This Week in History: Hong Kong Handed Back to China

By Adrienne Hoe, July 2, 2018

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On July 1, 1997, China resumed its control of Hong Kong after 156 years of British rule. On June 30, a day before the official handover, the Union Jack was lowered at the Government House in Central for one final time.


Hong Kong returned to China

The British took over Hong Kong Island in 1842, after China relinquished its power to the British to bring an end to the first Opium War (1839-1842). Historically, China produced enough local goods to be a self-sufficient country and Europeans were not allowed to have access to China for trade. 

In the early to mid-18th century, China allowed trade to Europe, but only through the Canton System. This controlled trade only went in through the port of Canton (now Guangzhou). The system became imbalanced, however, as China had little interest in importing Western goods and demanded all payments to be made in silver. That led the East India Tea Company to import opium into China to sell in exchange for silver. Though China prohibited opium imports, traders persisted, which eventually led to an opioid addiction epidemic.

To end the second Opium War (1856-1860), Kowloon was also ceded to the British. When the land was handed over, the Chinese and British agreed on a 99-year lease on the land, which would set it to be returned in 1997. 

In 1984, 13 years before the handover of Hong Kong back to China, the Sino-British joint declaration was signed for China to gain partial control of Hong Kong, that it would be one country under two political systems. It paved the way to the eventual return of Hong Kong to China over a decade later. 

Hong Kong handed back to China 1997
June 30, 1997. Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, receiving the Union Jack flag after it had been lowered for the final time. 

On July 1, 1997 Chris Patten gave his farewell speech, saying: "Today is a day of celebration, not sorrow." 

READ MORE: Andrew Bull's Hong Kong Handover Party of 1997

Hong Kong handed back to China 1997President Jiang Zemin shaking hands with Prince Charles.

Watch the ceremony below (VPN off):

During the handover, thousands of troops from the People's Liberation Army crossed the border from China to Hong Kong via land, air, and sea as a symbol of power.

For more This Day in History stories, click here.

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