For over one hundred years Hong Kong was a colony of the British Crown, and before the Hong Kong handover in 1997, Britain’s last glimmer of Empire. Britain had won the island and leased the New Territories in 1839 and 1898, after defeating China during the first Opium War. In 1997 the hundred year lease on Kowloon and the New Territories was up, and Britain negotiated the Hong Kong handover.
In negotiating the Hong Kong handover, the British had no real option of not returning the island. China was eager to take back what it saw as an embarrassment in its history, and was backed by international support. Perversely, while Hong Kongers felt an allegiance to China, there was no real appetite to return the world’s most capitalist city to a communist country. Concerns about civil liberties and the rights of Hong Kongers after the handover were rife, particularly after the Tiananmen Square Massacre. To try and assuage the local populations fear, the British negotiated with the Chinese the Basic Law, the premise of which was to assure ‘Hong Kong’s Capitalist Way of Life’ for at least fifty years with a number of laws and measures.
Hong Kong was for most of its life a colony, ruled by a Governor, dispatched by the British Houses of Parliament. As the handover to China approached, the local population demanded more control over their own affairs. In response, the British introduced a semi-parliament and the post of Chief Executive. But Hong Kong’s style of government is an uncomfortable form of democracy, where some people can vote, but have no control over who wins.
One of the most popular questions about the Hong Kong Handover is what has exactly changed in Hong Kong, since the Chinese took sovereignty. From the Queens picture being taken down, to a change in color on the post boxes, Hong Kong did have a British spring clean after the handover.
Britain effectively built the city of Hong Kong from scratch. From a rocky outpost to a gleaming icon of capitalism, the British, on arrival erected some of the British Empires most elegant buildings. While many have fallen to progress, the city still boasts some beautiful reminders of its British past. You can see the best on this half-day tour.
The 10th Anniversary of the Hong Kong handover sees the city go into party mode, with over 500 events planned for the city. We’ve hand selected some of the best.