I learn a lot from Google. After having recently spent three weeks in China, including four days in Hong Kong, I left Hong Kong as confused about its relationship to mainland China as when I arrived. So I turned to Google to learn the story of this exploding thoroughly modern city—Hong Kong—into one of the world’s most significant financial centers.
The population of Hong Kong Island, a mere fishing hamlet, was 7,450 when the Union Jack was raised there in 1841. In the following decade, Chinese immigrants fled there seeking shelter from rebellions and natural disasters on the mainland.
In 1898, Britain obtained a 99-year lease from Qing under the Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong. As the area grew, Hong Kong’s population increased from 530,000 in 1916 to 1.6 million by 1941. Then came the Second World War and Hong Kong fell to the Japanese on Christmas Day of that year.
After the Japanese occupation, the population of Hong Kong dwindled to 600,000 due to atrocities and starvation at the hands of the Japanese, but it recovered quickly after the war, as Chinese refugees fleeing strife and communism on the mainland settled in Hong Kong.
Some 40 years later, 1984, the United Kingdom and China agreed to return Hong Kong’s sovereignty to China on July 1, 1997. The agreement stipulated that for at least 50 years after the transfer (2047), Hong Kong would retain its laws, maintain its capitalist economic system and guarantee the rights and freedoms of its people. On July 1, 1997, the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to the People’s Republic of China took place, officially marking the end of Hong Kong’s 156 years under British colonial governance. At last, I understood the stark difference between life on mainland China and the glitz that is Hong Kong.
The 2015 edition of the Global Financial Centers Index listed Hong Kong third, after London and New York, as the world’s most economically powerful city. I’d say you’ve come a long way, baby.