Archaeological studies support human presence in the Chek Lap Kok area (now Hong Kong International Airport) from 35,000 to 39,000 years ago and on Sai Kung Peninsula from 6,000 years ago.
Wong Tei Tung and Three Fathoms Cove are the earliest sites of human habitation in Hong Kong during the Paleolithic Period. It is believed that the Three Fathom Cove was a river-valley settlement and Wong Tei Tung was a lithic manufacturing site. Excavated Neolithic artefacts suggested cultural differences from the Longshan cultureof northern China and settlement by the Che people, prior to the migration of theBaiyue (Viets) to Hong Kong. Eight petroglyphs, which dated to the Shang dynasty in China, were discovered on the surrounding islands.
In 214 BC, Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, conquered the Baiyue tribes inJiaozhi (modern Liangguang region and Vietnam) and incorporated the territory into imperial China for the first time. Modern Hong Kong was assigned to the Nanhaicommandery (modern Nanhai District), near the commandery's capital cityPanyu.In Qin dynasty, the territory was ruled by Panyu County(番禺縣) up till Jin Dynasty.
The area of Hong Kong was consolidated under the kingdom of Nanyue (Southern Viet), founded by general Zhao Tuo in 204 BC after the collapse of the short-lived Qin dynasty. When the kingdom of Nanyue was conquered by the Han Dynasty in 111 BC, Hong Kong was assigned to the Jiaozhi commandery. Archaeological evidence indicates that the population increased and early salt production flourished in this time period. Lei Cheng Uk Han Tomb on the Kowloon Peninsula is believed to have been built during the Han dynasty.
From the Jin dynasty to the early period of Tang dynasty, the territory that now comprises Hong Kong was governed by Bao'an County (寶安縣). In 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, as base for the exploitation of pearls. Lantau Island was also a salt production centre, where the salt smugglers riots broke out against the government.
Under the Tang dynasty, the Guangdong (Canton) region flourished as a regional trading centre. In 736 AD, the first Emperor of Tang established a military stronghold inTuen Mun in western Hong Kong to defend the coastal area of the region. The first village school, Li Ying College, was established around 1075 AD in the modern-dayNew Territories under the Northern Song dynasty. After their defeat by the Mongols, the Southern Song court briefly moved to modern-day Kowloon City (the Sung Wong Toi site), before its final defeat at the Battle of Yamen.
From the mid-Tang dynasty to early Ming dynasty, the territory that now comprises Hong Kong was governed by Dongguan County (東莞縣/ 東官縣). In Ming dynasty, the area was governed by Xin'an County (新安縣) before it was colonized by the British government. The indigenous inhabitants of what is now Hong Kong are identified with several ethnicities, including Punti, Hakka, Tanka) and Hoklo.
The earliest European visitor on record was Jorge Álvares, a Portuguese explorer who arrived in 1513. Having founded an establishment in Macau by 1557, Portuguese merchants began trading in southern China. However, subsequent military clashes between China and Portugal led to the expulsion of all Portuguese merchants from the rest of China.
In the mid-16th century, the Haijin order (closed-door, isolation policy) was enforced and it strictly forbade all maritime activities in order to prevent contact from foreigners by sea. From 1661 to 1669, Hong Kong was directly affected by the Great Clearance of the Kangxi Emperor, who required the evacuation of coastal areas of Guangdong. About 16,000 people from Hong Kong and Bao'an County were forced to emigrate inland; 1,648 of those who evacuated were said to have returned after the evacuation was rescinded in 1669.
British Crown Colony: 1842–1941
In 1839, the refusal of Qing authorities to support opium imports caused the outbreak of the First Opium War between the British Empire and the Qing Empire. Qing's defeat resulted in the occupation of Hong Kong Island by British forces on 20 January 1841. It was initially ceded under the Convention of Chuenpee, as part of a ceasefire agreement between Captain Charles Elliot and Governor Qishan. While a dispute between high-ranking officials of both countries led to the failure of the treaty's ratification, on 29 August 1842, Hong Kong Island was formally ceded in perpetuity to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland under the Treaty of Nanking. The British officially established a Crown colony and founded the City of Victoria in the following year.
The population of Hong Kong Island was 7,450 when the Union Flag raised overPossession Point on 26 January 1841. It mostly consisted of Tanka fishermen and Hakka charcoal burners, whose settlements scattered along several coastal hamlets. In the 1850s, a large number of Chinese immigrants crossed the then-free border to escape from the Taiping Rebellion. Other natural disasters, such as flooding, typhoons and famine in mainland China would play a role in establishing Hong Kong as a place for safe shelter.
