Why did the UK leave Hong Kong?

Hong Kong

On June 30, 1997, Hong Kong was returned to China by the United Kingdom after 156 years of colonial rule. It had developed separately from the mainland for a century and a half, yet remained closely linked to it. In Western literature, Hong Kong is often described as a successful synthesis between East and West. Chinese authors tend to emphasize the clash between cultures. [1] For the West, colonial Hong Kong offered the opportunity to get to know Chinese culture. In the 19th century, European merchants and missionaries experienced the crown colony as the gateway to the Chinese Empire. Here one could prepare linguistically and culturally for the foreign "Middle Kingdom". Conversely, Hong Kong's Chinese population, who have largely immigrated from the mainland since the colony was founded in 1841, became familiar with Western culture thanks to the English education system. Many Chinese emigrants prepared from Hong Kong for a life overseas.

Before 1949, the founding year of the People's Republic of China, Hong Kong served as a base for opponents of the ruling powers in China, until 1911 the monarchy, then the republic. The local Chinese notable elite, along with the more open-minded British colonial officials and Western missionaries, formed an increasingly influential group of transcultural middlemen. [2] This group of people symbolizes Hong Kong's unique position between cultures. It would still be an exaggeration to speak of a successful West-East synthesis. To explain this is the aim of the following historical overview.

From fishing village to colonial metropolis

When the first representatives of the British colonial power occupied the island of Hong Kong in 1841, they were by no means - as the long-cultivated colonial founding myth said - "founding fathers" who conquered an inhospitable rock. Centuries earlier, the region had developed into an interregional trade hub, with contacts reaching as far as Southeast Asia, India and the Persian Gulf. [3] Chinese archaeologists date the first human settlements to the 4th millennium BC. With the conquest of the island by the troops of the first Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang Di (ruled 259 to 210 BC) around 214, the assimilation of the local population into Chinese culture began. Under the Han dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD), the region was elevated to a prefecture. While fleeing from conquerors from the north, five clan families settled on the island of Hong Kong in the 12th century. The inscriptions of their ancestral halls and village temples as well as grave finds and genealogies are among the most important social historical sources of Hong Kong's pre-colonial history. [4]

The social and economic life in the villages ruled by a clan was regulated by market regulations that were kept in village temples. [5] In 1394, the Ming dynasty built defenses against pirate attacks. They were incorporated into a comprehensive defense system in Guangdong Province in 1540. The Imperial Coast Guard not only fought against piracy from Hong Kong, but also tried from 1521 to prevent the penetration of Europeans into the region, initially the Portuguese, who, however, a few decades later opened a trading post in nearby Macau. [6] The last dynastic change of power in the history of China triggered a movement of refugees to Hong Kong for members of the Hakka people, who were spread across southeast China, in the middle of the 17th century. When British soldiers went ashore in Hong Kong in January 1841, just over 7,000 people were living there, including 2,000 "boat people". [7]

After the most important commodity of the island, the smoking wood (Chinese: xiang), the port became (gear) named: Xianggang, "fragrant harbor", as Hong Kong is still called today in standard Chinese. The British later carried this name from the port to the entire island. [8] With the expansion of the port by the British colonial power, the urban development of Hong Kong began and continues to this day. The basis for this was the Treaty of Nanjing, with which the First Opium War (1839 to 1842) between China and Great Britain formally ended in 1842 and the island was awarded "in perpetuity" to the United Kingdom as spoils of war ] As a "crown colony", Hong Kong was directly subordinate to the London government - that is, not administered from India - and henceforth ruled by a governor in an authoritarian manner. [10]

Under the protection of British law, European merchants quickly expanded their international trade, which they had been conducting from the neighboring canton (Guangzhou) under restrictive conditions and under strict Chinese supervision since the mid-18th century. In constant competition with the simultaneously up-and-coming Shanghai, Hong Kong became one of the two most important export-import centers on the Chinese coast. Throughout the 19th century, a few large companies set the tone, above all Jardine Matheson & Co., which began in the opium trade and by the turn of the century had grown into a company that was not only active in trade, but also in the fields Industry, finance, shipping and railroad. [11] Hong Kong developed into a free trade metropolis in two senses: On the one hand, the colonial state refrained from regulating trade through tariffs; on the other hand, the colony served as a base for "opening" the Chinese market to foreign economic actors who enjoyed various legal privileges there.

The foreign companies cooperated with local partners, whose language skills, familiarity with Chinese business customs, contacts in the interior and often capital strength were essential for successful business. This created a small Chinese trading elite that benefited from the colonial order. The cooperation between the British colonial government and Chinese dignitaries became an important element and instrument for the long-term stabilization of colonial rule. [12] The laissez-faire principle, which the Chinese upper class also knew how to use for itself, represented a functioning strategy to hold together Hong Kong's ethnically divided Chinese and European society. It gave the city's Chinese population a great deal of economic and social room to maneuver.

