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British Hong Kong Kids Encyclopedia


Hong Kong


Crown colony
(1843–1941, 1945–1981)
British Dependent Territory


Flag (1959–1997)

Coat of arms (1959–1997)

"Dieu et mon droit" (French)
"God and my right"

"God Save the Queen "

Map of Hong Kong

Capital Victoria (de facto)

Languages English, Chinese

Government Crown colony
(1843–1941, 1945–1981)
British Dependent Territory


• 1841–1901 Victoria (first)

• 1952–1997 Elizabeth II (last)


• 1843–1844 Sir Henry Pottinger (first)

• 1992–1997 Chris Patten (last)

Chief Secretary1

• 1843–1844 George Malcolm (first)

• 1993–1997 Anson Chan (last)

Legislature Legislative Council

Historical era New Imperialism

• Convention of Chuenpi 20 January 1841

• Treaty of Nanking 29 August 1842

• Convention of Peking 24 October 1860

• Second Convention of Peking 9 June 1898

• Battle of Hong Kong 8–25 December 1941

• End of British Sovereignty 30 June 1997


• 1848 80.4 km2 (31.0 sq mi)

• 1901 1,042 km2 (402 sq mi)


• 1848 est. 24,000

Density 299/km 2 (773/sq mi)

• 1901 est. 283,978

Density 273/km 2 (706/sq mi)

• 1945 est. 750,000

Density 720/km 2 (1,864/sq mi)

• 1995 est. 6,300,000

Density 6,046/km2 (15,659/sq mi)

Currency Hong Kong dollar (since 1937)

Preceded by Succeeded by

Qing dynasty Japanese occupation of Hong Kong

Japanese occupation of Hong Kong Hong Kong Special Administrative Region

Today part of Hong Kong

(under China)
Some of the Territorial Water is now China through Reclaimation of land

1 The title changed from "Colonial Secretary" to "Chief Secretary" in 1976.

British Hong Kong (Chinese: 英屬香港; Jyutping: jing1 suk6 hoeng1 gong2) was the
period during which Hong Kong was under British Crown rule from 1841 to 1997 (excluding
the Japanese occupation from 1941 to 1945). It was established as a Crown colony and
later designated a British Dependent Territory in 1981. Hong Kong Island was ceded to
Great Britain by the Qing dynasty of China after the First Anglo-Chinese War (1839–42).
The Kowloon Peninsula was added to the colony after the Second Anglo-Chinese War
(1856–60). Finally, in 1898, the New Territories were added under a 99-year lease.
Although Hong Kong Island and Kowloon were ceded to Britain in perpetuity, the New
Territories – which comprised over 90 per cent of Hong Kong's land – had such a vital role
in the economy that the British government agreed to transfer sovereignty of the entirety of
Hong Kong to China upon the expiration of the lease in 1997. The transfer has been
credited as marking the end of the British Empire.

Colonial establishment
Growth and expansion
Japanese occupation
Restoration of British rule
Handover to China
Opposition and internal dissent


Colonial establishment
Further information: History of Hong Kong and Bao'an County

In 1836, the Manchu Qing government

undertook a major policy review of the
opium trade. Lin Zexu volunteered to take

on the task of suppressing opium. In
March 1839, he became Special Imperial
Commissioner in Canton, where he
ordered the foreign traders to surrender
their opium stock. He confined the British
to the Canton Factories and cut off their
supplies. Chief Superintendent of Trade,
Charles Elliot, complied with Lin's
Victoria City, c. 1891
demands to secure a safe exit for the
British, with the costs involved to be
resolved between the two governments. When Elliot promised that the British government
would pay for their opium stock, the merchants surrendered their 20,283 chests of opium,
which were destroyed in public.

In September 1839, the British Cabinet decided that the Chinese should be made to pay for
the destruction of British property, either by threat or use of force. An expeditionary force
was placed under Elliot and his cousin, Rear Admiral George Elliot, as joint
plenipotentiaries in 1840. Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston stressed to the Chinese
Imperial Government that the British Government did not question China's right to prohibit
opium, but it objected to the way this was handled. He viewed the sudden strict
enforcement as laying a trap for the foreign traders, and the confinement of the British with
supplies cut off was tantamount to starving them into submission or death. He instructed
the Elliot cousins to occupy one of the Chusan islands, to present a letter from himself to a
Chinese official for the Emperor, then to proceed to the Gulf of Bohai for a treaty, and if the
Chinese resisted, blockade the key ports of the Yangtze and Yellow rivers. Palmerston
demanded a territorial base in Chusan for trade so that British merchants "may not be
subject to the arbitrary caprice either of the Government of Peking, or its local Authorities at
the Sea-Ports of the Empire".

