Hong Kong, officially known as Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China, is a city on the southern coast of China at the Pearl River Estuary and the South China Sea. Hong Kong is well known for its expansive skyline, deep natural harbour and extreme population density (some seven million inhabitants over a land mass of ). The current population of Hong Kong comprises 93.6% ethnic Chinese. A major part of Hong Kong's Cantonese-speaking majority originated from the neighbouring Canton province (now Guangdong), from where skilled labour fled after the communist government took over China in 1949 and subsequently purged its population during the 1960s.
After China's defeat in the First Opium War (1839–42) against the British Empire, Hong Kong became a British colony with the perpetual cession of Hong Kong Island, followed by Kowloon Peninsula in 1860 and a 99-year lease of the New Territories in 1898. After it was occupied by Japan during the Second World War (1941–45), the British resumed control until 30 June 1997. As a result of the negotiations between China and Britain, Hong Kong was transferred to the People's Republic of China under the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration. The city became China's first Special Administrative Region on 1 July 1997 under the principle of "one country, two systems".
Towards the late 1970s, Hong Kong became established as a major entrepôt between the world and China. The city has developed into a major global trade hub and financial centre, and is regarded as a world city and one of the eight Alpha+ cities. It ranked fifth on the 2014 Global Cities Index after New York City, London, Tokyo and Paris. The city has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world, and the most severe income inequality among the advanced economies. It has a high Human Development Index and is ranked highly in the Global Competitiveness Report. Hong Kong is the third most important financial centre after New York and London. The service economy, characterised by low taxation and free trade, has been regarded as one of the world's most laissez-faire economic policies, and the currency, the Hong Kong dollar, is the 13th most traded currency in the world.
Limited flat land created a necessity for dense infrastructure, and the city became a centre of modern architecture, earning Hong Kong the title of the world's most vertical city. Hong Kong has a highly developed public transportation network and 90 percent of the population, the highest rate in the world, relies on mass transit by road or rail. Air pollution remains a serious problem. Loose emissions standards have resulted in a high level of atmospheric particulates.
Pre-British Hong Kong
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 culture of northern China and settlement by the Che people, prior to the migration of the Baiyue (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 in Jiaozhi (modern Liangguang region and Vietnam) and incorporated the territory into imperial China for the first time. Modern Hong Kong was assigned to the Nanhai commandery (modern Nanhai District), near the commandery's capital city Panyu.
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.
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 in Tuen Mun, 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-day New Territories under the Northern Song dynasty. During the Mongol invasion in 1276, the Southern Song dynasty, an extension to Northern Song, moved their court to Fujian. After their defeat by the Mongols, the Southern Song court moved to Lantau Island and to the modern-day Kowloon City (a place named Sung Wong Toi as a memorial), where the child Emperor Bing and his officials escaped by boat and were drowned following the defeat in the Battle of Yamen. Hau Wong, an official of the late emperor, is still worshipped by a small number of Hong Kong residents today.
Voyages of Discovery
The earliest European visitor on record was Jorge Álvares, a Portuguese explorer who arrived in 1513. After establishing settlements in the region, Portuguese merchants began trading in southern China. At the same time, they invaded Hong Kong and built up military fortifications in Tuen Mun. The subsequent military clashes between China and Portugal, however, led to the expulsion of all Portuguese merchants.
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. This policy was effective since Chinese emperors exercised absolute powers over their citizens. From 1661 to 1669, Hong Kong was directly affected by the Great Clearance of Kangxi Emperor, who required the evacuation of coastal areas of Canton (Guangdong). About 16,000 people from Hong Kong and Bao'an County were forced to emigrate inland; only 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-dynasty authorities to support opium imports caused the outbreak of the First Opium War between Britain and China. China'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. This agreement, however was never ratified due to a dispute between high-ranking officials of both countries.
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 over Possession 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.
Addition of Kowloon: 1860
Following further conflicts over opium trade between Britain and China, several murders in the province of West Canton (now Guangxi) quickly escalated into a full-scale war, the Second Opium War. The Anglo-French victory expanded the Crown Colony to the Kowloon Peninsula (south of Boundary Street) and Stonecutter's Island. Both areas were ceded to the British in perpetuity under the Convention of Beijing.
