‘Bright lights, big city’ Hong Kong, Asia’s World City, embodies all that and more. The city, which today is a leading, global financial hub, can trace its origins to a small fishing and farming community, which settled on the mouth of the Pearl River Delta in Southern China.
Hong Kong rose to prominence on the world stage during the mid-nineteenth century when it served as a naval base for the British during the first Opium War (1839–42). Hostilities broke out between the two trading partners Britain (represented by the East India Company) and China due to differences on conduct of trading and diplomatic relations. The Treaty of Nanking ended the war and awarded Britain five treaty ports and Hong Kong.
The Chinese perceived the treaty to be unfair, and the Second Opium War (1856-1860) soon followed. At the end of this war, Britain extended its control over the Kowloon Peninsula and Stonecutters Island and in 1898; Britain snagged the New Territories area of Hong Kong on a 99-year lease. The colonization of Hong Kong was complete.
The British then went on to develop Hong Kong and its economy grew and prospered. Hong Kong’s population also swelled greatly towards the beginning of the 20th century as hordes of Chinese refugees poured in as they fled the founding of the Chinese Republic.
In 1937, China and Japan went to war over Manchuria. The fighting was fierce, and the grueling war dragged on for years. The Chinese now began to source wartime supplies from the British, and the relationship between the two nations warmed up.
During this wartime, Chinese nationals once again sought refuge in Hong Kong. As a colony of the British, Hong Kong was soon embroiled in the Second World War. The war severely impacted the economic and social life of Hong Kong. Japanese aircraft bombed Hong Kong relentlessly and despite a spirited defense, the British surrendered in 1941 on Christmas Day.
Thus, began the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong, a period that extended over three years and constituted an extremely violent time in Hong Kong’s history. The Japanese introduced martial law in Hong Kong and brutally subjugated the people. The Japanese occupation caused a complete breakdown of economic and social life in Hong Kong. The Japanese occupation ended when the war in Europe was brought to a close in 1945.
After the war, British rule in Hong Kong was restored and normality returned as the economy picked up once again. Refugees once again began to arrive in Hong Kong after the Chinese Civil War and the establishment of the Communist era.
During the 1950’s and 60’s the economy of Hong Kong grew rapidly, as numerous manufacturing industries were established in Hong Kong, and trade and commerce was greatly bolstered. In fact, by 1970, Hong Kong became very affluent and was recognized around the world as the epicenter of economic growth in Asia.
In 1984, after years of diplomatic dialog, the British and the Chinese governments signed a historic agreement, the Sino-British joint declaration on the question of Hong Kong. This agreement stipulated that in 1997, when Britain’s 99-year lease of the New Territories ended, Hong Kong would go back to China.
The handover of Hong Kong to China took place at a grand ceremony on July 1, 1997. Tung Chee Hwa, the first chief executive of the new Hong Kong government and the Executive council then formulated the governing policy for Hong Kong based on the concept of “one country, two systems”. The main idea behind this approach constituted an attempt to preserve Hong Kong’s intrinsic capitalist ethos.
In this manner, Hong Kong came to be a Special Administrative Region of China. The People’s Republic of China agreed to grant Hong Kong independence in the conduct of its affairs. China also agreed to preserve until 2047 or fifty years after the handover, Hong Kong’s own economic, legal and social systems. Hong Kong thus, has its own judiciary, police and currency and constitution known as the Basic Law.
The People’s Republic of China further decides Hong Kong’s foreign and defense policies.
Vibrant, enigmatic Hong Kong, today is a skyscraperladen, busy, crowded,cosmopolitan, urban city. Home to more than seven million industrious folk, the city is renowned for its fast pace of life, so much so it is often referred to as the ‘New York of Asia’. Like New York, Hong Kong too abounds with opportunity at every turn. Professionals, business people, entrepreneurs, start-ups, Hong Kong’s service-oriented economy welcomes them all as it endeavors to keep the wheels of commerce churning into perpetuity.