History of Colonial Hong Kong (1800s–1930s)

History of Colonial Hong Kong (1800s–1930s)

Infobox Former Country
native_name = _zh. 香港
conventional_long_name = Hongkong / Hong Kong
common_name = Hong Kong|
continent = Asia
region = China
country = Hong Kong
era =
status = Colony
status_text = Crown Colony (1843-1942, 1945-1983)
Dependent Territory (1983-1997)
empire = United Kingdom
government_type = |
year_start = 1841
year_end = 1997
life_span = 1841 – 1941 1945 – 1997|
year_exile_start =
year_exile_end = |
event_start = Convention of Chuenpeh
date_start = January 25, 1841
event_end = Transfer of sovereignty
date_end = June 30, 1997|
event1 = Treaty of Nanjing
date_event1 = August 29, 1842
event2 = Convention of Beijing
date_event2 = October 18, 1860
event3 = Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory
date_event3 = July 1, 1898
event4 = Surrendered to Japan
date_event4 = December 25, 1941
event5 = Back to British rule
date_event5 = August 15, 1945|
event_pre =
date_pre =
event_post =
date_post = |
p1 = Qing Dynasty
flag_p1 = China Qing Dynasty Flag 1889.svg
image_p1 =
p2 = Japanese occupation of Hong Kong
flag_p2 = Flag of Japan - variant.svg
s1 = Japanese occupation of Hong Kong
flag_s1 = Flag of Japan - variant.svg
image_s1 =
s2 = Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China
flag_s2 = Flag of Hong Kong.svg|

flag_type = Flag of Hong Kong (1959-1997)|

flag_type = Flag of Hong Kong (1959-1997)|

symbol =
symbol_type = Coat of arms of Hong Kong (1959-1997)|

image_map_caption = Location of Hong Kong|
capital = Victoria City
capital_exile =
latd=22 |latm=16 |latNS=N |longd=114 |longm=09 |longEW=E |
national_motto = _fr. "Dieu et mon droit" spaces|2(French) "God and my right"
national_anthem = "God Save the King/Queen"
common_languages = English
religion =
currency = Hong Kong dollar from 1937|
leader1 = Victoria
leader2 = Edward VII
leader3 = George V
leader4 = Edward VIII
leader5 = George VI
leader6 = Elizabeth II
year_leader1 = 1841–1901
year_leader2 = 1901–1910
year_leader3 = 1910–1927
year_leader4 = 1936
year_leader5 = 1936-1952
year_leader6 = 1952-1997
title_leader = Monarch
representative1 = Sir Henry Pottinger
representative2 = Sir Mark Aitchison Young
representative3 = The Rt. Hon. Chris Patten
year_representative1 = 1843-1844
year_representative2 = 1941, 1946-1947
year_representative3 = 1992-1997
title_representative = Governor
deputy1 = John Robert Morrison
deputy2 = Sir Franklin Charles Gimson
deputy3 = David Mercer MacDougall
deputy4 = Anson Chan
year_deputy1 = 1843-1844
year_deputy2 = 1941
year_deputy3 = 1945-1949
year_deputy4 = 1993-1997
title_deputy = Colonial Secretary/Chief Secretary1|
legislature = Legislative Council from 1843|
stat_year1 = 1848
stat_area1 = 80.4
stat_pop1 = 24000
stat_year2 = 1901
stat_area2 = 1042
stat_pop2 = 283978
stat_year3 = 1945
stat_area3 = 1042
stat_pop3 = 750000
stat_year4 = 1995
stat_area4 = 1042
stat_pop4 = 6300000
footnotes = 1 The title changed from "Colonial Secretary" to "Chief Secretary" in 1976.

The Colonial Hong Kong period began in the 19th century when the British, Dutch, French, Indians and Americans saw China as the world's largest untapped market. The British empire launched their first and one of the most aggressive expeditionary forces to claim the territory under Queen Victoria in 1840, three years after she became the queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The territory that would later be known as Hong Kong was gained from the last dynasty of .Wiltshire, Trea. [First published 1987] (republished & reduced 2003). Old Hong Kong - Volume One. Central, Hong Kong: Text Form Asia books Ltd. ISBN Volume One 962-7283-59-2]

In the short span of just a few decades, Hong Kong was transformed from a rocky undeveloped mountainous terrain to a major entrepôt for global trade. Through the opium wars and a series of treaties, the British were able to legitimately claim the territory until 1997. Early social and economic problems did exist in the colony, as there were drastic differences between Eastern and Western philosophy and culture. Nonetheless Hong Kong seized the opportunity to become one of the first parts of East Asia to modernize.