According to the 1865 Census, Hong Kong had a population of 125,504, of which some 2,000 were Americans and Europeans. In 1894, the deadly Third Pandemic of bubonic plague spread from China to Hong Kong. It caused around 50,000 to 100,000 deaths in the Crown Colony. Almost 15% to 25% of the population vanished after the plague. Given the city's status as the free-trade center of East Asia, its role as a conduit for disease as well as trade caused widespread anxiety.
Free port of Victoria City
The establishment of free port turned Hong Kong into a major entrepôt, attracting new immigrants to settle from China and Europe alike. The society, however, remained racially segregated and polarised under the 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. They served as communicators and mediators between the government and local population. Sir Kai Ho later became an unofficial member of the Legislative Council. Robert Hotung was a millionaire with huge financial influence in the Crown Colony.
New Territories: 99 years of lease
In 1898, Britain obtained a 99-year lease from China from the Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory, in which Hong Kong obtained a 99-year lease of Lantau Island and the area north of Boundary Street in Kowloon up to Shenzhen River. Governor Henry Arthur Blake oversaw the addition of the 'New Territories', Lantau and Surrounding Islands in 1898.
1900 to 1941
In 1914, there was an exodus of 60,000 Chinese residents for fear of a German attack on the British colony during the First World War. Nevertheless, Hong Kong remained peaceful during the war and 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 from his work for the British colonial government of Hong Kong during 1902 to 1912, 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 (the old Hong Kong International Airport) entered operation for the Royal Air Force (RAF) Hong Kong and several aviation clubs.
In 1937, the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out when the Japanese Empire expanded their 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. Falling ill to poor health, Northcote took a 6-month leave in October 1940 before returning to Hong Kong for another 6 months. With the Japanese armies looming close to Canton, Northcote completed his appointment in September 1941 and Sir Mark Aitchison Young succeeded him.
Japanese occupation: 1941-45
As part of the military campaign in East Asia and the Pacific, the Japanese Empire, ally of Germany and Italy, declared war against the British Crown Colony. Despite numerous petitions of Hong Kong to remain a neutral port during the Second World War, Japanese armies moved south from the City of Canton (Guangzhou) and crossed the Shenzhen River to enter Hong Kong on 8 December 1941. The Battle of Hong Kong ended with the British and Canadian defenders surrendering control of the Crown Colony to Japan on 25 December 1941. This day was regarded by the locals as the Black Christmas Day.
Resumption of British rule and Cold War era: 1945-97
Hong Kong's population recovered quickly after the war, as a wave of skilled migrants from China flooded into Hong Kong for refuge from the Chinese Civil War (1945-49). When the Communists gained control of mainland China in 1949, even more skilled migrants fled to Hong Kong across the open border for fear of persecution. Many newcomers, especially those who had been based in major port cities of Shanghai and Canton, established corporations and small- to medium-sized businesses and shifted their base operations to British Hong Kong.
End to open border: the 1950s
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's rapid industrialisation was 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. Corruption and ineffiency of public services, however, were widespread even among the police and firefighters. The construction of council housing, Shek Kip Mei Estate, in 1953 was a response to the massive slum fire in the same locality. This marked the beginning of the public housing estate programme in Hong Kong to provide shelter for the less privileged and to cope with the influx of immigrants.
Water shortage in the 1960s
Between 1961 and 1964, droughts occurred for consecutive years in Hong Kong. The water supply from local reservoirs became insufficient due to unusually low amounts of annual rainfall. Water rationing occurred in 1961, 1963 and 1964; the crisis became more severe in 1964, when water supply was available for 4 hours on every fourth day.
Reform and renaissance: the 1970s
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 the longest-serving governor and, by the end of his tenure, has 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 global city in the 1980s and early 1990s.
A number of MacLehose's most significant policies included:
The British system of council administration was introduced to Hong Kong through the Urban Council and Regional Council, which have played a significant role in improving the sanitary conditions and developing numerous cultural and recreational facilities.