Further conflicts over the opium trade between Britain and Qing quickly escalated into the Second Opium War. Following the Anglo-French victory, the Crown Colony was expanded to include Kowloon Peninsula (south of Boundary Street) and Stonecutter's Island, both of which were ceded to the British in perpetuity under the Convention of Beijing in 1860.
In 1898, Britain obtained a 99-year lease from Qing under the Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory, in which Hong Kong obtained a 99-year lease of the Lantau Island, the area north of Boundary Street in Kowloon up to Shenzhen River and over 200 other outlying islands.
Hong Kong soon became a major entrepôt thanks to its free port status, attracting new immigrants to settle from both China and Europe alike. The society, however, remained racially segregated and polarised under British colonial policies. Despite the rise of a British-educated Chinese upper-class by the late-19th century, race laws such as the Peak Reservation Ordinance prevented ethnic Chinese in Hong Kong from acquiring houses in reserved areas, such as the Victoria Peak. At this time, the majority of the Chinese population in Hong Kong had no political representation in the British colonial government. There were, however, a small number of Chinese elites whom the British governors relied on, such as Sir Kai Ho and Robert Hotung, who served as communicators and mediators between the government and local population.
Hong Kong continued to experience modest growth during the first half of the 20th century. The University of Hong Kong was established in 1911 as the territory's oldest higher education institute. While there was an exodus of 60,000 residents for fear of a German attack on the British colony during the First World War, Hong Kong remained peaceful. Its population increased from 530,000 in 1916 to 725,000 in 1925 and reached 1.6 million by 1941.
In 1925, Cecil Clementi became the 17th Governor of Hong Kong. Fluent in Cantonese and without a need for translator, Clementi introduced the first ethnic Chinese,Shouson Chow, into the Executive Council as an unofficial member. Under his tenure,Kai Tak Airport entered operation as RAF Kai Tak and several aviation clubs. In 1937, the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out when the Japanese Empire expanded its territories from northeastern China into the mainland proper. To safeguard Hong Kong as a freeport, Governor Geoffry Northcote declared the Crown Colony as a neutral zone.
Japanese occupation: 1941–45
As part of its military campaign in Southeast Asiaduring Second World War, the Japanese army moved south from Guangzhou of mainland China and attacked Hong Kong on 8 December 1941. TheBattle of Hong Kong ended with the British and Canadian defenders surrendering control of Hong Kong to Japan on 25 December 1941 in what was regarded by locals as Black Christmas.
During the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong, the Japanese army committed atrocities against civilians and POWs, such as the St. Stephen's College massacre. Local residents also suffered widespread food shortages, limited rationing and hyper-inflation arising from the forced exchange of currency from Hong Kong Dollars to Japanese military banknotes. The initial ratio of 2:1 was gradually devalued to 4:1 and ownership of Hong Kong Dollars was declared illegal and punishable by harsh torture. Due to starvation and forced deportation for slave labour to mainland China, the population of Hong Kong had dwindled from 1.6 million in 1941 to 600,000 in 1945, when Britain resumed control of the colony on 30 August 1945.
Resumption of British rule and industrialisation: 1945–97
Hong Kong's population recovered quickly after the war, as a wave of skilled migrants from China flooded in for refuge from the Chinese Civil War. When the Communists gained control of mainland China in 1949, even more skilled migrants fled across the open border for fear of persecution. Many newcomers, especially those who had been based in the major port cities of Shanghai and Guangzhou, established corporations and small- to medium-sized businesses and shifted their base operations to British Hong Kong. The Chinese Communist Party's establishment of a socialist state in China on 1 October 1949 caused the British colonial government to reconsider Hong Kong's open border to mainland China. In 1951, a boundary zone was demarked as a buffer zone against potential military attacks from communist China. Border posts in the north of Hong Kong began operation in 1953 to regulate the movement of people and goods into and out of British Hong Kong.
In the 1950s, Hong Kong became the first of the Four Asian Tiger economies under rapid industrialisation driven by textile exports, manufacturing industries and re-exports of goods to China. As the population grew, with labour costs remaining low, living standards began to rise steadily. The construction of the Shek Kip Mei Estate in 1953 marked the beginning of the public housing estate programme to provide shelter for the less privileged and to cope with the influx of immigrants.
Under Sir Murray MacLehose, 25th Governor of Hong Kong (1971–82), a series of reforms improved the public services, environment, housing, welfare, education and infrastructure of Hong Kong. MacLehose was British Hong Kong's longest-serving governor and, by the end of his tenure, had become one of the most popular and well-known figures in the Crown Colony. MacLehose laid the foundation for Hong Kong to establish itself as a keyglobal city in the 1980s and early 1990s.
