Day After Ragnarok
In 1839 the refusal by Qing Dynasty authorities to import opium resulted in the First Opium War between China and Britain. Hong Kong Island was occupied by British forces on 20 January 1841 and was initially ceded under the Convention of Chuenpee as part of a ceasefire agreement between Captain Charles Elliot and Governor Qishan, but the agreement was never ratified due to a dispute between high-ranking officials in both governments. It was not until 29 August 1842 that the island was formally ceded in perpetuity to the United Kingdom under the Treaty of Nanking. The British officially established a Crown colony, and founded the City of Victoria the following year.
When the Union Flag was raised over Possession Point on 26 January 1841, the population of Hong Kong island was about 7,450, mostly Tanka fishermen and Hakka charcoal burners living in a number of coastal villages. In the 1850s large numbers of Chinese would emigrate from China to Hong Kong due to the Taiping Rebellion. Other events such as floods, typhoons and famine in mainland China would also play a role in establishing Hong Kong as a place to escape the mayhem.
The establishment of the free port made Hong Kong a major entrepôt from the start, attracting people from China and Europe alike. The society remained racially segregated and polarised due to British colonial policies and attitudes. Despite the rise of a British-educated Chinese upper class by the late 19th century, race laws such as the Peak Reservation Ordinance prevented Chinese from living in elite areas like Victoria Peak. Politically, the majority Chinese population also had little to no official governmental influence throughout much of the early years. There were, however, a small number of Chinese elites that the British governors relied on, including Sir Kai Ho and Robert Hotung.They accepted their place in the Hong Kong hierarchy, and served as main communicators and mediators between the government and the Chinese population. Sir Kai Ho was an unofficial member of the Legislative Council. Robert Hotung wanted Chinese citizens to recognise Hong Kong as the new home after the fall of China’s last dynasty in 1911. As a millionaire with financial influence, he emphasised that no part of the demographics was purely indigenous.
According to the census of 1865, Hong Kong had a population of 125,504, of which some 2,000 were Americans and Europeans. In 1914 despite an exodus of 60,000 Chinese fearing an attack on the colony during World War I, Hong Kong’s population continued to increase from 530,000 in 1916 to 725,000 in 1925 and 1.6 million by 1941. In 1860 after China’s defeat in the Second Opium War, the Kowloon Peninsula and Stonecutter’s Island were ceded in perpetuity to Britain under the Convention of Peking. In 1894 the deadly Third Pandemic of bubonic plague spread from China to Hong Kong, causing 50,000–100,000 deaths.
In 1898 under the terms of the Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory, Britain obtained a 99-year lease of Lantau Island and the adjacent northern lands, which became known as the New Territories. Hong Kong’s territory has remained unchanged to the present. During the first half of the 20th century, Hong Kong was a free port, serving as an entrepôt of the British Empire. The British introduced an education system based on their own model, while the local Chinese population had little contact with the European community of wealthy tai-pans settled near Victoria Peak.