Hong Kong History
(1842– 1997)

Hong Kong history - Flag of Hong Kong SAR

Opium War 1840-1842
Opium War marked the beginning of Hong Kong History. In the early 1800s, Hong Kong was a small fishing village in south China. There was no clue that one day it becomes Asia’s World City and a world financial centre. Opium War had critically changed the history of Hong Kong.

In mid 1800s, there was a confrontation between the Imperial China government wanted to stop the opium trade and the British merchants who wanted to secure their trading rights for tremendous profits.

The Imperial Qing Dynasty emperor ordered Lin Zexu to stamp out the opium trade imposed by British merchants. The action provoked a belligerent response from the British government. Opium War hence started in 1840. China’s antiquated navy of course were no match for the British. After the losing of thousands of lives, the Opium War ended by the signing of the Treaty of Nanking on August 29, 1842.

Treaty of Nanking forced the Chinese government to compensate enormous money to British merchants in addition to opening five ports to English trade. At the same time, Hong Kong was ceded in perpetuity to Britain. This started the Hong Kong history of colonial rule which lasted 155 years.

The second Opium War (1856-1860) ended in another British victory. Kowloon Peninsula across Hong Kong Island was made a British colony by the Treaty of Peking. As Hong Kong and Kowloon together are too small, British government made further demand for the land which is now called the New Territories north of Kowloon peninsula. A 99-year lease was established in 1898, to be expired on July 1, 1997.

Nowadays, Hong Kong is a collective name for Hong Kong, Kowloon, New Territories and some outlying islands.

Second World War 1941-1945
Hong Kong history had a very sad period during the Second World War. On the Christmas day of 1941, British surrendered Hong Kong to invading Japan troops. A reign of terror began. Elder generation Hong Kongers would never forget the three-year-eight-month Japanese occupation. Sir Mark Aitchison Young, the then Hong Kong governor, was shut into a concentration camp until after war. British government resumed the control of Hong Kong in August 1945.

Post War Disasters

1963 – Fatal Drought. This was the worst drought ever in Hong Kong history. Hong Kong government kept elevating the tightening control of water supply. Until the summer of 1963, water supply was only available for four hours every four days. Can you imagine how life was? I was just a little girl at that time, but still could remember those days when the house was full of water vessels.

1967 – Great Riots. The 1967 riots represented a hallmark in Hong Kong history. It happened during the summit of Cultural Revolution in mainland China. Many people believe that the leftists had involved in the process.

Regarding the cause of the riots, some said it was because of a protest against Star Ferry raising their fare by 5 cents. Some said it was because of an industrial dispute that escalated into violent clashes. I would just say both counted as they happened almost simultaneously.

Mobs had bloody clashes with police. Destructive actions elevated to looting, arson and planting of bombs. During the chaos, almost every schoolchild, teacher, and employee of every leftist business or school in Hong Kong took part in the protests and petitions. There were street riots every night with booby traps everywhere. Curfews had been held as early as 5pm.

While police suppressed the riots with tear gas and fire, they were criticized as Fasces. All communist-owned buildings were placarded with anti-British slogans. Lam Bun, a famous radio commentator who criticizes and satirizes the leftist agitators, was believed to be murdered by them.

This was the most terrible and destructive bloody event in Hong Kong History. It turned the territory upside down and recorded a death toll of 51.

1972 – ‘618’ Rain Disaster. This was one of the most destruction rain disasters ever in Hong Kong history. 650 mm of rainfall was recorded between June 16 and 18, 1972.

After a continuous torrential rain of 18 hours, a devastating landslide occurred at 8.50pm on June 18, 1972. Approximately 40,000 square meters of debris travelled some 270 meters down slope. As a result, the Kotewall Building disappeared in seconds, while two other buildings severely damaged. Death toll was 67, only at this site.

Rain disasters aren’t rare in Hong Kong, but 618 is never forgotten by Hong Kong people. Natural disasters usually attack poor, but 618 attacked both rich and poor. Kotewall Building at the mid levels of Hong Kong Island is a very prestigious address where many rich people live. 618 created a huge number of super class victims. All at a sudden, lawyers, doctors, professors and senior government officials became homeless and were crying for help.

With current land preservation, Hong Kong is now a very safe place. Landslide has almost become part of Hong Kong history.

1973 / 1987 – Stock Market Crisis. The Stock Exchange of Hong Kong was internationally recognized on September 22, 1986.

On October 19, 1987, Hang Seng Index (HSI) slumped 420 points in one day which represented 11% of slashing. Facing the crisis, the Government closed the Stock Exchange for four days.

The "Black Friday" on October 23, 1987 was the darkest day in the Hong Kong history of stock trading. HSI dropped a further 1,211 points after the four-day suspension of trading. On October 28, 1987, HSI closed at 9,059 which represented a total drop of 3,000 points and 45% in five days.

