the secluded southern parts of the island.
On 25 December 1941, referred to as Black Christmas by locals, British colonial officials headed by the Governor of Hong Kong, Mark Aitchison Young, surrendered in person at the Japanese headquarters on the third floor of the Peninsula Hotel. Isogai Rensuke became the first Japanese governor of Hong Kong.
During the Japanese occupation, hyper-inflation and food rationing became the norm of daily lives. It became unlawful to own Hong Kong Dollars, which were replaced by the Japanese Military Yen, a currency without reserves issued by the Imperial Japanese Army administration. According to eye witness reports a large number of suspected dissidents were executed and thousands of females may have been raped, estimates have been made that as many as 10,000 girls and women were raped in the month following Japanese victory. This figure includes several European women who were also victimized in the frenzy including four British nurses who were raped. The Japanese occupation forces cut rations for civilians, usually to starvation levels, in order to conserve food for their own soldiers. Many civilians were deported to famine and disease-ridden areas of the mainland. Most of those repatriated had come to Hong Kong just a few years earlier to flee the terror of the Second Sino-Japanese War in mainland China. The rationing system was cancelled in 1944.
By the end of the war in 1945, Hong Kong had been liberated by joint British and Chinese troops. The population of Hong Kong had shrunk to 600,000; less than half of the pre-war population of 1.6 million due to scarcity of food and emigration. The communist revolution in China in 1949 led to another population boom in Hong Kong. Thousands of refugees emigrated from mainland China to Hong Kong, and made it an important entrepôt until the United Nations ordered a trade embargo on mainland China due to the Korean War. More refugees came during the Great Leap Forward.
After the Second World War, the trend of decolonization swept across the world. Still, Britain chose to keep Hong Kong for strategic reasons. In order to consolidate her rule, constitutional changes, the Young Plan, were proposed in response to the trend of decolonization so as to meet the needs of the people. The political and institutional system made only minimal changes due to the political instability in Mainland China at that time (aforementioned) which caused an influx of mainland residents to Hong Kong.
Skills and capital brought by refugees of Mainland China, especially from Shanghai, along with a vast pool of cheap labour helped revive the economy. At the same time, many foreign firms relocated their offices from Shanghai to Hong Kong. Enjoying unprecedented growth, Hong Kong transformed from a territory of entrepôt trade to one of industry and manufacturing. The early industrial centres, where many of the workers spent the majority of their days, turned out anything that could be produced with small space from buttons, artificial flowers, umbrellas, textile, enamelware, footwear to plastics.
Large squatter camps developed throughout the territory providing homes for the massive and growing number of immigrants. The camps, however, posed a fire and health hazard, leading to disasters like the Shek Kip Mei fire. Governor Alexander Grantham responded with a "multi storey buildings" plan as a standard. It was the beginning of the high rise buildings. Conditions in public housing were very basic with several families sharing communal cooking facilities. Other aspects of life changed as traditional Cantonese opera gave way to big screen cinemas. The tourism industry began to formalise. North Point was known as "Little Shanghai" (小上海), since in the minds of many, it had already become the replacement for the surrendered Shanghai in China.
The manufacturing industry opened a new decade employing large sections of the population. The period is considered a turning point for Hong Kong's economy. The construction business was also revamped with new detailed guidelines for the first time since World War II. While Hong Kong started out with a low GDP, it used the textile industry as the foundation to boost the economy. China's cultural revolution put Hong Kong on a new political stage. Events like the 1967 riot filled the streets with home-made bombs and chaos. Bomb disposal experts from the police and the British military defused as many as 8,000 home-made bombs. One in every eight bombs was genuine.
Family values and Chinese tradition were challenged like never before as people spent more time in the factories than at home. Other features of the period included water shortages, long working hours coupled with extremely low wages. The Hong Kong Flu of 1968 infected 15% of the population. Amidst all the struggle, "Made in Hong Kong" went from a label that marked cheap low-grade products to a label that marked high-quality products.