In 1841, Elliot negotiated with Lin's

successor, Qishan, in the Convention of
Chuenpi during the First Opium War. On
20 January, Elliot announced "the
conclusion of preliminary arrangements",
which included the cession of Hong Kong
Island and its harbour to the British Crown.
On 26 January, the Union Jack was raised
on Hong Kong and Commodore James
Bremer, commander-in-chief of British
forces in China, took formal possession of
the island at Possession Point. Elliot
chose Hong Kong instead of Chusan
because he believed a settlement further
east would cause an "indefinite protraction
of hostilities", whereas Hong Kong's
harbour was a valuable base for the
British trading community in Canton. On
29 August 1842, the cession was formally Hong Kong in the 1930s

ratified in the Treaty of Nanking, which

ceded Hong Kong "in perpetuity" to Britain.

Growth and expansion

The treaty failed to satisfy British expectations of a major expansion of trade and profit,
which led to increasing pressure for a revision of the terms. In October 1856, Chinese
authorities in Canton detained the Arrow, a Chinese-owned ship registered in Hong Kong to
enjoy protection of the British flag. The Consul in Canton, Harry Parkes, claimed the
hauling down of the flag and arrest of the crew were "an insult of very grave character".
Parkes and Sir John Bowring, the 4th Governor of Hong Kong, seized the incident to
pursue a forward policy. In March 1857, Palmerston appointed Lord Elgin as
Plenipotentiary with the aim of securing a new and satisfactory treaty. A French
expeditionary force joined the British to avenge the execution of a French missionary in
1856. In 1860, the capture of the Taku Forts and occupation of Beijing led to the Treaty of
Tientsin and Convention of Peking. In the Treaty of Tientsin, the Chinese accepted British
demands to open more ports, navigate the Yangtze River, legalise the opium trade and
have diplomatic representation in Beijing. During the conflict, the British occupied the
Kowloon Peninsula, where the flat land was valuable training and resting ground. The area
in what is now south of Boundary Street and Stonecutters Island was ceded in the
Convention of Peking.

In 1898, the British sought to extend Hong Kong for defence. After negotiations began in
April 1898, with the British Minister in Beijing, Sir Claude MacDonald, representing Britain,
and diplomat Li Hongzhang leading the Chinese, the Second Convention of Peking was
signed on 9 June. Since the foreign powers had agreed by the late 19th century that it was
no longer permissible to acquire outright sovereignty over any parcel of Chinese territory,
and in keeping with the other territorial cessions China made to Russia, Germany and
France that same year, the extension of Hong Kong took the form of a 99-year lease. The
lease consisted of the rest of Kowloon south of the Shenzhen River and 230 islands, which
became known as the New Territories. The British formally took possession on 16 April

Japanese occupation
Main page: Japanese occupation of Hong Kong
In 1941, during the Second World War, the British reached an agreement with the Chinese
government under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek that if Japan attacked Hong Kong, the
Chinese National Army would attack the Japanese from the rear to relieve pressure on the
British garrison. On 8 December, the Battle of Hong Kong began when Japanese air
bombers effectively destroyed British air power in one attack. Two days later, the Japanese
breached the Gin Drinkers Line in the New Territories. The British commander, Major-
General Christopher Maltby, concluded that the island could not be defended for long
unless he withdrew his brigade from the mainland. On 18 December, the Japanese crossed
Victoria Harbour. By 25 December, organised defence was reduced into pockets of
resistance. Maltby recommended a surrender to Governor Sir Mark Young, who accepted
his advice to reduce further losses. A day after the invasion, Generalissimo Chiang ordered
three corps under General Yu Hanmou to march towards Hong Kong. The plan was to
launch a New Year's Day attack on the Japanese in the Canton region, but before the
Chinese infantry could attack, the Japanese had broken Hong Kong's defences. The British
casualties were 2,232 killed or missing and 2,300 wounded. The Japanese reported 1,996
killed and 6,000 wounded.

The Japanese soldiers committed atrocities on many locals.

