From little-known fishing community at the periphery of China , Hong Kong developed into one of the world's most spectacular and cosmopolitan cities after a century and a half of British imperial rule. The history of Hong Kong , from its occupation by the British in 1841 to its return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 is a fascinating story of East meeting West.
Before the British arrived there, Hong Kong was a small fishing community and a haven for travelers and pirates in the South China Sea . The British used the territory as a naval base during their Opium Wars with China . After the first of such wars, the Treaty of Nanking in 1842 ceded Hong Kong Island to Britain . Sir Henry Pottinger was the territory's first governor. Following other fights and wars with the Chinese, Britain was given Kowloon and Stonecutter's Island in 1860. Lastly, the British acquired the New Territories in 1898 on a 99-year contract. The territory grew as more people settled there with time. In the early 1900's Hong Kong was a refuge for exiles from China , following the establishment of the Chinese Republic in 1912.
Following Japan 's seizure of Manchuria in 1932, the Sino-Japanese war broke out. As Japan headed towards China , thousand of Chinese people came to Hong Kong , the number of refugees growing rapidly. World War II disrupted all activity in Hong Kong . On December 25, 1941 , the British surrendered the territory to the Japanese army. U.S. submarines brought Japanese planes to Hong Kong to prepare there for further attacks on the East Asian region. After Japan 's surrender in August of 1945, Britain reclaimed its territory.
At the stroke of midnight July 1, 1997 , the world stopped to watch history being made when Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty. It is now a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China , and operates under a "One Country, Two Systems" principle of government, with a high degree of autonomy. Hong Kong practices its own legal, social, and economic systems, representing a fusion of East and West that gives Hong Kong a unique character.