The rights of women and men to have equal pay and equal benefits for equal work were openly denied by the British Hong Kong Government up to the early 1970s. Leslie Wah-Leung Chung (鍾華亮, 1917-2009), President of the Hong Kong Chinese Civil Servants’ Association 香港政府華員會  (1965–68), contributed to the establishment of equal pay for men and women, including the right for married women to be permanent employees. Before this, the job status of a woman changed from permanent employee to temporary employee once she was married, thus losing the pension benefit. Some of them even lost their jobs. Since nurses were mostly women, this improvement of the rights of married women meant much to the Nursing profession.
The opening of the mainland Chinese market and rising salaries drove many manufacturers north. Hong Kong consolidated its position as a commercial and tourism centre in the South-East Asia region. 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. Higher income also led to the introduction of the first private housing estates with Taikoo Shing. The period saw a boom in residential high rises, many of the people's homes became part of Hong Kong's skyline and scenery.
In 1974, Murray McLehose founded ICAC, the Independent Commission Against Corruption, in order to combat corruption within the police force. The extent of corruption was so widespread that a mass police petition took place resisting prosecutions. Despite early opposition to the ICAC by the police force, Hong Kong was successful in its anti-corruption efforts, eventually becoming one of the least corrupt societies in the world.
In 1982, the British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, hoped that the increasing openness of the PRC government and the economic reform in the mainland would allow the continuation of British rule. The resulting meeting led to the signing of Sino-British Joint Declaration and the proposal of the One country, two systems concept by Deng Xiaoping. Political news dominated the media, while real estate took a major upswing. The financial world was also rattled by panics, leading to waves of policy changes and Black Saturday. Meanwhile Hong Kong was now recognised as one of the wealthiest representatives of the far east. At the same time, the warnings of the 1997 handover raised emigration statistics to historic highs. Many left Hong Kong for the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and any other destination without any communist influence.
Hong Kong's Cinema enjoyed one paramount run that put it on the international map. Some of the biggest names included Jackie Chan and Chow Yun-fat. The music world also saw a new group of cantopop stars like Anita Mui and Leslie Cheung.
On 4 April 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 criticised 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. 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. On 1 July 1997 Hong Kong was handed over to the People's Republic of China by the United Kingdom. The old Legislative Council, elected under Chris Patten's reforms, was replaced by the Provisional Legislative Council elected by a selection committee whose members were appointed by the PRC government. Tung Chee Hwa, elected in December by a selection committee with members appointed by the PRC government, assumed duty as the first Chief Executive of Hong Kong.
|Unchanged after 1997||Changed after 1997|
The new millennium signalled a series of events. A sizeable portion of the population that was previously against the handover found itself living with the adjustments. Article 23 became a controversy, and led to marches in different parts of Hong Kong with as many as 750,000 people out of a population of approximately 6,800,000 at the time. The government also dealt with the SARS outbreak in 2003. A further health crisis, the Bird Flu Pandemic (H5N1) gained momentum from the late 90s, and led to the disposal of millions of chickens and other poultry. The slaughter put Hong Kong at the centre of global attention. At the same time, the economy tried to adjust fiscally. Within a short time, the political climate heated up and the Chief Executive position was challenged culturally, politically and managerially. Hong Kong Disneyland was also launched during this period.In 2009 Hong Kong suffered from another a flu pandemic which resulted in a school closure for two weeks.
Hong Kong's skyline has continued to evolve, with two new skyscrapers dominating. The 415 meter (1,362-foot) tall, 88 storey Two International Finance Centre, completed in 2003, previously Hong Kong's tallest building, has been eclipsed by the 484 meter (1,588-foot) tall, 118 storey International Commerce Centre in West Kowloon, which was topped-out in 2010 and remains the tallest skyscraper in Hong Kong. Nine additional skyscrapers over 250 meters (825 feet) have also been completed during this time.
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