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Hong Kong - History

The history of Hong Kong is predominantly wrapped up in the history of other places, particularly China and the United Kingdom. Hong Kong got its start as a coastal island. Written records did not start recording history until the British Colony and Imperial China became engaged in the territory, although archaeological findings support the presence of settlements dating back more than 30,000 years ago. It initially began as a fishing village, salt production site and trading ground. Eventually, it became a military port of strategic importance and an international financial hub, although exports are still a major industry in Hong Kong even today.

During the Qin Dynasty (221 BC-206 BC) the territory was incorporated into China. The population increased after the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220). From the Han Dynasty to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Tai Po Hoi was a pearl hunting harbor in China. The Guangdong region was an international trading center during the Tang Dynasty. In what is now the New Territories, there was a naval base, port, and a salt production center.

When the Mongols invaded in 1276, the Southern Song Dynasty court moved to present day’s Kowloon City after first relocating to Fujian and Lantau Island. The last Song Dynasty emperor, who was 8 years old at the time, was enthroned in 1278. When he was defeated at the Battle of Yamen in 1279, he committed suicide by drowning with his officials at Mount Ya. Hong Kong saw its population increase during the Mongol period.

In the early 1800s, the British Empire and China began trading heavily with one another. From China, the British Empire wanted tea. From the British Empire, China received watches, clocks, and silver. However, the British were importing more than they were exporting. To try to rectify this, they began exporting opium to China since it was legal in England and grown in large quantities there. Due to the Qing state's opposition to the opium trade, the First Opium War broke out and this lead to the cession of Hong Kong to the United Kingdom through the passing of the new treaties in 1842.

During the settlements of the territories, there were many achievements made in Hong Kong. These included improvements in transportation, the first electric company, the first large scale bank, and the idea of Westernized education. However, there were also several catastrophes such as the Third Pandemic of Bubonic Plague.

Japan occupied Hong Kong from December 1941 to August 1945. The economy suffered during this time period. Throughout the Japanese occupation, hyper-inflation and food rationing occurred and the Japanese Military Yen was the currency used. Starvation, famine, and deportation occurred in Hong Kong. In 1945, Hong Kong was liberated by British and Chinese troops. By then it had less than half of the pre-war population. However, in 1949 the communist revolution in China led to another population boom as refugees emigrated from mainland China.

During the 1960s, the manufacturing industry led to the creation of many job opportunities. Although the Hong Kong Flu affected 15% of the population, many factories opened in the manufacturing sector and Hong Kong became a great exporter of high quality products.

In 1970s, government subsidized education went from six years to nine years and the setup of Hong Kong's country parks system took place. Hong Kong became an important commercial and tourism center in the South-East Asia region and there was an increase in the development of residential high rises. The ICAC, the Independent Commission Against Corruption, was founded in 1974 to fight corruption within the police force. Eventually, Hong Kong was successful and became one of the least corrupt societies in the world.

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher hoped that the increasing openness of the People’s Republic of China and the mainland’s economic reform in the 1980s would let the British continue to rule. At this time, the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the proposal of the one country, two systems concept occurred.

In 1990, the Hong Kong Basic Law was accepted as the mini-constitution of the Hong Kong SAR after the handover. It was called the most democratic legal system to ever exist in the PRC, although the pro-democratic bloc did not think it was democratic enough. Chris Patten was appointed as the last British Governor of Hong Kong in 1992. He introduced democratic reforms that increased the number of elected members in the Legislative Council which the PRC saw as a breach of the Basic Law. Hong Kong was handed over to the People's Republic of China by the United Kingdom in 1997. The Provisional Legislative Council, elected by a selection committee whose members were appointed by the PRC government, replaced the old Legislative Council.

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