British Hong Kong
British Hong Kong refers to Hong Kong
Hong Kong
Hong Kong is one of two Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China , the other being Macau. A city-state situated on China's south coast and enclosed by the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea, it is renowned for its expansive skyline and deep natural harbour...

 as a Crown colony
Crown colony
A Crown colony, also known in the 17th century as royal colony, was a type of colonial administration of the English and later British Empire....

 and later, a British dependent territory under British administration from 1841 to 1997.

Colonial establishment

In 1836, the Chinese government undertook a major policy review of the opium trade. Lin Zexu
Lin Zexu
Lín Zéxú ; 30 August 1785 – 22 November 1850) was a Chinese scholar and official during the Qing Dynasty.He is most recognized for his conduct and his constant position on the "high moral ground" in his fight, as a "shepherd" of his people, against the opium trade in Guangzhou...

 volunteered to take on the task of suppressing opium. In March 1839, he became Special Imperial Commissioner in Canton
Guangzhou , known historically as Canton or Kwangchow, is the capital and largest city of the Guangdong province in the People's Republic of China. Located in southern China on the Pearl River, about north-northwest of Hong Kong, Guangzhou is a key national transportation hub and trading port...

, where he ordered the foreign traders to surrender their opium stock. He confined the British to the Canton Factories and cut off their supplies. Chief Superintendent of Trade, Charles Elliot
Charles Elliot
Sir Charles Elliot, KCB , was a British naval officer, diplomat, and colonial administrator. He became the first administrator of Hong Kong in 1841 while serving as both Plenipotentiary and Chief Superintendent of British Trade in China...

, complied with Lin's demands in order to secure a safe exit for the British, with the costs involved to be resolved between the two governments. When Elliot promised that the British government would pay for their opium stock, the merchants surrendered their 20,283 chests of opium, which were destroyed in public.

In September 1839, the British Cabinet
Cabinet of the United Kingdom
The Cabinet of the United Kingdom is the collective decision-making body of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, composed of the Prime Minister and some 22 Cabinet Ministers, the most senior of the government ministers....

 decided that the Chinese should be made to pay for the destruction of British property by the threat or use of force. An expeditionary force was placed under Elliot and his cousin George Elliot
George Elliot (1784–1863)
Admiral Sir George Elliot, KCB , was a Royal Navy officer who served during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, and the First Opium War....

 as joint plenipotentiaries in 1840. Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston stressed to the Chinese government that the British government did not question China's right to prohibit opium, but it objected to the way this was handled. He viewed the sudden strict enforcement as laying a trap for the foreign traders, and the confinement of the British with supplies cut off was tantamount to starving them into submission or death. He instructed the Elliot cousins to occupy one of the Chusan
Zhoushan or Zhoushan Archipelago New Area; formerly transliterated as Chusan, is a prefecture-level city in northeastern Zhejiang province of Eastern China. The only prefecture-level city of the People's Republic of China consisting solely of islands, it lies across the mouth of the Hangzhou Bay,...

 islands, to present a letter from himself to a Chinese official for the Emperor, then to proceed to the Gulf of Bohai for a treaty, and if the Chinese resisted, blockade the key ports of the Yangtze
Yangtze River
The Yangtze, Yangzi or Cháng Jiāng is the longest river in Asia, and the third-longest in the world. It flows for from the glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau in Qinghai eastward across southwest, central and eastern China before emptying into the East China Sea at Shanghai. It is also one of the...

 and Yellow
Yellow River
The Yellow River or Huang He, formerly known as the Hwang Ho, is the second-longest river in China and the sixth-longest in the world at the estimated length of . Originating in the Bayan Har Mountains in Qinghai Province in western China, it flows through nine provinces of China and empties into...

 rivers. Palmerston demanded a territorial base in Chusan for trade so that British merchants "may not be subject to the arbitrary caprice either of the Government of Peking, or its local Authorities at the Sea-Ports of the Empire".

In 1841, Elliot negotiated with Lin's successor, Qishan, in the Convention of Chuenpee during the First Opium War
First Opium War
The First Anglo-Chinese War , known popularly as the First Opium War or simply the Opium War, was fought between the United Kingdom and the Qing Dynasty of China over their conflicting viewpoints on diplomatic relations, trade, and the administration of justice...

