The region of Hong Kong has been inhabited since the Old Stone Age, later becoming part of the Chinese empire with its loose incorporation into the Qin dynasty (221–206 BC). Starting out as a farming fishing village and salt production site, it became an important free port and eventually a major international financial.
Remnants of burial grounds and early rock carvings show human life in Hong Kong as far back as the Stone Age. The territory is thought to have come into the fold of the Chinese empire under the Han dynasty between 206 BC and 220 AD. Increasing numbers of Han Chinese from the mainland began to settle in Hong Kong, alongside boat-dwelling communities also thought to have originated from southern China.
Hong Kong’s sheltered main harbour became a place to replenish supplies for trading ships plying the maritime silk road between Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, which flourished from around the 7th century. As well as silk, China exported porcelain and tea and received everything from spices to plants and textiles. Hong Kong’s outlying islands were also a haven for Chinese pirates — its current territory includes 260 islands, many of them uninhabited.
Portuguese, Dutch and French traders arrived on the south coast of China in the 1500s and Portugal set up a base in Macau, neighbouring Hong Kong. But in the 18th century China imposed restrictions on the Europeans in a bid to contain their influence. Britain was angered after an imperial edict banned its trade in opium from India to China, which had led to the spread of addiction. After Chinese authorities seized a vast haul of the drug, Britain attacked in 1840 and reached northern China, threatening Beijing, in the First Opium War.To make peace, China agreed to cede Hong Kong Island to Britain in 1841. The Kowloon peninsula followed in 1860 after a second Opium War and Britain extended north into the rural New Territories in 1898, leasing the area for 99 years.
World War II
Japan occupied Hong Kong from 1941 to 1945 during the Second World War. By the end of the war in 1945, Hong Kong had been liberated by joint British and Chinese troops and returned to British rule. Hong Kong greatly increased its population from refugees from Mainland China, particularly during the Korea War and the Great Leap Forward. In the 1950s, Hong Kong transformed from a territory of entrepôt trade to one of industry and manufacturing. The Chinese economic reform prompted manufacturers to relocate to China, leading Hong Kong to develop its commercial and financial industry.
Hong Kong was part of the British empire until 1997, when the lease on the New Territories expired and the entire city was handed back to China. Under British rule, Hong Kong transformed into a commercial and financial hub boasting one of the world’s busiest harbours. Anti-colonial sentiment fuelled riots in 1967 which led to some social and political reforms — by the time it was handed back to China, the city had a partially elected legislature and retained an independent judiciary. Hong Kong boomed as China opened up its economy from the late 1970s, becoming a gateway between the ascendant power and the rest of the world.
Return to China
After lengthy negotiations, including between Deng Xiaoping and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the future handover of Hong Kong was signed off by the two sides in 1984. The Sino-British declaration said Hong Kong would be a “Special Administrative Region” of China, and would retain its freedoms and way of life for 50 years after the handover date on July 1, 1997.
In the 21st century, Hong Kong has continued to enjoy success as a financial center. However, civil unrest, dissatisfaction with the government and Chinese influence, in general, has been a central issue. The planned implementation of Hong Kong Basic Law Article 23 caused great controversy and a massive demonstration on 1 July 2003, causing the bill to be shelved. Citizens expressed displeasure at their electoral system, culminating in the 2014 Hong Kong protests. The proposed Hong Kong extradition bill was seen as another step taken by the Chinese Communist Party to undermine the law and human rights in Hong Kong, instigating multiple protests.
Historical maps in Ming or Qing Dynasty named the channel between Tsim Sha Tsui and Central as Chung Mun (Pinyin: Zhong Men, 中門, lit. the middle gate) as it is located in the middle of the two other channels, Kap Shui Mun in the west and Lei Yue Mun in the east, in the harbour.
Before Kowloon was ceded to Britain in 1860, many villages were present in the area. Incense trees (Aquilaria sinensis) from New Territories were gathered at some quays in Tsim Sha Tsui and transferred to Shek Pai Wan in southern Hong Kong Island to be exported to rest of the world. It was thus known as Heung Po Tau, the fragrant quay. Shortly after the land was ceded to Britain, construction began on the first section of Tsim Sha Tsui’s major thoroughfare, Nathan Road.
In 1888, the Star Ferry offered regular transport between Central and Tsim Sha Tsui, and the area has flourished ever since. Until the 20th century, Tsim Sha Tsui was a leafy suburb dominated by the people and facilities of the British military. Whitfield Barracks, converted into Kowloon Park in 1970, ran to the west of Nathan Road, and Kowloon Naval Yard occupied the waterfront to the west of the army encampment. In the early 20th century, Chinese people were allowed to live in the area to attract more people to trade in the colony. Garden houses were replaced with crowded residential blocks. Wharves and godowns were built along the west shore. Major developers like Hormusjee Naorojee Mody and Catchick Paul Chater actively participated in the development of Tsim Sha Tsui.
The Kowloon–Canton Railway (British Section) commenced service on 1 October 1910. Kowloon Station in Tsim Sha Tsui was built on the new southern reclamation from 1913 to 1915. The rails extended along the western reclamation parallel to Chatham Road, with old Hung Hom Station near the Gun Club Hill Barracks at the junction of Chatham Road and Austin Road. Another major road, Salisbury Road, was completed in approximately the same period. The landmark Peninsula Hotel was built on the reclamation in 1928, opposite to the station.
The Kowloon Station was relocated to a new Hung Hom Station in 1978. The whole station and rails were demolished except the landmark Clock Tower. Hong Kong Space Museum and later the Hong Kong Cultural Centre were erected on the site. The rails were replaced with New World Centre and other gardens in Tsim Sha Tsui East.
Symbolism of the Hong Kong flag
The red colour is identical to that used in the national PRC flag, chosen to signify the link re-established between post-colonial Hong Kong and China. The position of red and white on the flag symbolises the “one country two systems” political principle applied to the region. The stylised rendering of the Bauhinia blakeana flower, a flower discovered in Hong Kong, is meant to serve as a harmonising symbol for this dichotomy. The five stars of the Chinese national flag are replicated on the petals of the flower.
The Star Ferry
Hong Kong’s beloved Star Ferry began running in 1880. At that time the service from Victoria Harbour to Tsim Sha Tsui took up to one hour. Thanks to the city’s reclamation, the same journey today takes just 10 minutes.
Worlds Longest Sea Crossing
The Hong Kong-Zuhai-Macau bridge opened on 23 October 2018. It spans 55 kilometres across the Pearl River Delta. It’s the world’s longest sea crossing.
The mystical art of feng shui remains common practice in Hong Kong. The rooftop of Central’s HSBC Hong Kong building includes two rods to deflect bad energy. They face the Bank of China building, built with sharp edges believed to cut and dilute good energy.
Meaning behind the names
Hong Kong means “fragrant harbour” in Chinese. What about Kowloon? Every time you utter the word “Kowloon” you are saying “nine dragons”. Folklore tells us that a young emperor noticed the area’s eight hills, and named the land “eight dragons”. Later, a servant reminded the emperor he too is a dragon. This made nine. Kow sounds like “gau” or nine in Cantonese, and Loon is like “lung” or dragon.
The Famous Peak Tram
The Peak Tram began running in 1888 and was Asia’s first funicular railway. It remains one of the oldest – and steepest – tramways in the world.