Daniel Halliday
Dec 2 · Last update 1 mo. ago.
How did Hong Kong become part of the British Empire?
Today Hong Kong has the largest number of skyscrapers in the world, has the 7th longest life expectancy in the world and is ranked 7th most developed on the UN Human Development Index. But how did this special administrative region of China become part of the British Empire in the 19th century and what effect did this have on modern Hong Kong?
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During an era of colonialism
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Failed Chinese foreign policy
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The First Opium War
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During an era of colonialism

The region around Hong Kong had been repeatedly conquered since ancient times when the area repeatedly changed hands between the Vietnamese, Mongols and various Chinese dynasties. This was largely due to the area being significant both strategically and economically, something that became increasingly important in the age of colonialism starting in the 16th century. Being so close to China, a region of popular commodities such as tea, silk and porcelain, it was inevitable that a colonial power would eventually try to secure control in the region, and it is not a surprise that the largest colonial power, the British Empire, would do this in 1842.

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Failed Chinese foreign policy

European trade started with Portugal’s establishment of trading posts in the early 16th century leading to the permanent lease of Macau in 1557, and the beginning of colonialism in the region. But Qing Chinese authorities, seeking to restrict European trade, established the Canton System in 1757, which eventually lead to authorities destroying British opium stockpiles. This heavy handed approach crippled trade, and the destruction of property left Britain with little other choice and made military intervention inevitable, leading to the Treaty of Nanking and the exchange of Hong Kong to become a British territory.

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The First Opium War

The 18th century saw a boom in Chinese commodities across Europe leading to a trade deficit as interest in European manufactured goods was scant in China. The British East India Company answered this trade deficit by selling large quantities of Indian Opium in Canton. When China tried to exercise its civil right to stop a growing drug crisis, Britain lead China to the First Opium War and started the pattern of ‘gunboat diplomacy’ that lead to Britain’s aggressive imperialistic rampage around the world.

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