. On 20 January, Elliot announced "the conclusion of preliminary arrangements", which included the cession of Hong Kong Island
Hong Kong Island
Hong Kong Island is an island in the southern part of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. It has a population of 1,289,500 and its population density is 16,390/km², as of 2008...

 and its harbour to the British crown. On 26 January, the Union Flag
Union Flag
The Union Flag, also known as the Union Jack, is the flag of the United Kingdom. It retains an official or semi-official status in some Commonwealth Realms; for example, it is known as the Royal Union Flag in Canada. It is also used as an official flag in some of the smaller British overseas...

 was raised on Hong Kong, and Commodore James Bremer
James Bremer
Sir James John Gordon Bremer, KCB, KCH , was a British Royal Navy officer. He served in the Napoleonic Wars, First Anglo-Burmese War, and First Anglo-Chinese War. In China, he served twice as commander-in-chief of British forces.Born in Portsea, England, Bremer joined the Royal Navy in 1794...

, commander-in-chief of the British forces in China, took formal possession of the island at Possession Point
Possession Point
Possession Point is a former point of land on the northwestern coast of Hong Kong Island in Hong Kong, before land reclamation moved the coast further north.- History :...

. Elliot chose Hong Kong instead of Chusan because he believed a settlement further east would cause an "indefinite protraction of hostilities", whereas Hong Kong's harbour was a valuable base for the British trading community in Canton. On 29 August 1842, the cession was formally ratified in the Treaty of Nanking
Treaty of Nanking
The Treaty of Nanking was signed on 29 August 1842 to mark the end of the First Opium War between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the Qing Dynasty of China...

, which ceded Hong Kong "in perpetuity" to Britain.

Growth and expansion

The treaty failed to satisfy British expectations of a major expansion of trade and profit, which led to increasing pressure for a revision of the terms. In October 1856, Chinese authorities in Canton detained the Arrow, a Chinese-owned ship registered in Hong Kong to enjoy protection of the British flag. The Consul in Canton, Harry Parkes
Harry Smith Parkes
Sir Harry Smith Parkes was a 19th century British diplomat who worked mainly in China and Japan...

, claimed the hauling down of the flag and arrest of the crew were "an insult of very grave character". Parkes and Hong Kong Governor John Bowring
John Bowring
Sir John Bowring, KCB was an English political economist, traveller, miscellaneous writer, polyglot, and the 4th Governor of Hong Kong.- Early life :...

 seized the incident to pursue a forward policy. In March 1857, Palmerston appointed James Bruce
James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin
Sir James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin and 12th Earl of Kincardine, KT, GCB, PC , was a British colonial administrator and diplomat...

 as Plenipotentiary with the aim of securing a new and satisfactory treaty. A French expeditionary force joined the British to avenge the execution of French missionary Auguste Chapdelaine
Auguste Chapdelaine
Father Auguste Chapdelaine was a French Christian missionary of the Paris Foreign Missions Society.-Biography:He was born in La Rochelle-Normande, France...

 in 1856. In 1860, the capture of the Taku Forts
Taku Forts
The Dagu Forts , also called the Peiho Forts are forts located by the Hai River estuary, in Tanggu District, Tianjin municipality, in northeastern China. They are located 60 km southeast of the Tianjin urban center.-History:The first fort was built during the reign of the Ming Jiajing...

 and occupation of Beijing led to the Treaty of Tientsin
Treaty of Tientsin
Several documents known as the "Treaty of Tien-tsin" were signed in Tianjin in June 1858, ending the first part of the Second Opium War . The Second French Empire, United Kingdom, Russian Empire, and the United States were the parties involved...

 and Convention of Peking
Convention of Peking
The Convention of Peking or the First Convention of Peking is the name used for three different unequal treaties, which were concluded between Qing China and the United Kingdom, France, and Russia.-Background:...

. In the Treaty of Tientsin, the Chinese accepted British demands to open more ports, navigate the Yangtze River
Yangtze River
The Yangtze, Yangzi or Cháng Jiāng is the longest river in Asia, and the third-longest in the world. It flows for from the glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau in Qinghai eastward across southwest, central and eastern China before emptying into the East China Sea at Shanghai. It is also one of the...