Hong Kong history - stock market crisis

1973 - Actually there were two major stock market crises in the history of Hong Kong. The market slump in 1973 was in a even greater scale. HSI rose 880% between 1971 and February of 1973. Many speculators became millionaires overnight.

The bullish mood encouraged nouveau riche behaviours such as serving delicacies like shark's fin as a regular dish. However, the bubble burst on December 24, 1973, when the HSI dropped 75 percent, causing a wave of bankruptcies and suicides. The market was in the doldrums for five years which was the longest in Hong Kong history.

1975 - 2000 – Vietnamese Refugee / Boat People Crisis. Since the communist victory in Vietnam in 1975, more than 200,000 Vietnamese fled to Hong Kong. These so-called refugees were later defined as boat people. The policy of ‘port of first asylum’ had forced Hong Kong to accommodate far more boat people than it can.

At the height of Hong Kong's boat people crisis in 1991, there were more than 64,300 asylum-seekers in cramped detention centers. Hong Kong government spent billons of dollars to accommodate them. The general public had to put up with the sharing of resources.

During the Sino-British negotiation, China says it does not want to inherit the Vietnam refugee problem from the British after July 1, 1997. The closing of the last Vietnamese Refugee camp on May 31, 2000 finally cured a 25-year headache, leaving behind the Vietnamese boat people crisis as part of Hong Kong history.

Sino-British Talk

Hong Kong history - Deng Xianping

1982 - 1984 - Sovereignty is a matter from Hong Kong history. China does not recognize the unequal treaties signed between Imperial China and Britain. President Deng Xiaoping put forward the concept of "one country, two systems" for resolving the issues of Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

On September 22, 1982, Margaret Thatcher, then Prime Minister of Britain, paid a historic visit to Beijing. The sovereignty of Hong Kong came up as a subject for discussion for the first time. The Joint Declaration was signed on September 26, 1984, stating that Britain will hand over the sovereignty of Hong Kong to China after 1997.

Hong Kong since then went into the transitional period of becoming a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China. The process of establishing Basic Law hence started.

1983 – Hong Kong Dollar Pegged to US Dollar. The latest round of Sino-British talks wasn’t going too well. On Friday, September 23, 1983, Hong Kong dollar sank to $8.83 per US$. On Saturday, people were so desperate to get rid of their Hong Kong dollars, the banknote rate went as low as HK$10 per US$ — and by the middle of the morning, most banks and currency dealers had completely run out of US dollars!

Hong Kong history - peg rate

October 15, 1983 is a critical date in recent Hong Kong history, on which Hong Kong Government links the Hong Kong dollar to the US dollar at a fixed exchange rate of 7.8:1. This pegged rate is still in effect now. It is only allowed to float between 7.85 and 7.75.

Precious Moments in Hong Kong History

1974 - The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) of Hong Kong was formed on February 15, 1974 by then Governor of Hong Kong Murray MacLehose. It led to serious internal unrest, especially within the police force. However it was an important stepping stone in creating a favourable environment for international businesses.

1976Miss Universe Pageant was held in Hong Kong. Rina Messinger from Israel fetched her crown here on July 11, 1976.

1979Mass Transit Railway (MTR) went into service. MTR marked a new era in the Hong Kong history of transportation. Taking almost a decade to construct, the MTR eased Hong Kong’s perennial traffic congestion. Today, I just can’t imagine life without it.

1996First and only Olympics Gold Medal. Lee Lai Shan won a gold medal for the women's mistral sailing event in the 1996 Summer Olympics held in Atlanta. It was the first time, and also the last time, that the colonial flag of Hong Kong was raised at the Olympics with the accompaniment of the national anthem of the United Kingdom.

Hong Kong history - Tsing Ma Bridge

1990 - 1998 – Hong Kong International Airport.

In 1990, the former colonial government of Hong Kong put forth this so-called “Rose Garden” plan, which induced tons of debates between China and Britain, mainly on financial arrangements. It finally went into service on July 6, 1998.

Apart from the airport itself, the Airport Core Program consists of the 1,363-meter suspension Tsing Ma Bridge and the 30-km Airport Express. Once you land in Hong Kong, you are going to see all these state-of-the-art architectures.

1997 – Establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administration Region (HKSAR). This is the most important event in recent Hong Kong history.

At midnight, June 30, 1997, the Chinese and British governments held a power transferring ceremony at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. President Jiang Zemin flew from Beijing, and Prince Charles flew from London for the ceremony.

China formally resumed the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong on July 1, 1997.

In his speech delivered at the ceremony, President Jiang Zemin emphasized that the Chinese government will firmly pursue the basic policy of "one country, two systems", "Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong" and ensuring a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong. The existing social and economic systems in Hong Kong and its way of life will remain unchanged.

The establishment of the HKSAR marked the end of the 155 years’ of colonial rule in Hong Kong history.

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