Timeline: Hong Kong under 25 years of Chinese rule
The following are key events in the history of Hong Kong, which marked the 25th anniversary of its handover from British to Chinese rule on Friday.
China had promised the territory could retain its civil, economic and political liberties for 50 years under the “one country, two systems” framework. However, in recent years Beijing has severely limited rights to free speech and assembly and virtually eliminated political opposition under the rubric of maintaining national security.
— 1841: The Qing dynasty cedes Hong Kong Island to Britain after China’s defeat in the first Opium War. British administration begins the next year, helping to grow trade in goods from tea to porcelain, while China’s leadership deals with internal conflicts and increasing demands for foreign access to its enormous domestic market.
— 1860: The colony grows after the Qing cede Kowloon, a mountainous region opposite Hong Kong Island, to Britain after the second Opium War. China accedes to the demands after the imperial court is driven from Beijing and its famed Summer Palace is sacked, looted and torched by foreign troops.
— 1898: Britain leases the New Territories, a large area around Kowloon, from China for 99 years, or until 1997. The largely rural area provides a buffer against unrest within mainland China and greater economic viability for the colony as a whole. The lease also sets the clock ticking on Hong Kong’s eventual return to Chinese rule.
— 1941-45: Japan occupies Hong Kong until the end of World War II. British, Chinese and allied forces resisted for three weeks, but were forced to surrender against overwhelming odds. Along with anti-colonialism, rhetoric against Japanese wartime atrocities remains a central theme in the Communist Party’s nationalistic appeal.
— 1984: Britain agrees to return Hong Kong to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” framework that gives the city its own economic and political system for 50 years. The Sino-British Joint Agreement is registered with the United Nations, although Beijing now says it is null and void and rejects any foreign criticism as meddling in its internal affairs.
— 1997: Hong Kong is handed over to Chinese rule in a ceremony attended by Prince Charles and Chinese President Jiang Zemin. Hours later, People’s Liberation Army troops enter the city in a highly public display of China’s repudiation of colonial rule.
— 2003: In the largest protest since the handover, hundreds of thousands of citizens march against proposed national security legislation that would have criminalized “subversion” against the Chinese government. The bill was subsequently withdrawn in what was seen as a victory for civic organization and an indication of Beijing’s continued — although waning — tolerance for dissent.
— 2014: Protesters seeking direct elections for Hong Kong’s leader lay siege to government headquarters for 79 days but fail to win any concessions. The protests spawn a generation of young activists who will continue to push for greater freedoms against an increasingly intransigent Chinese leadership.
— 2017: Chinese leader Xi Jinping visits Hong Kong on the 20th anniversary of its return to Chinese rule, during which he delivers a speech declaring Beijing will accept no opposition. Long-time civil servant and close Beijing ally Carrie Lam becomes Hong Kong’s chief executive with a mandate to enforce China’s will, while maintaining the city’s status as an international business hub.
— 2019: Protests break out over proposed legislation that could have see Hong Kongers and foreign residents sent to mainland China for trials in a legal system beset with accusations of ill-treatment and forced confessions. While the bill is withdrawn, protests continue among mostly students and young people frustrated with a lack of representation and opportunities in one of the world’s most economically divided cities.
— 2020: Following a heavy crackdown on protesters, opposition figures and independent media, China’s rubber-stamp parliament imposes a sweeping National Security Law that jails thousands of government critics, with others seeking asylum abroad or being intimidated into silence. Changes to the makeup of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council ensure only “patriots” loyal to Beijing will have a voice.
— 2022: Former security chief John Lee is installed as Hong Kong’s chief executive following what was widely seen as a sham election in which he was the only candidate. Lee is among a number of Hong Kong and mainland Chinese officials under U.S. and European visa bans for their roles in cracking down on human rights in the territory. Authorities require new textbooks asserting that Hong Kong was never a British colony, claiming China never recognized the treaties over its status. The move is seen as an attempt to erase the memory of past freedoms and assert the ideology of China’s “great rejuvenation” that is central to Xi’s political agenda.