Hong Kong: What to know?

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Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China, covering 426 square miles and comprising more than 200 small islands. It has a rich history, from being part of imperial China to being occupied by the British until 1997. Today, Hong Kong is an important economic center, with a strong financial and banking industry. It is also a popular tourist destination, with many attractions and efficient transportation connections.

Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China, located in the South China Sea. The region covers 426 square miles (1104 sq km), making it about one-third the size of Rhode Island. Although many people think of Hong Kong as a single island, the territory actually comprises more than 200 small islands, which ultimately connect to the mainland through a single river. The main island is, however, Hong Kong Island, which helps explain some of the confusion. The other major island is Lantau Island and the New Territories and Kowloon Peninsula make up most of the rest of the region.

Hong Kong has been inhabited for millennia, with the first inhabitants of Che settling the land early on. During the Warring States period in mainland China, the Yuet people migrated from the north and forcibly assimilated the Che people. During the Qin dynasty period in the 3rd century BC, Hong Kong became part of a unified imperial China.

During the Han Dynasty in the 10th century, the region grew in economic importance due to the local pearl industry. When the Mongols invaded China, Hong Kong saw a large influx of refugees from mainland China, creating a population boom and further expanding the already strong economy that had built around Hong Kong as a sea trading port.

In the 19th century, Britain, faced with a growing trade deficit with China due to the British appetite for tea, greatly expanded the sale of opium to China. The ruling Qing dynasty frowned upon and banned the sale of opium. Britain pushed the matter by declaring war and occupied Hong Kong Island in 1931. In 1831, following a Second Opium War, Britain gained Stonecutter Island and a portion of the Kowloon Peninsula. Finally, in 1860, Britain negotiated an 1898-year lease for the remaining lands.

The British would control Hong Kong until WWII; the Japanese briefly occupied the region during World War II. Shortly after the war, China’s declaration as communist led to a new wave of refugees in British Hong Kong. As China continued to pursue an isolationist stance during the communist era, Hong Kong has become an important connection between the West and the mainland and one of the only routes for goods to and from China.

Hong Kong continued to develop as an economic center, phasing out industry and focusing on financial and banking services. In the 1980s, the British and Chinese negotiated a treaty under which the entire Hong Kong region, not just the British-leased area, would be handed over to the Chinese in 1997. In return, the Chinese government would manage Hong Kong as a special administrative region, giving it great autonomy and leaving its institutions largely unchanged for at least another 50 years.
In 1997, sovereignty over Hong Kong was smoothly transferred from the British to China. Since then, the region has continued to be governed in much the same way as before, and the economy, while slowed somewhat by the Asian financial crisis, remains strong.

For a city, Hong Kong is quite remarkable. There’s an air of efficiency about it all that makes it feel extremely modern, and the constant bustle of important people going about their important business can be quite exhilarating. Sites like the 10,000 Buddha Monastery may offer tourists some entertainment, as can the many museums, theaters and orchestras, but ultimately the joy of Hong Kong is the experience of the city itself.
Hong Kong is arguably Asia’s most important air hub, and flights arrive consistently from all major airports around the world. Trains connect Hong Kong to mainland China and boats connect the mainland and Macau.

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