Hong Kong (/ˌhɒŋˈkɒŋ/ (About this soundlisten); Chinese: 香港, Cantonese: [hœ́ːŋ.kɔ̌ːŋ] (About this soundlisten)), officially the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China (HKSAR), is a Cantonese speaking metropolitan area and special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China on the eastern Pearl River Delta of the South China Sea. With over 7.5 million residents of various nationalities in a 1,104-square-kilometre (426 sq mi) territory, Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated places in the world.
Hong Kong became a colony of the British Empire after the Qing Empire ceded Hong Kong Island at the end of the First Opium War in 1842. The colony expanded to the Kowloon Peninsula in 1860 after the Second Opium War and was further extended when Britain obtained a 99-year lease of the New Territories in 1898.
The whole territory was transferred to China in 1997. As a special administrative region, Hong Kong maintains separate governing and economic systems from that of mainland China under a principle of “one country, two systems”. However decisions made by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress override any territorial judicial process. Furthermore, the State Council may enforce national law in the region under specific circumstances.
Originally a sparsely populated area of farming and fishing villages, the territory has become one of the world’s most significant financial centres and commercial ports. It is the world’s tenth-largest exporter and ninth-largest importer. Hong Kong has a major capitalist service economy characterised by low taxation and free trade, and its currency, the Hong Kong dollar, is the eighth most traded currency in the world. Hong Kong is home to the second-highest number of billionaires of any city in the world, the highest number of billionaires of any city in Asia, and the largest concentration of ultra high-net-worth individuals of any city in the world. Although the city has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world, severe income inequality exists among its residents.
Hong Kong is a highly developed territory and ranks fourth on the UN Human Development Index. The city has the largest number of skyscrapers of any city in the world, and its residents have some of the highest life expectancies in the world. The dense space led to a developed transportation network with public transport rates exceeding 90 percent. Hong Kong is ranked sixth in the Global Financial Centres Index and is ranked fourth in Asia after Tokyo, Shanghai and Singapore.
The region is first known to have been occupied by humans during the Neolithic period, about 6,000 years ago. However, in 2003, stone tools were excavated at the Wong Tei Tung archaeological site, which optical luminescence testing showed date to between 35,000 and 39,000 years ago.
Early Hong Kong settlers were a semi-coastal peoplewho migrated from inland and brought knowledge of rice cultivation. The Qin dynasty incorporated the Hong Kong area into China for the first time in 214 BCE, after conquering the indigenous Baiyue. The region was consolidated under the Nanyue kingdom (a predecessor state of Vietnam) after the Qin collapse and recaptured by China after the Han conquest. During the Mongol conquest of China in the 13th century, the Southern Song court was briefly located in modern-day Kowloon City (the Sung Wong Toi site) before its final defeat in the 1279 Battle of Yamen. By the end of the Yuan dynasty, seven large families had settled in the region and owned most of the land. Settlers from nearby provinces migrated to Kowloon throughout the Ming dynasty.
The earliest European visitor was Portuguese explorer Jorge Álvares, who arrived in 1513. Portuguese merchants established a trading post called Tamão in Hong Kong waters and began regular trade with southern China. Although the traders were expelled after military clashes in the 1520s, Portuguese-Chinese trade relations were re-established by 1549. Portugal acquired a permanent lease for Macau in 1557.
After the Qing conquest, maritime trade was banned under the Haijin policies. The Kangxi Emperor lifted the prohibition, allowing foreigners to enter Chinese ports in 1684. Qing authorities established the Canton System in 1757 to regulate trade more strictly, restricting non-Russian ships to the port of Canton. Although European demand for Chinese commodities like tea, silk, and porcelain was high, Chinese interest in European manufactured goods was insignificant, so that Chinese goods could only be bought with precious metals. To reduce the trade imbalance, the British sold large amounts of Indian opium to China. Faced with a drug crisis, Qing officials pursued ever more aggressive actions to halt the opium trade.
In 1839, the Daoguang Emperor rejected proposals to legalise and tax opium and ordered imperial commissioner Lin Zexu to eradicate the opium trade. The commissioner destroyed opium stockpiles and halted all foreign trade, triggering a British military response and the First Opium War. The Qing surrendered early in the war and ceded Hong Kong Island in the Convention of Chuenpi. However, both countries were dissatisfied and did not ratify the agreement. After more than a year of further hostilities, Hong Kong Island was formally ceded to the United Kingdom in the 1842 Treaty of Nanking.
