Hong Kong: Its History & Its Uncertain Future

Hong Kong means ‘Fragrant Harbour’ in Chinese and as ‘the city of change’. It is a Special Administrative Region of China. It located to the east of the Pearl River estuary on the south coast of China. The city has Guangdong province to the north and the South China Sea to the east, south, and west. Its boom as a beautiful port city is mainly due to its advantageous geography. KowloonHong Kong Island, and the New Territories are three parts of the city.

British Occupation of Hong Kong

In the early 19th century, the British Empire trade depended heavily upon importing tea, silk, and porcelain from China. As a result, the British remained in an overwhelming imbalance in trade. In addition, China developed a strong demand for silver. It was a problematic commodity for the British to come by in large quantities. The counterbalance of trade came with exports to China of opium grown in India. It resulted in widespread addiction.

Map of Hong Kong, Kowloon peninsula, New territories
Map showing entire Hong Kong.

The then Chinese government cracked down on the opium trade. It resulted in the First Opium War. The  War ended in 1842. Britain occupied the island of Hong Kong on 25 January 1841. China ceded Hong Kong in the Treaty of Nanking.

In 1860, at the end of the Second Opium War, Britishers further occupied the Kowloon Peninsula. During the second half of the 19th century, the British became increasingly wary of the Chinese-controlled islands around their port. So, the British negotiated a “New Territories” lease for 99 years.

Economic Boom In Late 20th Century

During the second world war, the city fell under brutal Japanese rule. The period, called ‘3 years and 8 months’ halted the economy. After World War II; The British were determined to keep the city despite decolonisation in the rest of the empire.

In 1949, the Chinese civil war broke out. The subsequent victory of the communist party of china gilded the fortune of the city in pure gold! The capitalist businessmen fled mainland China and settled in Hong Kong. Skills and capital brought by them, along with a vast pool of cheap labour, helped revive the economy. At the same time, many foreign firms relocated their offices to Hong Kong. Enjoying unprecedented growth, the city transformed from a territory of entrepôt trade to one of industry and manufacturing. The economic boom was unparalleled.

The manufacturing industry opened a new decade of economic boom. Employment was provided to large sections of the population. The 60s was a turning point for Hong Kong’s economy. “Made in Hong Kong” went from a label that marked cheap, low-grade products to a brand that marked high-quality products

In the 70s, Hong Kong consolidated its position as a commercial and tourism centre in Asia. Its booming economy ushered in an era of growth. High life expectancy, literacy, per-capita income, and other socio-economic measures attest to Hong Kong’s achievements. Higher income also led to the introduction of the first high-rise, private housing estates with Taikoo Shing. From this time, people’s homes became part of Hong Kong’s skyline and scenery.

End of British Rule and Beginning Of Chinese Rule

In 1982, the British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, considered the increasing openness of the Chinese government and the economic reform in the mainland as optimistic. As a result, the British started discussions for the future of the city. These finally led to the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the proposal of the One country, two systems concept by Deng Xiaoping

On 4 April 1990, the Hong Kong Basic Law was officially accepted as the mini-constitution of Hong Kong after the handover. The pro-Beijing bloc welcomed the Basic Law, calling it the most democratic legal system in China. However, the pro-democratic bloc criticized it as not democratic enough.

The Handover of Hong Kong on July 1, 1997, returned the city to Chinese rule. The Provisional Legislative Council, elected by a selection committee, replaced the old Legislative Council. The Chinese government appointed the members of the new council. However, within a short time, the political climate heated up.

One Country-Two System Rule

As per the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the Chinese government also declared its basic policies regarding the city. Following the “one country, two systems” principle agreed between the UK and China, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) would not practice mainland China’s socialist system. Also, the existing capitalist system and way of life in Hong Kong is to remain unchanged for 50 years until 2047.

A single-purpose Hong Kong civil disobedience campaign, Occupy Central with Love and Peace protests, was convened. It aimed to pressure the Chinese Government into reforming the systems for election. To satisfy “international standards to universal suffrage”. Its manifesto called for the occupation of the region’s central business district if reforms in the electoral system were not made. Upstaged by the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) and Scholarism in September 2014, its leaders joined in the Occupy Central protests.

The number of impoverished Hongkongers hit a record high in 2016. It meant one in five people living below the poverty line. Moreover, as the Chinese economy boomed, the democratic rights enjoyed by the city people began evaporating.

The Umbrella Movement

The Umbrella Movement was a political movement that emerged during the democracy protests of 2014. Its name arose from the use of umbrellas as a tool for passive resistance to the Hong Kong Police‘s use of pepper spray. The crowds occupy the city for 79-days demanding more transparent elections. It was sparked by the decision of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC) of 31 August 2014 that prescribed a selective pre-screening of candidates for the 2017 election of Hong Kong’s chief executive.

What is the meaning of the umbrellas in Hong Kong's “Umbrella Revolution”? — Quartz
Using Umbrella as shield.

However, the umbrella movement was a failure. It neither affected the economy, nor the protests achieved the goals. Affecting the city’s economy would have forced the government. Moreover, the people now select their chief executive from a list approved by Beijing.

The Recent Pro-Democracy Protests

After the failure of the Umbrella Revolution in 2014 and the 2017 imprisonment of Hong Kong democracy activists, citizens began to fear the loss of the “high degree of autonomy”. In recent times, the Chinese government is getting more and more assertive. China is accused of meddling in Hong Kong. The government has disqualified pro-democracy legislators. There are cases of the disappearance of five city booksellers and a tycoon who eventually re-emerged in custody in China.

There are also accusations that press and academic freedoms have been deteriorating. In March, China effectively expelled several US journalists and prohibited them from working in Hong Kong. Reports of police brutality also emerged.

Recently, the National People’s Congress authorized the dismissal of any parliament (called LegCo) members who are perceived to ask for help from foreign countries and “refuse to recognize China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong.”

A “decision on improving the electoral system of Hong Kong” was passed by the National People’s Congress (NPC) on 11 March 2021 to rewrite the election rules in the city to ensure a system of “patriots governing Hong Kong.”

This might seem reasonable—a country’s patriotic people governing its one of the most prosperous cities. But, the problem lies in some simple questions. What is patriotism? Who will decide who is patriotic?

Future of Hong Kong

Once beautiful and prosperous, the future of the city is getting darker. The people of Hong Kong are following the same line as those who staged the Tiananmen Square protests. Those, who were very swiftly massacred. Will the city folks also have a similar fate?

The Chinese are removing democracy even now when they are legally bound to uphold it. So what will happen when the one country, two systems” principle ends in 2047? Will Hong Kongers face a similar fate to those living in Xinjiang?

The people are somewhat safe. They are, at least, not being forced into “re-education camps“. But for how long they will remain safe? One guess is 2047. The Chinese government is legally bound to allow autonomy to the city till then. Will China continue to recognize Hong Kong’s autonomy after then? We’ll find out in 2047.



My name is Sparsh, and I am currently studying at IIT Dhanbad. I like to blog on topics ranging from defence to coding, technology to cosmos!


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