Territorial establishments

Beginning of trade

By the end of the 18th century the British Empire was already well-established in trade and conquest around the world. China was the main supplier of tea to the British, who were domestically consuming 30 million pounds of Chinese tea by 1830 averaging 2 pounds of leaves for every citizen. From the British economy standpoint, Chinese tea was a crucial item since it provided massive wealth for the taipans (foreign, e.g. British, businessmen in China) and the tea duty accounted for 10% of the government income. The British diplomats have never been in favour of performing kowtow to the Emperor of China. Many saw it as a religious pursuit and would rather be treated as equal. Though the members of the Qing Dynasty thrones and courts always saw the British envoys as uncivilized foreigners strictly here for tea, silk and other far east goods. At the time China's social structure, as passed down from Confucian philosophy, ranked merchants relatively low (below farmers and above slaves) since they were considered citizens who only enriched themselves.

Some of the earliest items sold to China in exchange for tea were British clocks, watches and musical boxes. These were not enough to compensate for the unbalance trading of massive quantities of tea. China developed a strong demand for silver. After the 1757 territorial conquest of Bengal in India, the British had a monopoly access on the production of opium. The supply would begin an illegal trade route trading opium for silver, though it would come at the price of creating a new drug addiction. Lin Zexu would be the Chinese commissioner who wrote a letter to Queen Victoria in 1839 taking a stance against the acceptance of opium in trade. He confiscated more than 20,000 chests of opium already at the port and supervised their destruction. [Chaos umd.edu. " [http://www-chaos.umd.edu/history/modern.html#opium Chaos umd.edu] ." "Article." Retrieved on 2007-07-03.]


The Queen saw the destruction of British products as an insult and sent the first expeditionary force to defend British's "ancient rights of commerce". The First Opium War (1839-1842) began at the hands of Captain Charles Elliot of the Royal Navy and Capt. Anthony Blaxland Stransham of the Royal Marines. After a series of Chinese defeats, Hong Kong Island was occupied by the British on January 20, 1841. Sir Edward Belcher, aboard HMS "Sulphur" landed in Hong Kong, on Jan. 25, 1841. Possession Street still exists to mark the event, although its Chinese name is 水坑口街 ("Mouth of the ditch Street").

Commodore Sir Gordon Bremer raised the Union Jack and claimed Hong Kong as a colony on Jan. 26, 1841. [http://www.lubbockonline.com/news/041197/base.htm Base closure to end Royal Navy's Far East presence] , Associated Press, November 4, 1997] It erected naval store sheds there in April 1841.Eric Cavaliero, [http://www.thestandard.com.hk/news_detail.asp?pp_cat=&art_id=41861&sid=&con_type=1&d_str=19971113&sear_year=1997 Harbour bed holds memories] , The Standard, November 13, 1997, quoting P J Melson: "White Ensign - Red Dragon: the History of the Royal Navy in Hong Kong 1841 to 1997"]

The island was first used by the British as a staging post during the war, and while the East India Company intended to establish a permanent base on the island of Zhoushan, Elliot took it upon himself to claim the island on a permanent basis. The ostensible authority for the occupation was negotiated between Captain Eliot and the Governor of Kwangtung Province. The Convention of Chuenpeh was concluded but had not been recognized by the court of Qing Dynasty at Beijing. Subsequently, Hong Kong Island was ceded to Britain in 1842 under the Treaty of Nanking, at which point in time the territory became a Crown Colony.

The Opium War was ostensibly fought to liberalize trade to China. With a base in Hong Kong, British traders, opium dealers, and merchants launched the city which would become the 'free trade' nexus of the East. American opium traders and merchant bankers such as the Russell, Perkins and the Forbes family would soon join the trade. Britain was granted a perpetual lease on the Kowloon Peninsula under the 1860 Convention of Beijing, which formally ended hostilities in the Second Opium War (1856-1858).

