Today, the designated Hong Kong Special Administrative Region encompasses a peninsula and collection of small islands along the east side of the Pearl River delta, including Hong Kong Island. Over the last 200 years this region has grown from a small collection of unconnected fishing villages to one of the largest financial centers in the world. While Hong Kong harbor continues to serve as an important port for East Asian shipping lanes, the region’s importance has shifted to serving as a center for international business and finance. The region’s recent history as a shipping Mecca is best illustrated by the name “Hone Kong”, which is a romanization of its Cantonese name meaning “fragrant harbor”.
Archeologists have found evidence of a human presence in and around Hong Kong dating back almost 39,000 years. Neolithic artifacts suggest that the tribes who lived in this region had vastly different cultures than those of the cotemporaneous northern peoples, which is not difficult to understand considering the vast distance between the two. This distance was eventually overcome, and Hong Kong first became part of imperial China when the local tribes of this region were conquered by the Qin dynasty more than 2,000 years ago. For most of its imperial history, Hong Kong enjoyed relative obscurity as a small collection of fishing villages distant from the capitals of succeeding Chinese dynasties.
The story of modern Hong Kong and the role it now plays in the world began with end of the First Opium War, when Hong Kong Island was among the list of concessions given to the British Crown by the Qing government, as numerated in the Treaty of Nanking (1842). Once more the prize of imperial conquest, Hong Kong entered a period of enormous growth in size and importance; displacing Macao as the most important entrepot in East Asia. After being reclaimed by the British from Japanese occupation during World War II, Hong Kong’s growing population shifted their economy to industry by producing textiles for export. With the opening of the People’s Republic of China starting in the 1970s and their large manufacturing sector, Hong Kong has shifted again to international business and finance. In 1984, the Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed, which pledged the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China in 1997. Hong Kong was thus made a special administrative region of the PRC, and will retain its laws and relative autonomy for 50 years following the hand over.
Today, Hong Kong is a hub of international business and finance. The region’s famous harbor remains in use, but no longer holds the importance that it used to. Now the most important business takes place not in the water, but in the numerous skyscrapers that populate the region’s cityscape. The culture and architecture of the city reflects its traditional Chinese ancestry mixed with a century of colonialism. Some refer to Hong Kong as the city where “East meets West”, and no matter what government holds sovereignty, it remains culturally and economically an international city.