According to archaeological studies initiated in the 1920s, human activity
on Hong Kong dates back over five millennia. Excavated neolithic artifacts
suggest an influence from northern Chinese stone-age cultures. The territory
was settled by Han Chinese during the seventh century, A.D., evidenced
by the discovery of an ancient tomb at Lei Cheung Uk in Kowloon. The first
major migration from northern China to Hong Kong occurred during the Sung
Dynasty (960-1279). The British East India Company made the first successful
sea venture to China in 1699, and Hong Kong's trade with British merchants
developed rapidly soon after. After the Chinese defeat in the First Opium
War (1839-42), Hong Kong was ceded to Britain in 1842 under the Treaty
of Nanking. Britain was granted a perpetual lease on the Kowloon Peninsula
under the 1860 Convention of Beijing, which formally ended hostilities
in the Second Opium War (1856-58). The United Kingdom, concerned that Hong
Kong could not be defended unless surrounding areas also were under British
control, executed a 99-year lease of the New Territories in 1898, significantly
expanding the size of the Hong Kong colony.
In the late 19th century and early 20th centuries, Hong Kong developed
as a warehousing and distribution center for U.K. trade with southern China.
After the end of World War II and the communist takeover of Mainland China
in 1949, hundreds of thousands of people fled from China to Hong Kong.
Hong Kong became an economic success and a manufacturing, commercial, finance,
and tourism center. High life expectancy, literacy, per capita income,
and other socioeconomic measures attest to Hong Kong's achievements over
the last five decades.
On July 1, 1997, China resumed the exercise of sovereignty over Hong
Kong, ending more than 150 years of British colonial rule. Hong Kong is
a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China with
a high degree of autonomy in all matters except foreign and defense affairs.
According to the Sino-British Joint Declaration (1984) and the Basic Law
for 50 years after reversion Hong Kong will retain its political, economic,
and judicial systems and unique way of life and will continue to participate
in international agreements and organizations under the name, "Hong Kong,
The 2000 elections were seen as free, open, and widely contested, although
there was criticism that the functional constituency and election committee
elections were undemocratic because so few voters were eligible to vote.
In July 2002, the Hong Kong Government implemented the Principal Officials
Accountability System, which was designed to make the government more responsive
to public concerns, and added a layer of 11 political appointees, directly
responsible to the Chief Executive, to run the 11 policy bureaus. Three
other senior civil service positions--the Chief Secretary, Financial Secretary,
and Justice Secretary--also were converted to political appointments, although
without a change in personnel.