Archaeological remains of pottery, stone implements, rings, and bronzes found on more than 20 sites are evidence of settlements in Neolithic times. The earliest modern peoples in Hong Kong are thought to have come from North China in the 2nd millennium bce. The Cantonese began to settle in the area about 100 bce; later came the Hakka, and by the mid-17th century the Hoklo had arrived. Hong Kong was the scene of the last struggles between the declining Ming dynasty and the rising Qing, led by the Manchu.
Before the British arrived in the mid-19th century, Hong Kong Island was inhabited only by a small fishing population, with few features to recommend it for settlement. It lacked fertile soil and fresh water, was mountainous, and was reputed to be a notorious haunt of pirates. But it was a relatively safe and undisturbed base for the British merchants who in 1821 began to use the fine harbour to anchor opium-carrying vessels. The great commercial and strategic significance of this deep, sheltered harbour, possessing east and west entrances and lying on the main trade routes of the Far East, was quickly realized. After the first Opium War (1839–42), Hong Kong Island was ceded to Britain by the Treaty of Nanjing.
The British were never satisfied with an incomplete control of the harbour, however. Less than 20 years later, after the second Opium War (1856–60), China was forced to cede the Kowloon Peninsula south of what is now Boundary Street and Stonecutters Island by the Convention of Beijing (1860). By the Convention of 1898, the New Territories together with 235 islands were leased to Britain for 99 years from July 1, 1898. With this expansion of territory, Hong Kong’s population leaped to 120,000 in 1861 and to more than 300,000 by the end of the century. "Hong Kong" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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