The Japanese imprisoned the ruling British colonial élite and sought to win over the local
merchant gentry by appointments to advisory councils and neighbourhood watch groups.
The policy worked well for Japan and produced extensive collaboration from both the élite
and the middle class, with far less terror than in other Chinese cities. Hong Kong was
transformed into a Japanese colony, with Japanese businesses replacing the British.
However, the Japanese Empire had severe logistical difficulties and by 1943 the food
supply for Hong Kong was problematic. The overlords became more brutal and corrupt,
and the Chinese gentry became disenchanted. With the surrender of Japan, the transition
back to British rule was smooth, for on the mainland the Nationalist and Communist forces
were preparing for a civil war and ignored Hong Kong. In the long run the occupation
strengthened the pre-war social and economic order among the Chinese business
community by eliminating some conflicts of interests and reducing the prestige and power
of the British.

Restoration of British rule

For more details, see 1950s in Hong
Kong, 1960s in Hong Kong, 1970s in Hong
Kong, 1980s in Hong Kong, and 1990s in
Hong Kong

On 14 August 1945, when Japan

announced its unconditional surrender, the
British formed a naval task group to sail
towards Hong Kong. On 1 September,
Rear Admiral Cecil Harcourt proclaimed a
military administration with himself as its
head. He formally accepted the Japanese
surrender on 16 September in
Government House. Sir Mark Young, upon
his return as Governor in early May 1946,
pursued political reform known as the
"Young Plan", believing that, to counter
the Chinese government's determination
to recover Hong Kong, it was necessary to
Hong Kong in 1965
give local inhabitants a greater stake in the
territory by widening the political franchise
to include them.

Handover to China
Main page: Transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong

The Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed by both the Prime Minister of the United
Kingdom and the Premier of the People's Republic of China on 19 December 1984 in
Beijing. The Declaration entered into force with the exchange of instruments of ratification
on 27 May 1985 and was registered by the People's Republic of China and United Kingdom
governments at the United Nations on 12 June 1985. In the Joint Declaration, the People's
Republic of China Government stated that it had decided to resume the exercise of
sovereignty over Hong Kong (including Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, and the New
Territories) with effect from 1 July 1997 and the United Kingdom Government declared that
it would relinquish Hong Kong to the PRC with effect from 1 July 1997. In the document,
the People's Republic of China Government also declared its basic policies regarding Hong

In accordance with the One Country, Two Systems principle agreed between the United
Kingdom and the People's Republic of China, the socialist system of People's Republic of
China would not be practised in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR),
and Hong Kong's previous capitalist system and its way of life would remain unchanged for
a period of 50 years. The Joint Declaration provides that these basic policies shall be
stipulated in the Hong Kong Basic Law. The ceremony of the signing of the Sino-British
Joint Declaration took place at 18:00, 19 December 1984 at the Western Main Chamber of
the Great Hall of the People. The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office at first proposed a
list of 60–80 Hong Kong people to attend the ceremony. The number was finally extended
to 101. The list included Hong Kong government officials, members of the Legislative and
Executive Councils, chairmen of The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation and
Standard Chartered Bank, Hong Kong celebrities such as Li Ka-shing, Pao Yue-kong and
Fok Ying-tung, and also Martin Lee Chu-ming and Szeto Wah.

The handover ceremony was held at the new wing of the Hong Kong Convention and
Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai on the night of 30 June 1997. The principal British guest
was Charles, Prince of Wales who read a farewell speech on behalf of the Queen. The
newly appointed Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Tony Blair, the British Foreign
Minister Robin Cook, the departing Hong Kong governor Chris Patten, General Sir Charles
Guthrie, Chief of the Defence Staff of the United Kingdom also attended.

Representing China were the President of the People's Republic of China, Jiang Zemin,
Premier of the People's Republic of China, Li Peng, and Tung Chee-hwa, the first Chief
Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of
China. This event was broadcast on television and radio stations across the world.

Opposition and internal dissent

There was considerable opposition from
Chinese nationalists to the British rule due
to its implications for Hong Kong self-
determination, particularly in the political
arena. Early dissent such as the Canton–
Hong Kong strike were anti-British and
anti-imperialist in nature. Later, the 1966
riots and the 1967 Leftist riots were large
scale demonstrations against British
colonial rule that was fuelled by tensions
surrounding labour disputes and
dissatisfaction towards the government.
During this period, groups such as the
Anti-British Struggle Committee were Police confrontation during 1967 Leftist Riots
established for the purpose of targeting
the British Colonial government. While
primarily organised by pro-Communist members and sympathizers from the mainland, the
anti-British movement also garnered local support.

A BDTC passport issued to Hong
Kong permanent residents with
British Dependent Territories
Citizenship before 1997. On 1 July
1997, all Hong Kong residents lost
their BDTC status and most acquired
Chinese nationality.

Victoria Harbour in 1988, showing the Bank of China Tower being built