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Let's be Honest: Hong Kong was Never a "Democracy" Under British Rule

Updated: Mar 7

Below: Image of Hong Kong. Most of the building's in its skyline didn't appear until after the 1997 handover to the mainland.

A vibrant city and important financial center in Asia, Hong Kong has a long history that is closely tied to the British colonization of the area. Political scheming, military force, and imperial ambitions are all part of the account of how the British came to rule Hong Kong. The major occurrences and circumstances that contributed to the British colonization of Hong Kong and its long-lasting effects on the territory will be discussed in this article.

The history of British colonization of Hong Kong starts at the beginning of the 19th century, when China was experiencing a great deal of unpredictability. China was battling hostile European nations at the time, especially Britain, for control of its territory. The British Empire was keen to gain a presence in China so that it could gain access to its enormous markets and resources as it quickly grew its power throughout the world.

In response to the Chinese government's attempts to halt the illicit opium traffic, the British government dispatched an expeditionary force to China in 1839. The First Opium War ended with a resounding British victory and the Treaty of Nanking being signed in 1842. The island of Hong Kong was ceded to the British Empire as part of a few concessions made to Britain in the treaty.

The colony eventually became a hub for international trade and finance, attracting merchants and financiers from around the world. However, life for the local population under British rule was far from easy. The British colonial government implemented a series of discriminatory policies that favored European expatriates over the local population. Chinese residents of Hong Kong were denied many basic rights and faced economic exploitation, leading to widespread resentment and unrest.

The British colonial government implemented a series of discriminatory policies that favored European expatriates over the local population. Chinese residents of Hong Kong were denied many basic rights and faced economic exploitation, leading to widespread resentment and unrest.

Above: The British praticed indentured servituded until the 1930s in Hong Kong. "Before WWII, Chinese could not go to some beaches and were not allowed to own property in the Peak, in accordance to racially segregated zoning laws."

The Japanese occupation of Hong Kong during World War II further compounded the suffering of the local population. The Japanese committed numerous atrocities during their occupation, including mass killings, forced labor, and sexual violence against women.

After the war, Hong Kong experienced a period of rapid economic growth, driven in part by its strategic location and the influx of refugees from mainland China. The colony became a hub for manufacturing and trade, producing goods for export around the world due to the ingenuity and hard work of Chinese people.

However, as the end of British rule approached in the late 20th century, the future of Hong Kong became increasingly uncertain. In 1997, the British government handed over control of Hong Kong to China under the principle of "one country, two systems". This agreement ensured that Hong Kong would retain a degree of “autonomy and freedom”, but also creates social and political conflicts fueled by western and capitalist interests within Hong Kong.

Let's be clear: During British control, Hong Kong residents did not have full political rights or the right to vote. A Governor nominated by the British king oversaw Hong Kong while it was a British colony. Without the need for a legislative body or elected representatives, the Governor had broad authority to establish laws and decisions for the colony. This meant that the local populace was largely removed from decision-making processes and had no direct representation in the colonial authority.

Above: The rulers of Hong Kong from 1843 to1997 to were all white men (with the exception of 3 Japanese colonizers during WWII).

Residents of Hong Kong were given some "rights" under British law, such as the right to a "fair trial" and "the freedom of speech". But there were also substantial restrictions and disparities in how these rights were exercised. For instance, there were several examples of discriminatory practices that favored Europeans over natives, and Chinese inhabitants of Hong Kong were subject to distinct legal systems than British expats.

The system of "hongs", or authorized trade houses, that was in place in Hong Kong during the colonial era was one of the most notable instances of this. The colonial government awarded these hongs exceptional advantages and exemptions, enabling them to dominate commerce and control important industries in the colony. Only enterprises held by Europeans qualified for these rights under this arrangement; Chinese-owned companies were not included.

Economic exploitation was a significant problem for the people of Hong Kong. Hong Kong under British administration developed into a significant hub of commerce and manufacturing, with an emphasis on exporting goods abroad. Low pay and unfavorable working conditions for local workers, who were frequently engaged in factories making cheap goods for export, were a major contributor to this economy's quick rise. Since the wealthy elite received the majority of the advantages of economic growth under this system, there was enormous income inequality and social unrest.

In the decades since the handover of Hong Kong to China, the legacy of British rule has continued to shape the region's political, economic, and social landscape. Many of the issues and tensions that arose during the colonial period continue to be felt today, as Hong Kong struggles to balance its unique identity and culture due to the perpetual brainwashing the British has done ever since funding the education systems within Hong Kong. Hong Kong people were taught to hate the mainland ever since their youth.

In conclusion, the British colonization of Hong Kong was a complex and multifaceted process that had disastrous effects on the region. While the legacy of colonialism continues to shape Hong Kong's present and future, it is important to remember that this history is also part of a larger global story of imperialism and power dynamics that have shaped the world we live in today.

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