Hong Kong History


According to archaeological studies initiated in the 1920s, 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. The territory was settled by Han Chinese during the seventh century, A.D., evidenced by the discovery of an ancient tomb at Lei Cheung Uk in Kowloon. The first major migration from northern China to Hong Kong occurred during the Ching Dynasty (960-1279). The British East India Company made the first successful sea venture to China in 1699, and Hong Kong's trade with British merchants developed rapidly soon after. Despite Chinese laws prohibiting opium since 1799, the British pursued and monopolized its trade until 1834. Concerned about the rapid increase of opium in China, the Change Government sought to eradicate the drug trade. When Chinese officials seized and destroyed large quantities of opium, the British sent forces in 1840 to support demands for a commercial treaty or cession of an island for the safety of British nationals; this sparked the First Opium War. China lost the war; subsequently, Britain and other Western powers, including the United States, forcibly occupied "concessions" and gained special commercial privileges. Hong Kong was ceded to Britain in 1842 under the Treaty of Nanking.

Disputes over former treaties and the Chinese boarding of the British ship Arrow started the Second Opium War (also known as the Lorcha Arrow War), which lasted from 1856 co 1858. The Convention of Beijing, signed in 1860, formally ended the hostilities and granted the British a perpetual lease on the Kowloon Peninsula. The United Kingdom was concerned that Hong Kong could not be defended unless surrounding areas were also under British control; in 1898, it executed a 99-year lease of the New Territories, significantly expanding the size of the Hong Kong colony.

In the late 19th century and early 20th centuries, Hong Kong developed as a warehousing and distribution center for U.K. trade with southern China. After the end of World 'War II and the communist takeover it mainland China in 1949, hundreds of thousands of people emigrated from China to Hong Kong. This helped Hong Kong become an economic success and a manufacturing, commercial, and tourism center. High life expectancy, literacy, per capita income, and other socioeconomic measures attest to Hong Kong's achievements over the last four decades.

source: U.S. State Department Background Notes

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