In 1898 the United Kingdom was concerned that Hong Kong could not be defended unless surrounding areas were also under British control. In response a 99-year lease titled the Second Convention of Peking was drafted and executed, significantly expanding the size of the Hong Kong via the addition of the New Territories. The lease would set to expire at midnight, on June 30, 1997.



When the union flag was raised over Possession Point on January 26, 1841, the population of Hong Kong island was about 7,450, mostly Tanka fishermen and Hakka charcoal burners living in a number of coastal villages.John Thomson 1837-1921, [http://irc.aa.tufs.ac.jp/thomson/vol_1/mother/102.html Chap on Hong Kong] , Illustrations of China and Its People (London,1873-1874)] [Info Gov HK. " [http://www.info.gov.hk/police/hkp-text/english/history/history_01.htm Hong Kong Gov Info] ." "History of Hong Kong." Retrieved on 2007-02-16.] In the 1850s large numbers of Chinese would emigrate from China to Hong Kong due to the Taiping Rebellion. Other events such as floods, typhoons and famine in mainland China would also play a role in establishing Hong Kong as a place to escape the mayhem.

According to the census of 1865, Hong Kong had a population of 125,504, of which some 2,000 were Americans and Europeans. In 1914 despite an exodus of 60,000 Chinese fearing an attack on the colony during World War I, Hong Kong's population continued to increase from 530,000 in 1916 to 725,000 in 1925 and 1.6 million by 1941.Stanford, David. [2006] (2006). Roses in December. Lulu press. ISBN 1847539661]


The establishment of the free port made Hong Kong a major entrepôt from the start, attracting people from China and Europe alike. The society remained segregated and polarized due to language barriers and racism. The slow rise of a British-educated Chinese upper class of the late 19th century forced the creation of racial laws such as the Peak Reservation Ordinance, which prevented Chinese from living in upscale Victoria Peak. Politically, the majority Chinese population also had little to no official governmental influence throughout much of the early years. There were, however, a small number of Chinese elites that the British governors relied on, including Sir Kai Ho and Robert Hotung. They understood where Hong Kong was in terms of development, and served as main communicators and mediators between the government and the citizenry. Sir Kai Ho was an unofficial member of the Legislative Council. Robert Hotung wanted Chinese citizens to recognize Hong Kong as the new home after the fall of China's last dynasty in 1911. As a millionaire with financial influence, he emphasized that no part of the demographics was purely indigenous. [Carroll, John Mark. Edge of Empires:Chinese Elites and British Colonials in Hong Kong. Harvard university press. ISBN 0674017013]



The east portion of Colonial Hong Kong was mostly dedicated to the British filled with race courses, parade grounds, barracks, cricket and polo fields. The west portion was filled with Chinese shops, crowded markets and tea houses. The Hong Kong tea culture began in this period and evolved into yum cha. One of the most common breakfasts was congee with fish and barley.

In the mid 1800s many of the merchants would sell silk, jade and consult feng shui to open shops that favour better spiritual arrangements.Lim, Patricia. [2002] (2002). Discovering Hong Hong's Cultural Heritage. Central, Hong Kong: Oxford University Press. ISBN Volume One 0-19-592723-0] Other lower ranked groups like coolies arrived with the notion that hard work would better position them for the future. And the success of boatmen, merchants, carters and fishermen in Hong Kong, would leapfrog China's most popular port in Canton. By 1880 Hong Kong's port would handle 27% of the mainland's export and 37% of imports.

A British traveller, Isabella Bird, described Hong Kong in the 1870s as a colony filled with comforts and entertainment only a Victorian society would be able to enjoy. Other descriptions mentioned courts, hotels, post offices, shops, city hall complexes, museums, libraries and structures in impressive manner for the era. Many European businessmen went to Hong Kong to do business. They were referred to as tai-pans or "bigshot". One of the more notable Tai-pan hangout spot was the Hong Kong Club at Queen's Road.


In 1861, Frederick Stewart would become the founder of Hong Kong education system bringing western-style philosophy to the east. Some have argued that his contribution is the key turning point between the group of Chinese that were able to modernize Hong Kong versus the group that did not in China. The education would bring western-style finance, science, history, technology into the culture. The father of modern China, Sun Yat-sen was also educated in Hong Kong's Central School.

