The history of Hong Kong, visualised

The ‘special status’ of this powerful global city is the result of two centuries of growth, turmoil, and change.Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Home to over seven million people, Hong Kong teems with life. For weeks, it has also roiled with pro-democracy protests as millions take to the streets to demand political self-determination and personal autonomy. They’re not the first. The history of Hong Kong is one of rapid growth, political turmoil, and continual demands for change. Here are 25 powerful moments from Hong Kong’s long history:

The small island of Hong Kong is a backwater fishing community ruled by China. British merchants trade illegally smuggled opium from India for Chinese goods such as tea, silks and porcelain, setting the stage for a vicious trade dispute. Opium addiction becomes a serious problem for China. By 1839, China is home to 10 million opium smokers and up to 2 million addicts.
The Second Opium War between the United Kingdom, the French Empire, and China takes place. It concludes with the Convention of Peking, which cedes the Kowloon Peninsula and Stonecutters Island to Britain. At the end of the war, British and French troops lay waste to Beijing’s Summer Palaces. Up to 30,000 Chinese are killed or wounded; there are just 2,900 Western casualties.
On the mainland, the Chinese Revolution is won by the Communists under leader Mao Zedong. The civil war drives hundreds of thousands to flee to Hong Kong, leading to the creation of large squatter settlements. Up to 100,000 people arrive each month, bringing a dizzying array of dialects, languages, and traditions with them. Hong Kong’s population surges from 600,000 in 1945 to 2.5 million in 1956. 
This tumultuous decade sees riots, civil unrest, and social anxiety, coupled with natural disasters like droughts and typhoons. As a result, the government undertakes ambitious social reforms, tackling official corruption and increasing educational opportunities. The unrest leads to a sense of social cohesion in an increasingly multicultural society.
Hong Kong emerges as an “Asian Tiger”- an international financial centre. Mao Zedong is replaced by the more moderate Deng Xiaoping, who implements a policy of “opening and reform.” Britain, looking ahead to the end of its 99-year lease on the New Territories, approaches Deng about continuing its administration. Deng keeps the option of resuming sovereignty open, but admits the city has a “special status.” Behind the scenes, the UK starts planning its exit.
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and China’s Premier Zhao Ziyang sign the Joint Declaration on the future of Hong Kong. It declares that China will resume control of Hong Kong on July 1, 1997. China pledges to grant Hong Kong a “high degree of autonomy” and that Hong Kong would move toward direct elections by 2007. Officials begin to draft a mini constitution for the city in a reflection of China’s “one state, two systems” policy. Hong Kong citizens experience a growing sense of uncertainty—and wonder why they weren’t included in the negotiations.
The Chinese legislature rules out open elections in Hong Kong, saying that it will only allow candidates approved by Beijing to run for its top political position. A rash of protests and acts of civil disobedience follow. Students strike, citizens participate in huge pro-democracy rallies, and demonstrators occupy the city centre for weeks. The movement fails, and many of the leaders, who were students, are jailed. It galvanises pro-democracy support in the city, and more candidates in favour of democratic rule run in the next election.  
A second reading of the extradition bill is postponed after violent protests break out, blocking roads and attempting to storm parliament. Police fight back with tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets, injuring 80 people. Chinese and Hong Kong officials call the clashes a 'riot'. Protesters demand they retract those claims. Demonstrators change tactics, conducting surprise protests at government buildings and in far-flung parts of the New Territories.
Demonstrations and battles between police and pro-democracy protesters break out throughout Hong Kong. Protesters take over the airport and face police at government buildings and in tourist and shopping districts. Hundreds are arrested and China threatens to crack down. Demonstrators make demands: withdraw the extradition bill, replace leader Carrie Lam, conduct an inquiry into police brutality, release those arrested and provide more democratic freedoms. Their demands have not yet been met—but the protests continue unabated.
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