Hong Kong is a special administrative region (SAR) of the People's Republic of China (PRC). It is situated on China's south coast and, enclosed by the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea, it is known for its expansive skyline and deep natural harbour. With a land mass of and a population of seven million people, Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Hong Kong's population is 95 percent ethnic Chinese and 5 percent from other groups. Hong Kong's Han Chinese majority originate mainly from the cities of Guangzhou and Taishan in the neighbouring Guangdong province.
Hong Kong became a colony of the British Empire after the First Opium War (1839–42). Originally confined to Hong Kong Island, the colony's boundaries were extended in stages to the Kowloon Peninsula in 1860 and then the New Territories in 1898. It was occupied by Japan during the Pacific War, after which the British resumed control until 1997, when China resumed sovereignty. The region espoused minimum government intervention under the ethos of positive non-interventionism during the colonial era. The time period greatly influenced the current culture of Hong Kong, often described as "East meets West", and the educational system, which used to loosely follow the system in England until reforms implemented in 2009.
Under the principle of "one country, two systems", Hong Kong has a different political system from mainland China. Hong Kong's independent judiciary functions under the common law framework. Hong Kong Basic Law, its constitutional document, which stipulates that Hong Kong shall have a "high degree of autonomy" in all matters except foreign relations and military defence, governs its political system. Although it has a burgeoning multi-party system, a small-circle electorate controls half of its legislature. That is, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, the head of government, is chosen by an Election Committee of 400 to 1,200 members, a situation that will be in effect during the first 20 years of Chinese rule.
As one of the world's leading international financial centres, Hong Kong has a major capitalist service economy characterised by low taxation and free trade, and the currency, Hong Kong dollar, is the eighth most traded currency in the world. The lack of space caused demand for denser constructions, which developed the city to a centre for modern architecture and the world's most vertical city. Hong Kong has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. The dense space also led to a highly developed transportation network with public transport travelling rate exceeding 90 percent, the highest in the world. Hong Kong has numerous high international rankings in various aspects. For instance, its economic freedom, financial and economic competitiveness, quality of life, corruption perception, Human Development Index, etc., are all ranked highly. According to both UN and WHO estimates, Hong Kong has the longest life expectancy of any country in the world from 2012.
Archaeological studies support a human presence in the Chek Lap Kok area from 35,000 to 39,000 years ago, and in Sai Kung Peninsula from 6,000 years ago. Wong Tei Tung and Three Fathoms Cove are the two earliest sites of human habitation in the Paleolithic period. It is believed the Three Fathom Cove was a river valley settlement and Wong Tei Tung was a lithic manufacturing site. Excavated Neolithic artifacts suggest cultural differences from the Longshan culture in northern China and settlement by the Che people prior to the migration of the Baiyue. Eight petroglyphs were discovered on surrounding islands, which dated to the Shang Dynasty in China.
In 214 BC, Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, conquered the Baiyue tribes in Jiaozhi (modern Liangguang region) and incorporated the territory into imperial China for the first time. Modern Hong Kong is located in Nanhai commandery (modern Nanhai District) and near the ancient capital city Panyu. The area was consolidated under the kingdom of Nanyue, founded by general Zhao Tuo in 204 BC after the Qin Dynasty collapsed. When the kingdom was conquered by Emperor Wu of Han in 111 BC, the land was assigned to the Jiaozhi commandery under the Han Dynasty. Archaeological evidence indicates the population increased and early salt production flourished in this time period. Lei Cheng Uk Han Tomb in the Kowloon Peninsula is believed to have been built during the Han Dynasty.
During the Tang Dynasty period, the Guangdong region flourished as a regional trading center. In 736, Emperor Xuanzong of Tang established a military town in Tuen Mun to defend the coastal area in the region. The first village school, Li Ying College, was established around 1075 in the New Territories under the Northern Song Dynasty. During the Mongol invasion in 1276, the Southern Song Dynasty court moved to Fujian, then to Lantau Island and later to Sung Wong Toi (modern Kowloon City), but the child Emperor Bing of Song committed suicide by drowning with his officials after being defeated in the Battle of Yamen. Hau Wong, an official of the emperor is still worshipped in Hong Kong today.
The earliest recorded European visitor 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 and built up military fortifications in Tuen Mun. Military clashes between China and Portugal led to the expulsion of the Portuguese. In the mid-16th century, the Haijin order banned maritime activities and prevented contact with foreigners; it also restricted local sea activity. In 1661–69, the territory was affected by the Great Clearance ordered by Kangxi Emperor, which required the evacuation of the coastal areas of Guangdong. It is recorded that about 16,000 persons from Xin'an County were driven inland, and 1,648 of those who left are said to have returned when the evacuation was rescinded in 1669. What is now the territory of Hong Kong became largely wasteland during the ban. In 1685, Kangxi became the first emperor to open limited trading with foreigners, which started with the Canton territory. He also imposed strict terms for trades such as requiring foreign traders to live in restricted areas, staying only for the trading seasons, banning firearms, and trading with silver only. The East India Company made the first sea venture to China in 1699, and the region's trade with British merchants developed rapidly soon after. In 1711, the company established its first trading post in Canton. By 1773, the British reached a landmark 1,000 chests of opium in Canton with China consuming 2,000 chests annually by 1799.