Mass Transit Railway
To resolve traffic congestion and to provide a more reliable means of crossing the Victoria Harbour for commuters and residents, a rapid transit railway system (metro) 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 future: the 1980s
After the devastating Cultural Revolution (1966–76), Deng Xiaoping, Chairman of the Communist Party of China, re-introduced in 1978 the Open Door policy, opening up China to foreign businesses. Trade in Hong Kong, then a booming port and financial city, also benefited when Shenzhen, a city to the immediate north, was designated as a Special Economic Zone by the Chinese government in 1980.
Facing the uncertain future of Hong Kong, Governor MacLehose raised the question in the late 1970s. The expiry of 1898's Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory (Second Convention of Peking) in 1997 created problems for business contracts, property leases and confidence among foreign investors. 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 People's Republic of 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 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 be governed as a special administrative region, retaining its laws and a high degree of autonomy for at least 50 years after the transfer. The Hong Kong Basic Law, which is based on English law, would serve as the constitutional document after the transfer. It was ratified in 1990.
Pearl of the East: the 1990s
Hong Kong's competitiveness in manufacturing gradually declined due to rising labour and property costs and new development in southern China under the open-door policy. Nevertheless, Hong Kong has successfully transitioned its economy into a service-based type, as evident in the high rates of growth during the 1980s and 1990s.
Towards the early 1990s, Hong Kong has established itself as a global financial centre along with London and New York, a regional hub for logistics and freight, one of the Four Asian Tigers (fastest-growing economies in Asia) and the world's exemplar of Laissez-faire market policy. The nightview of Hong Kong's skyline along the Victoria Harbour has earned the city its nickname Pearl of the East of the British Queen.
Handover in 1997 and Hong Kong SAR
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; this significant event officially marked the end of Hong Kong's 156 years under British colonial governance. As the last Crown Colony of the United Kingdom, loss of Hong Kong also represented the end of the British Empire. The televised official ceremony was attended by HRH Prince of Wales, Tony Blair (Prime Minister), Lord Patten (Chris Patten) (Governor of Hong Kong), Jiang Zemin (Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party), Tung Chee-hwa (Chief Executive of Hong Kong), foreign diplomats and government officials.
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.
Asian financial crisis, bird flu and SARS
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 market supply, sent properties prices in Hong Kong tumbling and caused many homeowners to be 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.
Resignations: Basic Law Article 23
Distrust of the communist Chinese remained strong in the initial years of the former British Crown Colony. A legacy of the democractic reforms by Lord Patten (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 re-election of Tung (by means of managed voting) unopposed 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 peaceful yet powerful protest 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: 2005-12
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. In December 2005, Hong Kong hosted the WTO Ministerial Conference and became the place of fierce anti-globalisation demonstrations.
In July 2007, Tsang won the Chief Executive election under managed voting and continued into his second term of office. In 2009, Hong Kong hosted the 5th East Asian Games, in which nine national teams participated in this sporting event. The Games was the first and largest international multi-sport event ever being organised and hosted by the city.
Major infrastructure and tourist projects began under Sir Tsang's second term. 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, West Kowloon Cultural District, is still in progress as of 2014. The Legistlative Council of Hong Kong initiated debates of National Insurance, Minimum wage and Competition law during Tsang's term.
CY Leung: 2012-present
The 2012 Chief Executive elections saw three candidates, including one from Hong Kong's pro-democracy wing, participating in a televised debate. After alleging Henry Tang of illegal building extension, Leung Chun-Ying received 689 votes from a committee panel of 1,200 selected representatives and assumed office on 1 July 2012. After Leung's successful election, however, he was discovered to have committed the same allegation as that of Tang.
The 2014 White Papers, published by the Chinese government, has caused concerns in Hong Kong and the international community. The White Papers violated the Basic Law of Hong Kong's principle of judicial independence and caused concerns of whether China has intentions of degrading the city's status to an autonomous region similar to Tibet.
In 2014, Hong Kong made international headlines as a series of peaceful protests against the Chinese government's proposal on electoral reform, collectively known as the Umbrella Movement or the 2014 Hong Kong protests, unfolded from September. As of December 2014, the debates over China's vision of 'universal suffrage' have escalated into diplomatic rows between China and the United Kingdom. Western media have compared this democractic movement to the Tiananmen Massacre of 1989 with captured recordings of the police's violent abuse of power, Mass arrest and threats to journalists.