The governor's strong position remained unaffected by social dynamism and was hardly challenged until well into the 20th century. All correspondence between the colonial administration and London ran through him. At the same time, it was London's only source of information about the situation on the ground. One council, the legislative council, only had an advisory role. Its members were appointed by the governor. The colonial administration grew continuously: between 1914 and 1939 alone, the number of jobs rose from 4,447 to 10004, with a growing proportion of Chinese employees. [13] Hong Kong was considered a less attractive post among British colonial officials and members of the army. Its tropical climate and poor sanitary conditions often led to epidemics with many deaths, including among the privileged foreign population. The colonial government was happy to leave social services in the health and education sector, which addressed the local population, to the numerous Christian missionary societies. [14]

Hong Kong became an important labor market for seafarers and transport workers. It acted as a migration magnet for the closer provinces. A few years after the colony was founded, the original islanders became a minority. The wealthier among the mainland immigrants joined in commercial associations (hongs), of which there were already 65 in 1859. They continued to be committed to their hometowns and made generous donations to philanthropic projects, public works and medical relief efforts both in the old homeland and in the colony. However, most of them had left the Chinese state voluntarily and were no longer subjects of the emperor, but of Queen Victoria. By the end of the 19th century at the latest, this social group had developed its own identity as Hong Kong Chinese. [15] Not all newcomers stayed in town. Hong Kong developed into one of the most important Chinese emigration ports in the second half of the 19th century. 1.8 million Chinese emigrated from there to the United States between 1855 and 1900. The overseas Chinese, long established in Southeast Asia, America and Australia, promoted the expansion of global trade networks with Hong Kong as an important hub. [16] Chinese import-export companies, of which there were already 395 in 1881, organized the international transfer of goods with increasing independence from foreign trading houses and often in competition with them. [17] As long as public order was maintained, the British colonial government gave its Chinese subjects a high degree of personal and business autonomy.

Colonial society

Despite the prominent position of the governor, the colonial system was not a "strong" state. Neighborhood Associations (kaifong) and temple communities formed the core of indispensable local self-government. One of the central problems from the beginning was the high crime rate in the colony. The British-Indian police mostly did not understand Cantonese Chinese and avoided certain areas. Population protests were one of the central elements of Hong Kong's history and were by no means always unsuccessful. As early as 1844, the introduction of a poll tax, which was intended to curb the influx of Chinese migrants and generally increase control over the population, triggered the first "general strike". The withdrawal of the measure by the colonial government was a collective sense of achievement that strengthened the sense of community among the Chinese - as well as the solidarity between the immigrants from the mainland and the local Chinese population.

The temple communities and merchants' guilds as well as the district guards led by committees formed basic elements of the Chinese social structure in Hong Kong. In addition, the Tung Wah Hospital, founded in 1872, was of outstanding importance within the Chinese self-government of the city. [18] In addition to medical care, it also offered social services: shelters were created for the poor and the sick, and burials were organized for the dead. Shipwrecked, abused women, orphans and homeless people found refuge here, as did disappointed returnees from overseas. Tung-Wah was also engaged in philanthropy in various crisis areas in the Chinese Empire. Its leading figures received numerous imperial honors and titles for this. The success of Tung-Wah symbolizes the rise of a local elite of Hong Kong Chinese who not only gained respect among many of their compatriots, but was also recognized by the colonial government. There are numerous cases in which it allied itself with the colonial power against the interests and protests of the poorer classes.

The vast majority of the Chinese population earned their living as small traders, shopkeepers, servants or workers (pens) and experienced British colonial rule as oppressive and unjust. [19] Protests and strikes were frequent. For example, in July 1872 the levying of license fees for the administration of coolie quarters triggered a strike by the porters, which brought the port operations to a standstill and only through the mediation of the Kaifong-Guide could be enclosed. Xenophobic protests often related to political events in China itself, such as the Sino-French War of 1884/85, which led to strikes by dockers. Hong Kong's Chinese population was easily mobilized politically.

The British education system contributed significantly to the development of an independent Chinese identity that was different from the mainland. Those who could afford it sent their children to one of the numerous private schools or to a mission school. Access to an English school education was used by many upper-class Chinese as preparation for studying abroad. The more important European competence became in China, the more senior positions in the administration of the empire attracted returnees. The western educated elite of ethnic Chinese remained excluded from the social activities of the upper class for a long time: just one example of the everyday racism characteristic of British colonies. Conversely, missionaries were the only group of foreigners who actively contacted the Chinese people and learned their language and script. Some of them published dictionaries and translations of Chinese classics and made an important contribution to the development of Sinology.

