How was British Hong Kong

Hong Kong under British rule

In 1997 the British gave the city and the surrounding area back to China in a solemn ceremony. A political business that was extremely lucrative for China. So the British had turned a small, malaria-infested island into one of the richest trading metropolises in the world.

1839: Opium - the stumbling block

In 1839 the dispute between the British and the Chinese escalated in the city of Canton. For several years there have been repeated verbal arguments, but now the imperial court official Lin Zexu wants to clean up. The flourishing opium trade of the British is to be finally stopped. Chinese soldiers surround the British trading post, arrest some merchants and confiscate more than 20,000 boxes of opium, which are then dumped in the sea.

In a very friendly letter to the British Queen Victoria, Lin asked Zexu for her support in the fight against the opium trade. The British government, for which the drug trade is far too lucrative, interprets this letter as a declaration of war by China.

At this point in time, the city of Canton had an exceptional position in China. As the only city in the entire empire, it is allowed to conduct unrestricted trade with foreigners. For a long time, however, trade was only one-sided. Chinese goods such as tea, spices, porcelain and silk are very popular in Europe. The Middle Kingdom, on the other hand, has little interest in European goods.

The Chinese emperor has his goods paid for in silver, which after a while leaves sensitive holes in the British coffers. So they look for a commodity that is also very popular with many Chinese and find it in the drug opium.

In northern India they have it produced on a large scale and sell it in Canton - also in exchange for silver as a means of payment. The result: More and more Chinese are becoming addicted to the highly addictive drug, which in China is also referred to as "foreign filth". The emperor must intervene.

1842: Hong Kong Island becomes British

The British, under their commander Charles Elliott, are opposing the demands of the Chinese not to import any more opium into China. They flee from the Chinese army in the small natural harbor of Hong Kong.

In the meantime, the British Foreign Minister Lord Palmerston is demanding a replacement from China for the destroyed opium, free trade for British merchants in China and the cession of Hong Kong and a few other islands to the British government.

In order to give these demands the necessary emphasis, he sent a British army to Canton at the same time. Since the Chinese are technically inferior to the modern and well-equipped British army, they enter into negotiations from the start.

But already during these first negotiations, at Charles Elliott's behest, a British naval department landed in Hong Kong and hoisted the British flag there without authorization. The formal land seizure does not follow until one day later.

Lord Palmerston is very upset about the arbitrary act of Charles Elliott. Not only does he disapprove of his actions, he is also angry about the election of Hong Kong as a British trading post. Hong Kong, for example, is rather insignificant compared to some other coastal areas in China and has no infrastructure whatsoever. Elliott is recalled to London and replaced by Henry Pottinger.

With further attacks and blockades, Pottinger puts China under so much pressure that the Middle Kingdom willingly signed the "Treaty of Nanking" in the summer of 1842. In this, the Chinese emperor Hong Kong Island ceded "forever and ever" to Great Britain. A year later, Hong Kong officially became the British crown colony, and Pottinger became the island's first governor.

1860s: The colony is growing

However, the outpost of the British Empire is not given a high priority. It should only be good for securing trade, otherwise it would only consist "of a bare rock with hardly a hut on it", as Palmerston stated in 1841. But the island developed very differently than initially assumed.

In the early days of the colony, the Chinese don't really want to get used to the defeat they have suffered. There are always minor skirmishes with the British. The point of contention is still the opium trade.

Only the so-called "Beijing Convention" ended the conflict in 1860. In another treaty, China must also cede the Kowloon Peninsula opposite Hong Kong to Great Britain.

In the following decades the city experienced an unexpected economic boom. Fortifications are being built, police and military are stationed, and numerous landfills are being built to gain living space.

Because of the low taxes and duties, many British companies operating in China are moving their headquarters to Hong Kong. In 1865 the "Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation Ltd." founded the city's first bank.

More and more people are drawn to the up-and-coming economic metropolis. In 1842 there were still almost 7,500 people in Hong Kong; by 1900 there were already over 260,000.

For this reason, the desire for territorial expansion is awakening in Hong Kong. On the one hand, to protect the colony from raids. On the other hand, in order to master the increase in population.

In 1898 the historic lease agreement between Great Britain and China is concluded. The British government leases the "New Territories", the area bordering the Kowloon Peninsula and over 230 smaller islands for 99 years. The rent for this is 5000 Hong Kong dollars annually.

1941: Japanese interlude

More and more people are attracted to the British Crown Colony in the 20th century. While the First World War passed Hong Kong relatively without a trace, the period between the wars brought serious changes.

Many Chinese are fleeing the unrest in the former empire to the British colony. Between 1921 and 1941 the population increased from just over 600,000 to more than 1.6 million inhabitants.

But not only the population is increasing during these times, the port of Hong Kong is also developing into one of the most important trading centers in the world. Only the Japanese occupation in 1941 stopped this development for a short time. Most of the foreigners flee to Macau, the majority of the Chinese are deported to China by the Japanese.

Shortly after the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, Japanese troops surrendered in Hong Kong. The refugees return to the economically drained city.

"Made in Hong Kong"

The starting conditions after the Second World War are extremely unfavorable. In addition to the returned refugees, Hong Kong has to take in more and more people who are fleeing China for fear of Mao Zedong's Red Brigades. In addition, the trade boycott with China imposed during the Korean War (1950 to 1953) hit the city hard.

But at the same time more Chinese refugees arrive who, in addition to their private fortunes, are also able to save many industrial production facilities from the communists in the mother country.

These Chinese entrepreneurs are laying the foundation for a rapid economic upswing. First of all, Hong Kong made a name for itself as a production region for cheap, mass-produced goods. The economy later specializes in the manufacture of high-quality, high-tech products.

One country, two systems

The city is doing very well economically when the first voices from China about return negotiations for the leased areas were heard in the 1970s. The British government only wants to negotiate over the entire territory, since Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsula are not viable on their own. The Chinese government, however, strictly rejects an extension of the lease.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher gives in on September 26, 1984. She signs the "Sino-British Hong Kong Agreement", which stipulates the return of all territories to China.

In return, the Chinese head of state Deng Xiaoping grants Hong Kong economic, domestic, social and cultural sovereignty for another 50 years under the motto "One country, two systems".

On July 1, 1997, the British finally solemnly handed over the entire territory to the Chinese state. 155 years of British rule in Hong Kong are a thing of the past.