Hong Kong, China
The skyline of Hong Kong is sometimes quoted as one of the wonders of the modern world. This bustling and prosperous community has grown in less than a century and a half from a collection of tiny fishing villages to become one of the world’s major commercial and financial centres. After a century of British colonial rule, Hong Kong (Xianggang in Chinese) is now a Special Administrative Region of China, under a “one country, two systems” arrangement, which allows Hong Kong to maintain its capitalist system and a degree of autonomy for 50 years.
Rocky Hong Kong Island was settled by Cantonese in the first or second century BC. Little flat land and few resources meant that the island remained scantily populated. In 1821 British merchants arrived and used its fine, sheltered natural harbour as a base for the opium trade. After the First Opium War (1839–42) China was forced to cede the island to Britain. The adjoining southern section of the Kowloon Peninsula was ceded to Britain in 1860, after the Second Opium War. A further area of about 1000 km2 (nearly 400 sq. miles) of countryside and islands, the New Territories, was leased from China for 99 years in 1898.
The colony flourished through trade and the population grew rapidly through immigration. The rural poor in neighbouring China and fugitives both sought refuge in the British colony. After the establishment of the republic in China (1911), nationalist feeling began to spread to Hong Kong. War between China and Japan in 1937 brought a further flood of refugees into the colony, which was itself occupied by the Japanese in 1941. But by the time Hong Kong fell, its population had been reduced by two-thirds as many Chinese residents fled back to China. British forces re-entered Hong Kong in 1945.
During the civil war between Communist and Nationalist forces in China many Chinese fled to Hong Kong. The colony continued to flourish as the principal trading link with China even after the Communists took over in 1949, but the (temporary) 1951 UN trade embargo on Communist China during the Korean War shook the colony. Hong Kong quickly diversified with industrialisation based on cheap labour. The industrial base developed in the 1950s, often relying on poor wages and working conditions. Labour unrest grew, culminating in riots and demonstrations in 1967.
Working conditions improved in the 1970s. High tech industries were established, the property and financial markets advanced and trade with China grew again. With the lease of the New Territories due to expire on 1 July 1997, concern grew about the future of Hong Kong. Sino-British negotiations began in 1982, with China laying claim to the entire colony. Agreement was reached in 1984 and, as a result, Hong Kong—the island, Kowloon and the New Territories—returned to China on 1 July 1997 as Special Administrative Region directly under the central government.
Hong Kong has a GDP similar in size to that of Sweden. The metropolis has a free-trade policy that has made it one of the great centres of world trade, importing raw materials for its industries and finished goods for reexport. Hong Kong’s industries include textiles, clothing, electrical and electronic goods, office machinery and photographic equipment. The new airport at Chek Lap Kok is a major centre of international air routes and the terminal is the world’s largest enclosed space. The port handles about 175 m. tonnes of cargo a year and it is the world’s busiest container port. An efficient rail and rapid-transit system provides public transport.
Places of Interest
Victoria Peak, known popularly as The Peak, 552 m (1811 ft) high, offers a panoramic view of Hong Kong and can be reached by an eight-minute tram ride. There are few historic buildings: visitors are instead drawn to outstanding modern architecture such as the 118-storey International Commerce Centre and the Bank of China Tower and the 88-storey Two International Finance Centre.
Many festivals provide attractions during the year including the Dragon Boat Festival and Chinese New Year. Hong Kong’s annual Arts Festival is a major regional cultural event, while the Hong Kong International Film Festival (which dates from 1977) attracts Hollywood as well as Asian movies. Tourists are drawn by the shops and many leisure facilities including Ocean Park, one of the largest oceanariums in the world.
The harbour bustling with fishing boats, Chinese junks and floating restaurants is a popular attraction. Away from the city, the islands and the countryside are of interest. Lantau Island has ancient Chinese stilt houses, white sandy beaches and a 250-tonne Buddha.