Hong Kong Travel Guide
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Hong Kong consists of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, and the New Territories. The Kowloon Peninsula is attached to the New Territories in the north, and the New Territories are in turn connected to the mainland of China across the Sham Chun River. In total, Hong Kong has 236 islands in the South China Sea, of which Lantau is the largest and Hong Kong Island the second largest and most populated. The island of Ap Lei Chau is the most densely populated space in the world.

Hong Kong has the big city specials like smog, odour, 14 million elbows and an insane love of clatter. The transport network is excellent, the shopping centres are sublime, and the temples and quiet corners of parks are contemplative oases. From the vantage point of Victoria Peak, overlooking the world's busiest deepwater port, you can see a city geared not only to making money but feeling good about it. At night, it's like looking down into a volcano. The best thing about being in Hong Kong is getting flummoxed and fired by the confluences and contradictions of a Chinese city with multi-Asian and Western elements. It's about savouring new tastes, weaving through a human gridlock and humming some dumb Cantopop tune while slurping your noodles.

Facts in a glance

Area: 1,098 sq km
Population: 6.7 million
Country: China
Time Zone: GMT/UTC +8 (Hong Kong Standard Time)
Telephone Area Code: 852

History

Although it was occupied at least since the Neolithic Age, the territory of today's Hong Kong remained distant from the major events unfolding in imperial China for most of its history. It began attracting worldwide attention in the 19th century.

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.

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.

221 - 206 BC: At the time of the Qin 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.

15th and 16th centuries: Western influence in China came about at the beginning 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.

1555: The Portuguese were the first to reach China, 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.

1799: Fearful of the outflow of silver, the Chinese emperor banned the drug trade 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.

Prior to the arrival of the British, Hong Kong was a small fishing community and a haven for travellers and pirates in the South China Sea. During the Opium Wars with China in the Nineteenth Century, Britain used the territory as a naval base.

1842: Following the end of the first Opium War, the Treaty of Nanking ceded Hong Kong to Britain in perpetuity. Sir Henry Pottinger, whose name can be found on a street in Central district, was its first governor. Following additional conflicts with the Chinese in 1860 Britain gained Kowloon and Stonecutters Island. In 1898 Britain acquired the New Territories on a 99-year lease. Settlement in the territory grew slowly with the population rose from 32,983 in 1851 to 878,947 in 1931.

1912: During the teens and twenties of this century, Hong Kong served as a refuge for exiles from China following the establishment of the Chinese Republic in this year.

1932: Japan seized Manchuria, the Sino-Japanese war broke out in 1937. Throughout the late thirties, as Japan advanced into China, hundreds of thousands of Chinese took refuge in Hong Kong. It was estimated that some 100,000 refugees entered in 1937, 500,000 in 1938 and 150,000 in 1939,bringing Hong Kong's population at the outbreak of World War II to an estimated 1.6 million. It was thought that at the height of the influx, about 500,000 people were sleeping in the streets.

1941: World War II again disrupted the social and economic life of Hong Kong. On Christmas Day, the British army surrendered Hong Kong to the Japanese. U.S. submarines foiled Japanese plans to use Hong Kong as a staging area for assaults further into East Asia.

1945: Following Japan's surrender on August 14, Britain reclaimed the territory. After the Japanese surrender, Chinese civilians returned at the rate of almost 100,000 a month. The population, which by August 1945 had been reduced to about 600,000, rose by the end of 1947 to an estimated 1.8 million.

1948-49: The forces of the Chinese Nationalist Government began to face defeat in civil war at the hands of the communists, Hong Kong received an influx unparalleled in its history. Hundreds of thousands of people - mainly from Guangdong province, Shanghai and other commercial centres - entered the territory during 1949 and the spring of 1950, the population had swelled to an estimated 2.2 million. Since then, it has continued to rise and now totals six million.

1997: Pursuant to an agreement signed by the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the United Kingdom (UK) on December 19, 1984, the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the whole territory of Hong Kong under British colonial rule became the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the PRC on July 1. In the Joint Declaration, the PRC promised that under the "One Country, Two Systems" policy proposed by Deng Xiaoping, the socialist economic system in China would not be practised in Hong Kong and Hong Kong's previous capitalist system and life-style shall remained unchanged for 50 years (until 2047). Hong Kong would enjoy a high degree of autonomy in all matters except foreign affairs and defence.

2003: concerns about the proposed anti-subversion bill that would have eroded freedom of the press, of religion and of association arising from Hong Kong Basic Law Article 23 and the unpopularity of Tung Chee Hwa and his officials, plus dissatisfaction about the poor state of the economy, prompted 1 million people to march on July 1, making it the largest protest aimed at mainland China ever in the history of Hong Kong.

2005: In March 10, Tung Chee Hwa submitted to the State Council his resignation report as chief executive of the Hong Kong. Tung Chee Hwa left his post as HKSAR Chief Executive two days later, on March 12, 2005. Donald Tsang, the Chief Secretary for Administration of Hong Kong, is currently serving as acting Chief Executive following Tung Chee Hwa's resignation. The election of the new Chief Executive is expected to be held on July 10, 2005 and the new Chief Executive should serve the remaining term of Tung Chee Hwa.

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