, legalise the opium trade, and have diplomatic representation in Beijing. During the conflict, the British occupied the Kowloon Peninsula
Kowloon Peninsula
The Kowloon Peninsula is a peninsula that forms the southern part of the main landmass in the territory of Hong Kong. The Kowloon Peninsula and the area of New Kowloon are collectively known as Kowloon....

, where the flat land was valuable training and resting ground. The area in what is now south of Boundary Street
Boundary Street
[[Image:Boundary st hongkong.JPG|thumb|right|250px|Boundary Street near [[Kowloon Tong]]Boundary Street is a three-lane one-way street in [[Kowloon]], [[Hong Kong]]...

 and Stonecutters Island
Stonecutters Island
Stonecutters Island or Ngong Shuen Chau is a former island in Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong. Following land reclamation, it is now annexed to the Kowloon peninsula.-Fauna:...

 was ceded in the Convention of Peking.

In 1898, the British sought to extend Hong Kong for defence. After negotiations began in April 1898, with the British Minister in Beijing, Claude MacDonald, representing Britain, and diplomat Li Hongzhang
Li Hongzhang
Li Hongzhang or Li Hung-chang , Marquis Suyi of the First Class , GCVO, was a leading statesman of the late Qing Empire...

 leading the Chinese, the Second Convention of Peking was signed on 9 June. This granted a 99-year lease of the rest of Kowloon south of the Shenzhen River and 230 islands, which became known as the New Territories
New Territories
New Territories is one of the three main regions of Hong Kong, alongside Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsula. It makes up 86.2% of Hong Kong's territory. Historically, it is the region described in The Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory...

. The British formally took possession on 16 April 1899.

Japanese occupation

In 1941, during the Second World War, the British reached an agreement with the Chinese government under Chiang Kai-shek
Chiang Kai-shek
Chiang Kai-shek was a political and military leader of 20th century China. He is known as Jiǎng Jièshí or Jiǎng Zhōngzhèng in Mandarin....

 that if Japan attacked Hong Kong, the Chinese army would attack the Japanese from the rear to relieve pressure on the British garrison. On 8 December, the Battle of Hong Kong
Battle of Hong Kong
The Battle of Hong Kong took place during the Pacific campaign of World War II. It began on 8 December 1941 and ended on 25 December 1941 with Hong Kong, then a Crown colony, surrendering to the Empire of Japan.-Background:...

 began when Japanese air bombers effectively destroyed British air power in one attack. Two days later, the Japanese breached the Gin Drinkers Line
Gin Drinkers Line
The Gin Drinkers Line or Gin Drinker's Line was a British military defensive line against the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong during the Battle of Hong Kong in December 1941, part of the Pacific War....

 in the New Territories. The British commander, Major-General Christopher Maltby, concluded that the island could not be defended for long unless he withdrew his brigade from the mainland. On 18 December, the Japanese crossed Victoria Harbour
Victoria Harbour
Victoria Harbour is a natural landform harbour situated between Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsula in Hong Kong. The harbour's deep, sheltered waters and strategic location on the South China Sea were instrumental in Hong Kong's establishment as a British colony and its subsequent...

. By 25 December, organised defence was reduced into pockets of resistance. Maltby recommended a surrender to Governor Mark Young
Mark Aitchison Young
Sir Mark Aitchison Young, GCMG was a British administrator who became the Governor of Hong Kong during the years immediately before and after the Japanese occupation of the territory.-Early life, service in war:...

, who accepted his advice to reduce further losses. A day after the invasion, Chiang ordered three corps under General Yu Hanmou
Yu Hanmou
General Yu Hanmou was a KMT general from Guangdong. He was the Commander in Chief of the Chinese 12th Army Group from 1938 to 1944. He commanded the defense of Guangdong in the Canton Operation and 1939-40 Winter Offensive. Later in 1944 until the end of the war, he commanded the 7th War Area,...

 to march towards Hong Kong. The plan was to launch a New Year's Day attack on the Japanese in the Canton region, but before the Chinese infantry could attack, the Japanese had broken Hong Kong's defences. The British casualties were 2,232 killed or missing and 2,300 wounded. The Japanese reported 1,996 killed and 6,000 wounded.