Law and order

In 1843 the legislative council was established. The governor of Hong Kong generally served as the British plenipotentiary in the far east in the early years. The Colonial Secretary would also assist in legal matters.

A colonial police force was established in the 1840s to handle the high crime rate in Hong Kong. By China's standards, colonial Hong Kong's code of punishment was considered laughably loose and lenient. The lack of intimidation may have been the leading cause for the continual rise in crime. Po Leung Kuk became one of the first organizations established to deal with the abduction of women and prostitution crisis. Crime in the sea was also common as some pirates had access to cutlass and revolvers.

Pandemics and disasters

The Third Pandemic of bubonic plague broke out in China in the 1880s. By the spring of 1894 about 100,000 were reported dead in the mainland. In May 1894 the disease erupted into Hong Kong's overcrowded Chinese quarter of Tai Ping Shan. By the end of the month, an estimated 450 people died of the illness. At its height, the epidemic was killing 100 people per day, and it killed a total of 2,552 people that year. The disease was greatly detrimental to trade and produced a temporary exodus of 100,000 Chinese from the colony. Plague continued to be a problem in the territory for the next 30 years. In the 1870s a typhoon hit Hong Kong one evening reaching its height by midnight. An estimated 2,000 people lost their lives in a span of just six hours.



The growth of Hong Kong depended greatly on domestic transport of citizens and cargo across Victoria Harbour. The establishment of the Star Ferry and the Yaumati Ferry would prove to be vital. In 1843 the colony had built the first ship at a private shipyard. Some of the customers later included the Spanish government in the Philippines and the Chinese Navy. The Peak Tram would begin in 1888 along with the Tramway service in 1904. The first railway line was also launched in 1910 as the Kowloon-Canton Railway.

On land the rickshaws were extremely popular when they were first imported from Japan in 1874, since it was affordable and necessary for street merchants to haul goods. Sedan chairs were the preferred mode of the transport for the wealthy Europeans who lived on Victoria Peak due to the steep grade which ruled out rickshaws until the introduction of the Peak Tram. The first automobiles in Hong Kong had petrol-driven internal combustion engines and arrived between 1903-05. Initially they were not well received by the public. Only around 1910 did the cars begin to gain appeal. Most of the owners were British. [Bard, Solomon. [2002] (2002) Voices from the Past: Hong Kong 1842-1918. Hong Kong:HK University Press. ISBN 9622095747] Buses operated by various independent companies flourished in the 1920s until the government formally issued franchises for the China Motor Bus and Kowloon Motor Bus companies in 1933.

The flying boats were the first British aeroplanes to reach Hong Kong in 1928. By 1924 the Kai Tak Airport would also be found. The first flight service from Imperial Airways would become available by 1937 at a price of 288 pounds per ticket.

Hospitals and hospitality

Soon after the British occupied Hong Kong in 1841, Protestant and Catholic missionaries started to provide social service. Italian missionaries began to provide boy-only education to British and Chinese youth in 1843. "The Catholic French Sisters of St. Paul de Chartres" was one of the first orphanage and elderly home was established in 1848. [Bray, Mark. Koo, Ramsey. [2005] (2005) Education and Society in Hong Kong and Macao: Comparative Perspectives on Continuity and Change. Hong Kong: Springer Press. ISBN 1402034059] In 1870 the Tung Wah Hospital became the first official hospital in Hong Kong. It handled much of the social services and was providing free vaccinations in Hong Kong Island and Kwang Tung. After raising funds for the 1877 famine in China, a number of the hospital officials became Tung Wah elites with much authority and power representing the Chinese majority. [Tsai, Jung-fang. [1995] (1995). Hong Kong in Chinese History: community and social unrest in the British Colony, 1842-1913. ISBN 0231079338] Some of the booming hotel businesses of the era included the Victoria Hotel, New Victoria Hotel and the King Edward Hotel. [England, Vaudine. [1998] (1998). The Quest of Noel Croucher: Hong Kong's Quiet Philanthropist. Hong Kong university. ISBN 9622094732]


In 1864 the first large scale modern bank Hong Kong Shanghai Bank would be established turning Hong Kong into the focal point of financial affairs in Asia. The achievements of Sir Thomas Jackson Bart is on the scale worthy of a statue next to Queen Victoria in Statue Square. The bank first leased Wardley House at HKD $500 a month in 1864. After raising a capital of HKD $5 million, the bank opened its door in 1865. The Association of Stockbrokers would also be established in 1891.


