History of Hong Kong Timeline

The 12th Century to 1945

People walking in a shopping street in Hong Kong
clu / Getty Images

Below you’ll find the key dates in the history of Hong Kong presented in a timeline. The timeline starts at the area’s earliest recorded mention through to World War Two, taking in the major moments in Hong Kong history.

12th century – Hong Kong is a sparsely populated area dominated by the Five Clans – Hau, Tang, Liu, Man and Pang.

1276 – The Song Dynasty, retreating from marauding Mongol hordes, moves its court to Hong Kong. The Emperor is defeated, and drowns himself along with his court officials in the waters off Hong Kong.

14th century – Hong Kong remains relatively empty and loses contact with the imperial court.

1557 – The Portuguese set up a trading base on nearby Macau.

1714 – The British East India Company establishes offices in Guangzhou. Britain immediately starts to import Opium, causing massive addiction to the drug in China.

1840 – The First Opium War breaks out. The war is caused by the Chinese seizing an estimated half tonne of British imported opium and burning it.

1841 – The British rout the Chinese forces, occupying ports along the Yangtze River, including Shanghai. The Chinese sign a peace treaty ceding the island of Hong Kong to Britain.

1841 – A landing party raises the British flag at Possession Point on Hong Kong Island claiming the island in the name of the Queen.

1843 – Hong Kong’s first governor, Sir Henry Pottinger is dispatched to take charge of the twenty or so villages on the island and conduct British trade.

1845 –The Hong Kong Police Force is established.

1850 – The population of Hong Kong stands at 32,000.

1856 – The second Opium War breaks out.

1860 – The Chinese find themselves on the losing side again and are forced to cede the Kowloon Peninsula and Stonecutter’s Island to the British.

1864 – The Hong Kong Shanghai Bank (HSBC) is founded in Hong Kong.

1888 – The Peak Tram starts operation.

1895 – Dr Sun Yat Sen, basing himself out of Hong Kong attempts to overthrow the Qing Dynasty. He fails and is exiled from the colony.

1898 – Britain forces more concessions from the failing Qing Dynasty, gaining a 99-year lease of the New Territories. This lease will end in 1997.

1900 – The city’s population reaches 260,000, this number continues to grow thanks to war and conflict in China proper.

1924 – Kai Tak Airport is built.

1937 – Japan invades China resulting in a flood of refugees heading for Hong Kong swelling the population to around 1.5 million

1941 – After attacking Pearl Harbour, the Japanese army invades Hong Kong. The overstretched colony resists the invasion for two weeks. Western citizens, including the governor, are interned in Stanley, while Chinese citizens are massacred in large numbers.

1945 – As Japan surrenders to the Allies, they surrender Hong Kong, returning it to British ownership.

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