British colonial era
In 1839 the refusal by Qing Dynasty authorities to import opium resulted in the First Opium War between China and Britain. Hong Kong Island was occupied by British forces on 20 January 1841 and was initially ceded under the Convention of Chuenpee as part of a ceasefire agreement between Captain Charles Elliot and Governor Qishan, but the agreement was never ratified due to a dispute between high-ranking officials in both governments. It was not until 29 August 1842 that the island was formally ceded in perpetuity to the United Kingdom under the Treaty of Nanking. The British established a crown colony with the founding of Victoria City the following year.
Under British rule, the population of Hong Kong island had increased from 7,450 Chinese residents, mostly fishermen, in 1841 to over 115,000 Chinese and 8,754 Europeans in Hong Kong (including Kowloon) in 1870.
In 1894 the deadly Third Pandemic of bubonic plague spread from China to Hong Kong, causing 50,000–100,000 deaths.
In 1898 under the terms of the Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory, Britain obtained a 99-year lease of Lantau Island and the adjacent northern lands, which became known as the New Territories. Hong Kong's territory has remained unchanged to the present.
During the first half of the 20th century, Hong Kong was a free port, serving as an entrepôt of the British Empire. The British introduced an education system based on their own model, while the local Chinese population had little contact with the European community of wealthy tai-pans settled near Victoria Peak.
In conjunction with its military campaign, the Empire of Japan invaded Hong Kong on 8 December 1941. The Battle of Hong Kong ended with British and Canadian defenders surrendering control of the colony to Japan on 25 December. During the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong, civilians suffered widespread food shortages, rationing, and hyper-inflation due to forced exchange of currency for military notes. Through a policy of enforced repatriation of the unemployed to the mainland throughout the period, because of the scarcity of food, the population of Hong Kong had dwindled from 1.6 million in 1941 to 600,000 in 1945, when the United Kingdom resumed control of the colony.
Cold war era
Hong Kong's population recovered quickly as a wave of migrants from China arrived for refuge from the ongoing Chinese Civil War. When the PRC was proclaimed in 1949, more migrants fled to Hong Kong for fear of persecution by the Communist Party. Many corporations in Shanghai and Guangzhou shifted their operations to Hong Kong.
In the 1950s Hong Kong's rapid industrialization was driven by textile exports and other expanded manufacturing industries. As the population grew and labour costs remained low, living standards rose steadily. The construction of Shek Kip Mei Estate in 1953 followed a massive slum fire, and marked the beginning of the public housing estate programme designed to cope with the huge influx of immigrants. Trade in Hong Kong accelerated even further when Shenzhen, immediately north of Hong Kong, became a special economic zone of the PRC, and Hong Kong was established as the main source of foreign investment in China. The manufacturing competitiveness gradually declined in Hong Kong due to the development of the manufacturing industry in southern China beginning in the early 1980s. By contrast, the service industry in Hong Kong experienced high rates of growth in the 1980s and 1990s after absorbing workers released from the manufacturing industry.
Throughout the British colonial era, Hong Kong was industrialized and developed in all aspects from its economy to its health care system. Many health facilities were built for its citizens, such as the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Hong Kong, the Queen Mary Hospital, Hong Kong, the Princess Margaret Hospital, Hong Kong and the Prince of Wales Hospital. In 1983, when the United Kingdom reclassified Hong Kong from a British crown colony to a dependent territory, the governments of the United Kingdom and China were already discussing the issue of Hong Kong's sovereignty due to the impending expiration (within two decades) of the lease of the New Territories. In 1984 the Sino-British Joint Declaration – an agreement to transfer sovereignty to the People's Republic of China in 1997 – was signed. 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 the English law would serve as the constitutional document after the transfer, was ratified in 1990.
On 1 July 1997 the transfer of sovereignty from United Kingdom to the PRC occurred, officially ending 156 years of British colonial rule. Hong Kong became China's first special administrative region, and Tung Chee-Hwa took office as the first Chief Executive of Hong Kong. That same year, Hong Kong suffered an economic double blow from the Asian financial crisis and the H5N1 avian influenza. 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.
On 10 March 2005 Tung announced his resignation as Chief Executive due to "health problems". Donald Tsang, the Chief Secretary for Administration at the time, entered the 2005 election unopposed and became the second Chief Executive of Hong Kong on 21 June 2005. In 2007 Tsang won the Chief Executive election and continued his second term in office.
In 2009 Hong Kong hosted the fifth East Asian Games, in which nine national teams competed. It was the first and largest international multi-sport event ever held in the territory. Today, Hong Kong continues to serve as an important global financial centre, but faces uncertainty over its future due to the growing mainland China economy, and its relationship with the PRC government in areas such as democratic reform and universal suffrage.