The relationship of the Hong Kong Chinese to their colonial rulers remained ambivalent: on the one hand, they enjoyed the security of the crown colony - in contrast to their country people, who were threatened by uprisings, civil wars and natural disasters - on the other hand, they repeatedly demonstrated solidarity with reformers and rebels in China, whom the official ones British politics were often aloof. For a long time, the colonial government itself rejected Chinese participation in the ruling apparatus. However, the growing economic strength of the Chinese elite led to the first concessions in the late 19th century. In 1880, the lawyer Wu Tingfang, who was born in Singapore and trained in Great Britain, was the first Chinese to be appointed to the Legislative Council: a first step towards inclusion, which was slowly followed by others. [20]

Hong Kong's population grew from 33,000 in 1851 to 386,000 in 1901, reaching around 840,000 in 1931. [21] The strong increase in population and the differentiation of urban economic life made the colony's society more complex and heterogeneous. The range of social forms ranged from criminal and underground secret societies such as the triads, which mainly attracted their members from the lower classes, to a new elite of young business people, trained specialists and intellectuals emerging around 1900 who were modernization-oriented and open to Westerners Culture were. Colonial conflicts such as the Sino-Japanese War (1894/95), the Boxer Rebellion (1900) and the anti-imperial boycott movements from 1905 to 1908 contributed to their politicization.

Hong Kong and the Chinese Revolution

China's defeats in the wars against the western colonial powers and Japan also sparked support in Hong Kong for reform initiatives on the mainland designed to strengthen China's resilience. The general population responded with xenophobic boycotts and strikes; the educated upper class called for institutional reforms to the ailing system of rule of the Manchurian Qing dynasty. Hong Kong's reformers experienced British liberalism in their hometown; many of them saw in taking over rule of law the rescue of China based on the western model and a constitutional system of government. From their perspective, "bourgeois" businessmen and dignitaries formed the backbone of a modern nation. Although they feared a colonial division of China among the imperial powers, they also hoped for Great Britain as a role model and helper in saving the crumbling Chinese state.

A group of revolutionaries around Sun Yat-sen founded the "Society for the Restoration of China's Bloom" in Hong Kong in 1895 (xingzhong hui) and planned a riot from the colony in riot-ridden neighboring Guangdong. When this failed, the revolutionaries were banished from Hong Kong. Eight revolutionary uprisings in mainland China were organized from Hong Kong between 1895 and 1911. The crown colony remained a reservoir for anti-dynastic forces. In retrospect, Sun Yat-sen declared in 1923 that it was only the extreme contrast between peace and order in Hong Kong and chaos and corruption in China that made him a revolutionary. [22] China's early revolutionary press developed from the Crown Colony, as it was there much more openly to call for revolutionary nationalism against the Qing dynasty in Beijing, which was perceived as foreign rule. In this way, the city made an important contribution to the early revolutionary development in China.

However, the colonial government stepped in vigorously as soon as agitators from Canton mobilized the city's population to anti-British riots. At the same time, London used the tense crisis situation in China to expand into the area around the crown colony: On June 9, 1898, a Sino-British agreement sealed the leasing of the New Territories, the northern part of the Kowloon Peninsula, for 99 years. The southern tip of the peninsula was ceded to Great Britain in 1860 after China's defeat in the Second Opium War (1856-1860).

When an uprising in the central Chinese city of Wuchang (now part of the metropolis of Wuhan) ushered in the end of the Qing dynasty in October 1911, the Hong Kong population reacted immediately: Thousands of men cut off their braids, the symbol of Manchurian rule.During riots, shops were looted, the police were pelted with stones and Europeans were attacked on the street. The colonial government gave the police forces extensive powers and reinforced their troops with units from India. In 1912 she forbade her Chinese subjects to send delegates to the National Assembly of the newly established Chinese Republic. [23] At the same time, the revolution of 1911 had sparked a Chinese national consciousness in Hong Kong and politicized large parts of the Chinese population. As loud demands for the return of the crown colony to China, which were first made in December 1911, show that the anti-Manchurism of the turn of the century, which was directed against the Qing dynasty, quickly transformed into an anti-colonialism that challenged the British.

Growing flows of refugees from China caused Hong Kong's population to rise to over 625,000 between 1911 and 1921. [24] The disastrous sanitary conditions led to the outbreak of epidemics. Inflation contributed to social unrest. The 1920s were marked by numerous waves of strikes, which at times brought the entire working life of the city to a standstill and especially affected the port operations. European company employees and British marines maintained the main public services in times of crisis.

Hong Kong has been directly affected by unrest in mainland China. In 1926, a boycott of British goods in Canton forced international trade to detour via Shanghai and the northern Chinese ports. As a result, Hong Kong's shipping traffic collapsed by 60 percent. After a change of power of the local government in Canton (1927) and during the following decade, the so-called Nanjing Decade (1927-1937), when the national government of the Guomindang under General Chiang Kaishek was the strongest political force in China and effectively suppressed protests of all kinds, The situation in Hong Kong also eased.

