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Hong Kong History

Hong Kong’s status as one of the world’s leading ports is drawn for a long history dating back over 2,000 years. Subsumed by China’s Qin dynasty between 221 and 206BC, the modern territory of Hong Kong developed into a key trading post. It flourished under the Tang Dynasty, receiving the brutal attentions of invading Mongol hoards in 1276 during the Song dynasty.

The arrival of Portuguese merchants in the 16th century saw foreign trade become an essential cornerstone of the area’s economy, before Chinese rulers enforced an isolationist policy, banning business with outsiders. It wasn’t until the early nineteenth century that Hong Kong once again became a vital place for foreign trade, changing the course of history in this corner of Asia until the present day.

China’s refusal to allow opium imports from British traders led to the first opium war of 1839, leading to Britain occupying Hong Kong in 1842 and raising the Union flag over the city. A long period of colonial rule began, with the UK handed control of the territory under the Treaty of Nanking.

British control extended further following the second opium war, leading to the area of Kowloon being added to the colony in 1860. By 1898, relations with China had thawed enough to allow the signing of a 99 year lease for Hong Kong.

Hong Kong’s population boomed in the early 20th century as it established itself as a global port. In 1941, however, the city fell to Japanese forces that were not removed until the end of WWII. The post–war years saw Hong Kong grow upwards as slums were converted into high rise tower blocks, while strict border controls were implemented with now Communist China.

The British officially handed Hong Kong back to China in July 1997. The Chinese agreed to run the city and its territories, now a Special Administrative Area, under a ‘one country, two systems’ principle, allowing for a judiciary and the rule of law. Democracy, however, remains managed by a few, with 2014 seeing protests demanding universal suffrage for the election of Hong Kong’s chief executive.

Did you know?
• Hong Kong suffers from typhoons, the most fierce of which ripped through the city in 1937, killing 11,000 people.
• Hong Kong is the name of the region, not the city. Victoria, on the north of the main island, is the capital.
• The tram system dates back to 1902.

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Featured Hotels


Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong

The Mandarin Oriental, which overlooks Victoria Harbour from its perch right in the middle of Central, is a Hong Kong institution. The 501 rooms are known for their elegance, and its tearooms and buffets also enjoy a loyal following. The lobby has style to spare with a somewhat recherché art deco flavour.

W Hong Kong

This design-led Hong Kong hotel offers incredible skyline views from all 393 rooms. The interior draws on inspiration from the environment with tree-like columns in the main entrance, and the rooftop swimming pool on the 76th floor is one of the highest in the world. Its plush lounge, the Living Room, is great too.

The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong

 The five star hotel offers magnificent city or harbor views from all 312 guest rooms. It is an elevated luxury experience to stay in one of the most distinctive five star hotels in the Tsim Sha Tsui area of Hong Kong. A contemporary and exclusive haven of East meets West modern décor, highlighted by local artwork.

Espace Elastique B&B

Finding a cheap homey B&B is more challenging in Hong Kong than most major Asian cities. Thankfully Espace Elastique fits the bill. Situated on Lantau Island in the village of Tai O it only has two rooms which can be found round the back of the charming little restaurant run by the hotel's owner. There's even a rooftop with loungers.

Hotel ICON

 This 4.5 star hotel is situated in the heart of Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, offering a unique window on Hong Kong and the most vibrant and genuine experience of city life. It provides delicious local and international cuisine, cocktails on the club floor, a stylish pool and also spa floor.

J Plus Hotel by YOO

Meaning 'home' in Mandarin, JIA is the first boutique hotel in Asia designed by Philippe Starck. This Hong Kong hotel has 32 studios and 24 suites including two luxurious duplex penthouses, all of which include fully equipped kitchens, marble bathrooms and home theatre systems. Guests are also entitled to exclusive perks such as entry to slick private members clubs, complementary champagne in selected bars, and a free harbour cruise.