Restoration of British rule

On 14 August 1945, when Japan announced its unconditional surrender, the British formed a naval task group to sail towards Hong Kong. On 1 September, Rear-Admiral Cecil Harcourt proclaimed a military administration with himself as its head. He formally accepted the Japanese surrender on 16 September in Government House
Government House, Hong Kong
Government House , located on Government Hill in the Central District of Hong Kong Island, is the official residence of the Chief Executive of Hong Kong...

. Governor Mark Young
Mark Aitchison Young
Sir Mark Aitchison Young, GCMG was a British administrator who became the Governor of Hong Kong during the years immediately before and after the Japanese occupation of the territory.-Early life, service in war:...

 pursued political reform, believing that given the Chinese government's determination to recover Hong Kong, the only way to keep the colony British was to make the local inhabitants want to do so. He believed this could be done by making local inhabitants participate in politics.


In January 1841, when Elliot declared Hong Kong's cession to Britain, he proclaimed that the government shall devolve upon the office of Chief Superintendent of British Trade in China. He issued a proclamation with Bremer to the inhabitants on 1 February, declaring that they "are hereby promised protection, in her majesty's gracious name, against all enemies whatever; and they are further secured in the free exercise of their religious rites, ceremonies, and social customs; and in the enjoyment of their lawful private property and interests." Elliot declared that Chinese natives would be governed under Chinese laws (excluding torture), and that British subjects and foreigners would fall under British law. However, London decided that English law should prevail.

The Letters Patent
Hong Kong Letters Patent
The Hong Kong Letters Patent was one of the two principal constitutional instruments of Hong Kong during the period of its administration as a colony under British administration...

 of 5 April 1843 defined the constitutional structure of Hong Kong as a Crown colony
Crown colony
A Crown colony, also known in the 17th century as royal colony, was a type of colonial administration of the English and later British Empire....

 and the Royal Instructions
Hong Kong Royal Instructions
The Hong Kong Royal Instructions was one of the two principal constitutional instruments of Hong Kong during the period of its administration as a colony under British administration. ....

 detailed how the region should be governed and organised. The Letters Patent prescribed a Governor
Governor of Hong Kong
The Governor of Hong Kong was the head of the government of Hong Kong during British rule from 1843 to 1997. The governor's roles were defined in the Hong Kong Letters Patent and Royal Instructions...

 as head of government, and both the Executive Council
Executive Council of Hong Kong
The Executive Council of Hong Kong is a core policy-making organ in the executive branch of the government of Hong Kong.. The Chief Executive of Hong Kong serves as its President.The Executive Council normally meets once a week...

 and Legislative Council
Legislative Council
A Legislative Council is the name given to the legislatures, or one of the chambers of the legislature of many nations and colonies.A Member of the Legislative Council is commonly referred to as an MLC.- Unicameral legislatures :...

 being advisors to the governor. The administrative civil service of the colony was led by a Colonial Secretary
Chief Secretary for Administration
The Chief Secretary for Administration , commonly known as Chief Secretary and abbreviated as CS, is the second highest position of the Hong Kong Government...

 (later Chief Secretary), who was deputy to the governor.

In 1861, Governor Hercules Robinson
Hercules Robinson, 1st Baron Rosmead
Hercules George Robert Robinson, 1st Baron Rosmead, GCMG, PC was a British colonial administrator who became the 5th Governor of Hong Kong...

 introduced the Hong Kong Cadetship, which recruited young graduates from Britain to learn Cantonese
Cantonese is a dialect spoken primarily in south China.Cantonese may also refer to:* Yue Chinese, the Chinese language that includes Cantonese* Cantonese cuisine, the cuisine of Guangdong province...

and written Chinese for two years, before deploying them on a fast track to the civil service. Cadet officers gradually formed the backbone of the civil administration. After the Second World War, ethnic Chinese were allowed into the service, followed by women. Cadets were renamed Administrative Officers in the 1950s, and they remained the elite of the civil service during British rule.


The stability, security, and predictability of British law and government enabled Hong Kong to flourish as a centre for international trade. In the colony's first decade, the revenue from the opium trade was a key source of government funds. The importance of opium reduced over time, but the colonial government were dependent on its revenues until the Japanese occupation in 1941. Although the largest businesses in the early colony were operated by British, American, and other expatriates, Chinese workers provided the bulk of the manpower to build a new port city.
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