From the Japanese war empire to the founding of the People's Republic

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese Air Force raided the US Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Japan's attack on Hong Kong began a day later. The British colonial government surrendered on Christmas Day 1941. [25] That ended an era. Although Great Britain restored its colonial rule after the end of the war with tacit Chinese and US toleration, this took place under completely new circumstances in the age of decolonization and the Cold War. [26]

During the Second World War, which had already begun in East Asia with the Japanese attack on China on July 7, 1937, a profound change in Hong Kong's international position took place. After the beginning of the war, the crown colony had developed into the most important import point for weapons that were urgently needed by the defeated Chinese army. 60,000 tons of military inventory are said to have been smuggled into the interior of the country every month. Another dramatic wave of refugees, which increased Hong Kong's population to over two million by September 1939, caused great supply problems. Since Hong Kong took over the trade in the Chinese coastal cities, which were now subject to Japanese military control, and since financially strong merchants and entrepreneurs from the central Chinese metropolis of Shanghai fled to the crown colony, the war initially brought about an economic boom. The number of factories rose from 541 to 948 between 1936 and 1939.

Hong Kong continued to be closely tied to the fate of the Chinese nation. Schools have been moved from the mainland to Hong Kong and their students have been brought to safety. All of the town's students went through patriotic education campaigns. Hong Kong's press, in both English and Chinese, fueled anti-Japanese resistance. The Hong Kong Chinese War Relief Association, established by the Chamber of Commerce in September 1937, organized an aid fund, the proceeds of which were given to the Chinese national government. Large parts of Hong Kong's population were mobilized during the war. After the Japanese took canton on October 12, 1938, the crown colony moved to the front line.

The four-year transition period, in which Hong Kong was intensely but indirectly involved in the war, ended with the surrender of British and Canadian troops on December 25, 1941. 7,000 British soldiers and civil servants were interned. Hong Kong now became part of the Japanese war empire. The Japanese occupiers ruled the city with the help of their brutal military police, supported by collaborating Chinese bodies. Japanese was introduced as a compulsory language in schools. The population has been indoctrinated with Japanese morals in a number of newly created institutions. The Japanese presented themselves - as everywhere else in their empire - as liberators from the yoke of European colonialism. In their relationship with the residents of Hong Kong, however, there was little sense of Asian solidarity. Japanese rule dwarfed British rule in cruelty and arrogance.

At the end of the war, the previous conditions were restored. On August 30, 1945, three weeks after the second atomic bomb was dropped (on Nagasaki), the British fleet returned to Hong Kong. On September 16, the Japanese military handed the crown colony back to Great Britain in a surrender ceremony. The British administrators resumed their old functions, some of them straight from Japanese internment camps. Since around one million Chinese were deported to Guangdong Province during the Japanese occupation, only 600,000 Chinese were still living in the city at the end of the war. An interim administration organized the rapid reconstruction. She hired the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC, now one of the largest banks in the world) to stabilize the currency. State funds encouraged the reactivation of public institutions. In 1946 trade again reached 60 percent of pre-war levels. With Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong got its own private airline.

Many of the deportees and refugees returned to Hong Kong. At the end of 1947 the population had already risen to 1.8 million. The repossession of the British crown colony had not met with any significant Chinese opposition. After the end of the war, both the communists and the nationalists concentrated on consolidating their own power. In China, Mao Zedong proclaimed the People's Republic on October 1, 1949 and promoted communist change in the 1950s. His rival Chiang Kaishek had withdrawn to Taiwan, where he was busy building his own state structures. [27]

Enough

While colonial Hong Kong was primarily a gateway into China until the Second World War, the geopolitical environment changed after 1949 and with it the economic function of the crown colony. With the transformation of the Chinese economy into a socialist planned economy, which was initially heavily related to the USSR, relations between the colony and its vast hinterland loosened. The numerous industrialists, who fled the dynamic economic area around Shanghai only before the Japanese and a few years later from the communists, contributed with their factories, new technologies, management structures and skilled workers to the economic rise of Hong Kong, which for the first time also became an independent industrial location developed. Hong Kong's inexpensive transport conditions, its low taxes, weak trade unions and favorable banking and insurance conditions as well as its political and legal stability created favorable conditions for the rise of the internationally important trading metropolis as an industrial producer and financial center. [28] For the People's Republic of China, from which all western businessmen and missionaries were expelled after the state was founded, the crown colony became the most important point of contact with the West, i.e. a bridgehead with reversed polarity. An imperialist relic from the Opium War turned out to be a useful tool for the international relations of the new communist superpower.