The following are significant events in the history of Hong Kong, which on Friday marked the 25th anniversary of the handover from British to Chinese rule.
China had promised that the area would be able to maintain its civil, economic and political freedoms for 50 years under the “one country, two systems” framework. In recent years, however, Beijing has severely curtailed freedom of expression and assembly rights 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. Starting next year, the British government will help grow trade in goods from tea to porcelain, while China’s leadership handles internal conflicts and the increasing demand for foreign access to its vast domestic market.
— 1860: The colony grows after the Qing ceded Kowloon, a mountainous area opposite Hong Kong Island, to Great Britain after the second Opium War. China agrees to the demands after the imperial court is ousted from Beijing and the famous summer palace looted, looted and burned 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 in mainland China and greater economic viability for the colony as a whole . The lease also sets the clock ticking 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 expectations. Along with anti-colonialism, rhetoric against Japan’s wartime atrocities remains a central theme of the Communist Party’s nationalist 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 has been registered with the United Nations, although Beijing now says it is 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 march into the city in a very public display of China’s rejection of colonial rule.
— 2003: In the biggest protest since the handover, hundreds of thousands of citizens demonstrate 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 civil society victory and an indication of Beijing’s continued – though diminishing – tolerance for dissent.
– 2014: Protesters seeking direct elections for Hong Kong’s leader lay siege to government headquarters for 79 days, but win no concessions. The protests are spawning 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 his return to Chinese rule, during which he delivers a speech declaring that Beijing will not accept opposition. Carrie Lam, a longtime official and close ally of Beijing, will become Hong Kong’s chief executive with a mandate to enforce the will of China while preserving the city’s status as an international business center.
– 2019: Protests erupt over proposed legislation that would allow Hong Kongers and foreign residents to be sent to mainland China for trials in a justice system plagued by assault charges and forced confessions. As the bill is withdrawn, protests continue among mostly students and youth frustrated by a lack of representation and opportunity in one of the world’s most economically divided cities.
— 2020: After cracking down on protesters, opposition figures and independent media, China’s parliament imposes a sweeping national security law that incarcerates thousands of government critics while others seek asylum abroad or are intimidated into silence. Changes in the composition of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council ensure that only ‘patriots’ loyal to Beijing will have a voice.
— 2022: Former security chief John Lee is installed as Hong Kong’s chief executive after what was widely seen as a mock election in which he was the sole candidate. Lee is one of a number of Hong Kong and mainland Chinese officials who have been banned from entering the US and Europe for their role in the crackdown on human rights in the area. Authorities need new textbooks claiming that Hong Kong was never a British colony, claiming that China never recognized the treaties on its status. The move is seen as an attempt to erase the memory of past freedoms and reaffirm the ideology of China’s “great rejuvenation” that is central to Xi’s political agenda.