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Life forms existed more than 6,000 years ago at many sites along the winding shoreline of Hong Kong. It was believed that during the earliest prehistoric periods, from the close of the fourth millennium BC, Hong Kong experienced a change in the environment, in which the sea levels rose from as much as 100 meters below the present level.

Ancient artifacts suggest a strong dependency on the sea. According to recent excavations, archaeologists have discovered two main Neolithic cultures lying in stratified sequence. Pieces of coarse, cord-marked pottery has been found together with fine, soft, fragile pottery decorated with linear carvings, perforations and paintings. The fourth millennium BC is associated with this phase.

In the next phase, probably in the mid-third millennium BC, a new ceramic form decorated with a wide range of impressive geometric patterns was found. Better workmanship and a melange of different shapes indicate a progression in techniques. Ornaments, such as rings made from quartz and other stones, display exquisite craftsmanship.

Bronze emerged in the middle of the second millennium BC, with weapons, knives, arrowheads, and tools excavated from Hong Kong sites. Other evidence from the islands of Chek Lap Kok, Lantau, and Lamma showed that metal was worked locally. During the Bronze Age, pottery was made at high temperatures and adorned with geometric designs.

Besides crafts and tools, ancient Chinese writings have also been found around Hong Kong Island and on some of the smaller, mostly uninhabited islands. These writings depict the lives of maritime people that resembled those in China's southeastern coastal areas, proposing that they might be of mutual origins.

At the time of the Qin (221 - 206BC) and Han (206BC - AD220) dynasties, parties of people from the mainland came and settled in Hong Kong. They brought with them their heritage, which made an impact on the indigenous populations. Coins of the Han period have been discovered in Hong Kong, and a brick tomb was uncovered at Kowloon's Lei Cheng Uk in 1955 with a series of Han tomb furniture. Many other discoveries and excavations reveal relations between various Chinese dynasties of the past with Hong Kong that have already been historically recorded.

Western influence in China came about at the beginning of the 15th and 16th centuries due to the increased trade in Chinese products, such as silk and tea through the Silk Road that stretched from northwestern China to eastern Europe. The Europeans were interested in Hong Kong's safe harbor located on the trade routes of the Far East, thus establishing a trade enterprise between Western businessmen and China. The Portuguese were the first to reach China in 1555, but the British dominated foreign trade in the southern region of Guangzhou (Canton) during the early stages of Western connection in China.

Ships from the British East India Company were stationed on the Indian Coast after Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty opened trade on a limited basis in Guangzhou. Fifteen years later, the company was allowed to build a storage warehouse outside Guangzhou. The westerners were given limited preferences and had to adhere to many Chinese rules and policies. Until the trading season ended, they could only live in certain areas in Guangzhou, and were forbidden from bringing arms, warships, or women. Chinese rulers also banned foreigners from learning the Chinese language in fear of their potential bad influences.

Chinese commodities, namely porcelains and landscaped-furnishings, were popular among the European aristocrats. The British East India Company tried to equalize its huge purchases from China by doubling its sale of opium to the Chinese. The sale of opium saw a huge success by the beginning of the 19th Century. Fearful of the outflow of silver, the Chinese emperor banned the drug trade in 1799 but to no avail. Smuggling came about as neither foreign traders nor Guangdong merchants were inclined to forego the profitable business. Throughout the next few years, the British enjoyed a fruition of success from opium. When they lost monopoly of the trade, other foreign traders stepped into the illegal opium business for a share of wealth.

In 1839, Lin Zexu was appointed by the emperor as a special commissioner to Guangzhou to stop the drug trade. He and his troops used force to impel the foreign factories to surrender their stocks of opium. This act was the stepping stone to the First Opium War when the Chinese and the British could not comply with one another's demands. As a result of the war and the Chinese' fear of British military threats, Hong Kong was rewarded to the British under the Convention of Chuen Pi in January 1841. On January 26, 1841, the British flag was raised at Possession Point on Hong Kong Island, and British occupation began. A few months later, officials were selling plots of land and the colonization of Hong Kong took flight.

Hong Kong inaugurated Sir Henry Pottinger as its first governor in August 1841. Despite British cynicism, Pottinger dedicated his time to building up Hong Kong's future as he realized its potential. He inspired long-term building projects and awarded land grants. In order to make peace with the Chinese, he sent his troops to the Chang Jiang (Yangtzi River) and threatened to attack Nanjing (Nanking). In August 1842, the Chinese yielded and the two governments signed the Treaty of Nanjing, which officially gave Hong Kong to the British. The Chuen Pi Convention was never signed and therefore never legal. With that, Hong Kong carried on to progress as a port and under British influences, it became one of the greatest port cities the world has ever seen.

With the involvement of the British, Hong Kong prospered. Many companies transferred from Guangzhou to Hong Kong, enabling the British colony to begin a prime Asian entrepot. Hostilities between the British and the Chinese of China continued to heighten, leading to the Second Opium War. Subsequently, other foreign nationals - Russia, France, Germany, and Japan - realized the importance of having easy access to trade with China and began to secure ports all along the Chinese coastline. Several treaties were signed between the different nationals. Later, British took possession of the New Territories, which was declared a part of the overall territory of Hong Kong.

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