The history of Hong Kong begins in 1842 at which time theiIsland known as Hong Kong, meaning “Fragrant Harbor,” became the first British possession in China.
Before the British arrived there, Hong Kong was a small fishing community and a haven for travellers and pirates in the South China Sea . The British used the territory as a naval base during their Opium Wars with China .
China grew alarmed at this turn of events and attempted to throw the foreigners out. Opium was affecting the economy to an alarming degree and creating a society of addicts. The war of words ended when British gunboats were sent in. They managed to demolish a Chinese fleet of 29 ships with only two gunboats. The first Opium War went much the same way and, at its close in 1841, the island of Hong Kong was ceded to the British.
After the first of such wars, the Treaty of Nanking in 1842 ceded Hong Kong Island to Britain. Sir Henry Pottinger was the territory’s first governor. Following other fights and wars with the Chinese, Britain was given Kowloon and Stonecutter’s Island in 1860. Lastly, the British aquired the New territories in 1898 on a 99-year contract. The territory grew as more people settled there with time. In the early 1900’s. Hong Kong was a refuge for exiles from China, following the establishment of the Chinese Republic in 1912.
Following Japan’s seizure of Manchuria in 1932, the Sino-Japanese war broke out. As Japan headed towards China, thousand of Chinese people came to Hong Kong, the number of refugees growing rapidly. On December 25, 1941, the British surrendered the territory to the Japanese army. U.S. submarines brought Japanese planes to Hong Kong to prepare there for further attacks on the East Asian region. After Japan’s surrender in August of 1945, Britain reclaimed its territory.
As the deadline for the expiration of the 99 year lease on the New Territories drew near, discussions were held between the British and the Chinese on the fate of Hong Kong . Deng Xiao Ping refused to consider breaking up the area and demanded that all of Kong know, including the two areas ceded “in perpetuity” to Britain , be returned in 1997. On December 19, 1984, Britain and China agree that Hong Kong would become a “special administrative region” of China as of July 1, 1997. China agreed to give Hong Kong an unprecedented measure of autonomy, to allow its existing social and economic systems to remain unchanged for the following 50 years. China declared that Hong Kong would be governed under a “One Country, Two Systems” policy.
In spite of concerns raised by the crackdown on students in Tiananmen in 1989, and the attempts of the British to finally establish as semblance of democratic institutions in Hong Kong , the handover took place on July 1, 1997 as scheduled. British television portrayed the event in all its sadness, pomp and ceremony; Chinese television, broadcast from Tiananmen Square, was up-beat and joyous in welcoming Hong Kong back to China . Since its return to China , Hong Kong has had its first elections, and its business has continued to grow, in spite of fears for the future.