This post will be sketching for you a short background to how British Colonial Hong Kong was founded in its earliest days. I’m going to make this post as interesting and informative as possible by splitting it up into key and significant timelines. This should be interesting reading for those of you who enjoy your culture and history like I do. The next post looks at how the Communist Chinese influences and hegemonies began to take root and follows a similar structure to this one.
- 1841 – 1997 – This was the period during which Great Britain or Her Majesty’s Empire, call it what you will, ruled over Hong Kong. It excludes the occupation by Japan during the Second World War. It was first established as a Crown Colony, but years later it devolved into a British Dependent Territory.
- 1836 – The then Chinese government undertook a full review of the opium trade. It was Lin Zexu who stifled the trade in opium. A few years later, he was appointed as Special Imperial Commissioner in Canton. In this position, Lin ordered foreign traders to surrender all their opium stock. He even suppressed the trade of the British and exiled them to the Canton Factories. It was the British Chief Superintendent of Trade, Charles Elliot who complied with Lin’s executions in order to ensure a safe exit passage for the British. It was agreed that loss of income costs as a result in the loss of opium trade was to be shared by the Chinese and British hegemonies.
- 1839 – The entire Hong Island was ceded over to the British Empire by the Chinese Qing dynasty after the first Anglo-Chinese War. Later, the Kowloon Peninsula was included as part of Hong Kong as part of a ninety-nine year land lease deal. It became known, at that time, as the New Territories. The British cabinet decided that the Chinese should be made to pay for their destruction of British property. Later, British Foreign Secretary, Palmerston added his voice of objection to the way the Chinese Imperial government was handling the suppression of trade. Still later, George Elliot and his cousins went on to occupy one of the Chusan islands from which British trade could resume.
- 1841 – Commodore James Bremer became the first formal ruler of Hong Kong after the entire Hong Kong Island was ceded over to the British Empire. He took formal possession of the island at Possession Point. It was Elliot who negotiated this secession with the Chinese Qishan and it was he who declared that Hong Kong would be preferred over Chusan because there was less likelihood of hostilities being renewed between the British and the Chinese.
- 1842 – The cession of Hong Kong from Chinese hands to the British was formally ratified in the Treaty of Nanking. This cession, at the time, allowed Britain to claim Hong Kong ‘in perpetuity’.
- 1856 – Chinese authorities seized a Chinese owned ship registered in Hong Kong. The registration was motivated in order to enjoy protection under British rule. The Consul in Canton, Harry Parkes, declared that such seizure was tantamount to an ‘insult of very grave character’. John Bowring, fourth governor of Hong Kong took advantage of this incident to plan new policies for going forward.
- 1857 – Foreign Secretary Palmerston appointed Lord Elgin as Plenipotentiary in order to formulate and secure new treaties that would work.
- 1860 – Peking (Beijing) was captured by both the British and the French. As a result, the treaty of Tientsin and Convention of Peking came into being. The Chinese had to accept British demands to open more ports and be allowed to travel along the Yangtze River. Opium trade was to be legalized once more. Diplomatic relations were to be established in Beijing. But during this epochal event the British had already occupied the Kowloon Peninsula.
- 1898 – The British wanted to extend its Hong Kong borders, purportedly in the interest of maintaining the island’s security. Negotiations took place between British and Chinese diplomats, resulting in the extension of land rights to the British. The land to be included under British rule included the Kowloon territory and two hundred and thirty smaller islands. These became known as the New Territories. And it was at this time that a new ninety nine year lease was agreed to between the British and Chinese, after which time all land under British control would be ceded back to the Chinese.
In the next century, there was a hiatus during which time the Japanese took control of the New Territories during the Second World War. But after bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese surrendered and Hong Kong was returned to the British.