Administrative infrastructure was quickly built by early 1842, but piracy, disease, and hostile Qing policies initially prevented the government from attracting commerce. Conditions on the island improved during the Taiping Rebellion in the 1850s, when many Chinese refugees, including wealthy merchants, fled mainland turbulence and settled in the colony. Further tensions between the British and Qing over the opium trade escalated into the Second Opium War. The Qing were again defeated and forced to give up Kowloon Peninsula and Stonecutters Island in the Convention of Peking. By the end of this war, Hong Kong had evolved from a transient colonial outpost into a major entrepôt. Rapid economic improvement during the 1850s attracted foreign investment, as potential stakeholders became more confident in Hong Kong’s future.
Colonial Hong Kong flag from 1959 to 1997
The colony was further expanded in 1898 when Britain obtained a 99-year lease of the New Territories. The University of Hong Kong was established in 1911 as the territory’s first institution of higher education. Kai Tak Airport began operation in 1924, and the colony avoided a prolonged economic downturn after the 1925–26 Canton–Hong Kong strike. At the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937, Governor Geoffry Northcote declared Hong Kong a neutral zone to safeguard its status as a free port. The colonial government prepared for a possible attack, evacuating all British women and children in 1940. The Imperial Japanese Army attacked Hong Kong on 8 December 1941, the same morning as its attack on Pearl Harbor. Hong Kong was occupied by Japan for almost four years before Britain resumed control on 30 August 1945.
Its population rebounded quickly after the war, as skilled Chinese migrants fled from the Chinese Civil War, and more refugees crossed the border when the Communist Party took control of mainland China in 1949. Hong Kong became the first of the Four Asian Tiger economies to industrialise during the 1950s. With a rapidly increasing population, the colonial government began reforms to improve infrastructure and public services. The public-housing estate programme, Independent Commission Against Corruption, and Mass Transit Railway were all established during the post-war decades to provide safer housing, integrity in the civil service, and more-reliable transportation. Although the territory’s competitiveness in manufacturing gradually declined because of rising labour and property costs, it transitioned to a service-based economy. By the early 1990s, Hong Kong had established itself as a global financial centre and shipping hub. The colony faced an uncertain future as the end of the New Territories lease approached, and Governor Murray MacLehose raised the question of Hong Kong’s status with Deng Xiaoping in 1979. Diplomatic negotiations with China resulted in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, in which the United Kingdom agreed to transfer the colony in 1997 and China would guarantee Hong Kong’s economic and political systems for 50 years after the transfer. The impending transfer triggered a wave of mass emigration as residents feared an erosion of civil rights, the rule of law, and quality of life. Over half a million people left the territory during the peak migration period, from 1987 to 1996. Hong Kong was transferred to China on 1 July 1997, after 156 years of British rule.
Immediately after the transfer, Hong Kong was severely affected by several crises. The government was forced to use substantial foreign exchange reserves to maintain the Hong Kong dollar’s currency peg during the 1997 Asian financial crisis, and the recovery from this was muted by an H5N1 avian-flu outbreak and a housing surplus. This was followed by the 2003 SARS epidemic, during which the territory experienced its most serious economic downturn.
Political debates after the transfer of sovereignty have centred around the region’s democratic development and the central government’s adherence to the “one country, two systems” principle. After reversal of the last colonial era Legislative Council democratic reforms following the handover, the regional government unsuccessfully attempted to enact national security legislation pursuant to Article 23 of the Basic Law. The central government decision to implement nominee pre-screening before allowing Chief Executive elections triggered a series of protests in 2014 which became known as the Umbrella Revolution. Discrepancies in the electoral registry and disqualification of elected legislators after the 2016 Legislative Council elections and enforcement of national law in the West Kowloon high-speed railway station raised further concerns about the region’s autonomy. In June 2019, mass protests erupted in response to a proposed extradition amendment bill permitting extradition of fugitives to mainland China. The protests are the largest in Hong Kong history, with organisers claiming to have attracted more than one million Hong Kong residents