Two Months to Go to the 2008 Olympic Games: A Little about Hong Kong
RELEASE: June 10, 2008
AUTHOR/ADMINISTRATOR: By Louise Parkes
It may be difficult to believe, but in just over eight weeks' time the equestrian events of the 2008 Olympic Games will be getting under way in Hong Kong after a whirlwind of frantic preparations. People from all around the world will be winging their way to the Asian city, which, just 11 years ago, was handed back to China after 156 years of British rule, and visitors are in for a real treat as they savor the unique mixture of Asian and Western culture.
Hong Kong lies on the south-eastern coast of China and covers 425 square miles, or 1,100 square kilometers. Described as a Special Administrative Region of China following the British handover in 1997, it consists of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon Peninsula and the New Territories. Hong Kong Island lies just south of Kowloon, separated by Victoria Harbour, while the New Territories, which includes more than 260 outlying islands, lies north of Kowloon and reaches to the border with the Chinese mainland.
Originally a collection of small fishing villages, Hong Kong was colonized by Britain in 1841. The Convention of Chuenpeh, signed in January 1841, gave Britain preliminary cession, but it was the Treaties of Nanjing and Tianjin that sealed the fate of, firstly, Hong Kong Island itself, and then Kowloon. Also known as the Unequal Treaties, the agreements resulted from the Opium Wars, or Anglo-Chinese Wars, which lasted from 1839 to 1842 and again from 1856 to 1860—a trade dispute between China, under the Qing Dynasty, and the United Kingdom.
Because of the high demand for tea, silk and porcelain in Britain and the low demand for British commodities in China, the British developed a large trade deficit and had to pay for Chinese goods with silver, which didn't sit very well with them at all. So the export of opium from British India was initiated in a successful effort to reverse the trade imbalance, but with devastating effects on the many Chinese people who became addicted to the juice of the poppy seed, which, today, continues to be used in the altered form of heroin.
The Chinese hero in this sordid period was a brilliant and highly moral official called Lin Tse-Hsua, who, invulnerable to bribery and still hailed as a champion in his homeland today, took action against Chinese merchants and Western traders in an effort to put an end to the drug-trafficking. He wrote to Queen Victoria in protest, threatened to sever trade relations with England and started trying to expel British citizens. In 1830 he confiscated a warehouse full of opium in Canton, throwing 20,000 chests into the ocean, and when an attempt was made to turn away an English merchant vessel in 1839, the threat of confrontation loomed even larger. It became a reality the following year when British gunboats attacked Chinese coastal cities as the First Opium War began, while the French, Russians and Americans joined in support of the British during the Second Opium War four years later.
It was in 1898 that the 99-year lease of the New Territories began, allowing Hong Kong to spread its wings a little further. The colony was already prospering and expanding and was becoming famous as a secure Asian hub for banking, shipping and insurance. Kowloon however had little water or arable land so Great Britain joined the multitude of other nations now demanding more territory from China. But the New Territories were not given in perpetuity and, as the expiry of the lease drew near, discussions took place during which China's Deng Xiao Ping expressed his determination to ensure that the entire region would be returned at the same time. On 1December 19, 1984, Britain and China agreed that Hong Kong would become a Special Administrative Region, with China allowing an unprecedented measure of autonomy and leaving the existing social and economic systems intact for the next 50 years. "One Country, Two Systems" became the catch-phrase to describe the policy, and o