To resolve traffic congestion and to provide a more reliable means of crossing the Victoria Harbour, a rapid transit railway system (metro), the MTR, was planned from the 1970s onwards. The Island Line (Hong Kong Island),Kwun Tong Line (Kowloon Peninsula and East Kowloon) and Tsuen Wan Line (Kowloon and urban New Territories) opened in the early 1980s.
Hong Kong's competitiveness in manufacturing gradually declined due to rising labour and property costs, as well as new development in southern China under the Open Door Policy introduced in 1978 which opened up China to foreign business. Nevertheless, towards the early 1990s, Hong Kong had established itself as a global financial centre along with London and New York, a regional hub for logistics and freight, one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia and the world's exemplar of Laissez-faire market policy.
The Hong Kong question
Facing the uncertain future of Hong Kong, Governor MacLehose raised the question in the late 1970s. In 1983, the United Kingdom reclassifed Hong Kong as a British Dependent Territory (now British Overseas Territory) when reorganising global territories of the British Empire. Talks and negotiations began with China and concluded with the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration. Both countries agreed to transfer Hong Kong's sovereignty to the China on 1 July 1997, when Hong Kong would remain autonomous as a Special Administrative Region and be able to retain its free-market economy, British common law through the Hong Kong Basic Law, independent representation in international organisations (e.g. WTO and WHO), treaty arrangements and policy-making except foreign diplomacy and military defence. It stipulated that Hong Kong would retain its laws and be guaranteed a high degree of autonomy for at least 50 years after the transfer. The Hong Kong Basic Law, based onEnglish law, would serve as the constitutional document after the transfer. It was ratified in 1990. Nevertheless, the expiry of the 1898 lease on the New Territories in 1997 created problems for business contracts, property leases and confidence among foreign investors.
Transfer of sovereignty
On 1 July 1997, the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to the People's Republic of China took place, officially marking the end of Hong Kong's 156 years under British colonial governance. As what was by far the largest remaining colony of the United Kingdom, the loss of Hong Kong also effectively represented the end of the British Empire. At the same time, Hong Kong switched its country of administration overnight to become China's first Special Administrative Region. Tung Chee-Hwa, a pro-Beijing business tycoon, was elected Hong Kong's first Chief Executive by a selected electorate of 800 in a televised ceremony.
Transition to Chinese rule
Soon after Hong Kong's reversion to China, the city suffered an economic double-blow from the Asian financial crisis and the pandemic of H5N1 bird flu; in December 1997, officials had to destroy 1.4 million chickens and ducks to contain the virus from spreading. Subsequently, mismanagement of Tung's housing policy disrupted the market supply, sent properties prices in Hong Kong tumbling and caused many homeowners to become bankrupt due to negative equity. In 2003, Hong Kong was gravely affected by the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).The World Health Organization reported 1,755 infected and 299 deaths in Hong Kong. An estimated 380 million Hong Kong dollars (US$48.9 million) in contracts were lost as a result of the epidemic.
Distrust of the Communist Party of China remained strong in the initial years of Chinese rule. A legacy of the democratic reforms by Chris Patten, China refused to recognise the legitimacy of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong after its 1994 direct election. The "Provisional" Legislative Council of Hong Kong (1997–99), which was unable to draft any new bills or authorise new legislation, completed its five-year term in 1999. The Legislative Council of Hong Kong (LegCo) resumed its full function after the 1999 LegCo election.
Despite the unopposed re-election of Tung in July 2002, the government's attempt to complete legislation of the Basic Law's Article 23 (National Security) aroused strong suspicion among Hong Kong citizens. This was due to the Article granting the police force right of access to private property, under the reason of 'safeguarding national security', without court warrants. Coupled with years of economic hardships and deflation following the Asian Financial Crisis, a mass demonstration broke out on 1 July 2003. This hastened the resignations of two government ministers and, eventually, that of Tung on 10 March 2005.
Sir Donald Tsang, the then-Chief Secretary for Administration and ex-official of the British Hong Kong government, entered the 2005 election uncontested and was appointed by Beijing as the second Chief Executive of Hong Kong on 21 June 2005. Tsang also won a second term in office following the 2007 Chief Executive electionunder managed voting. In 2009, Hong Kong hosted the 5th East Asian Games, in which nine national teams competed. The Games were the first and largest international multi-sport event ever organised and hosted by the city. Major infrastructure and tourist projects also began under Sir Tsang's second term, including Hong Kong Disneyland, Ngong Ping 360 (for Tian Tan Buddha and Tseung Kwan O Line (new metro line) had their inaugurations and a new cultural complex, the West Kowloon Cultural District.
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