In December 1890 the Hongkong Electric company went into production with help from Catchick Paul Chater. It was the first step in allowing the transition of gas lamps to light bulbs. [Coates, Austin. [1977] (1977). A Mountain of Light: the story of the Hongkong Electric Company. Heinemann. ISBN 8671142490] Other companies like Jardine Matheson would launch the "Hong Kong Land Investment and Agency company Ltd" accumulating a wealth as large as the entire government's total revenue.Wiltshire, Trea. [First published 1987] (republished & reduced 2003). Old Hong Kong - Volume Two. Central, Hong Kong: Text Form Asia books Ltd. ISBN Volume Two 962-7283-60-6]


One observer summed up the decades as "politics, propaganda, panic, rumor, riot, revolution and refugees". The role of Hong Kong as a political safe haven for Chinese political refugees further cemented its status, and few serious attempts to revert its ownership were launched in the early 1900s. Both Chinese Communist and Nationalist agitators found refuge in the territory, when they did not actively participate in the turmoil in China. However, the dockworkers strikes in the 1920s and 1930s were widely attributed to the Communists by the authorities, and caused a backlash against them. A strike in 1920 was ended with a wage increase of HKD 32 cents.

When modern China began after the fall of the last dynasty, one of the first political statements made in Hong Kong was the immediate change from long queue hairstyles to short haircuts. In 1938, Guangzhou fell to the hands of the Japanese, Hong Kong was considered a strategic military outpost for all trades in the far east. Though Winston Churchill assured that Hong Kong was an "impregnable fortress", it was taken as a reality check response since the British Army actually stretched too thin to battle on two fronts.

ee also

*History of Hong Kong
*Thirteen Factories
*The Hongs
*Tai-Pan (novel)


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Hong Kong — HK redirects here. For other uses, see HK (disambiguation). Coordinates: 22°16′42″N 114°09′32″E …   Wikipedia

  • History of Hong Kong — Hong Kong began as a coastal island geographically located in southern China. While pockets of settlements had taken place in the region with archaeological findings dating back thousands of years, regularly written records were not made until… …   Wikipedia

  • Portal:Hong Kong — Today is November 24, 2011 Wikipedia portals: Culture Geography Health History Mathematics Natural sciences People Philosophy Religion Society Technology …   Wikipedia

  • Lieutenant Governor of Hong Kong — (zh t|t=香港副總督) was the second highest position during the British colonial rule in Hong Kong from 1843 1902. Although Lieutenant Governor of Hong Kong was the second highest position in Hong Kong, the Lieutenant Governor did not have any actual… …   Wikipedia

  • British Hong Kong — Hong Kong 香港 British colony ← …   Wikipedia

  • Historia de Hong Kong — La historia de Hong Kong comprende los hechos históricos que tuvieron lugar en la isla costera que se ubica en el sur de China. Mientras que en la región se realizaron asentamientos cuyos vestigios arqueológicos se remontan a miles de años,… …   Wikipedia Español

  • Military history of Hong Kong — History of Hong Kong Timeline     Prehistoric     Imperial (221 BC – 1800s)   …   Wikipedia

  • History of the British Army — The history of the British Army spans over three and a half centuries and numerous European wars, colonial wars and world wars. From the early 19th century until 1914, the United Kingdom was the greatest economic and Imperial Power in the world,… …   Wikipedia

  • History of Western civilization — The history of Western civilization traces its roots back to Classical Antiquity and continues to the present era in Europe, North America, Australia, and New ZealandAntiquity (before AD 500)The opposition of an European West to an Asiatic East… …   Wikipedia

  • Economic history of Britain — This is a history of the economy of the United Kingdom and of the countries that joined to form it in 1707 and 1801.Early historyIn Britain s earliest history agriculture was overwhelmingly dominant. The most important export was cassiterite,… …   Wikipedia

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.