History Summarized: Hong Kong

Well, now that I finished my China series, I guess it’d be fun to take a little bit of a closer look at the history of Hong Kong. So, I’ll schedule that one in for a side video after Rome goes up. Yeah, that’s a good plan. Nothing wrong with that. Hundreds of thousands of protesters marched in Hong Kong, Sunday. They were protesting a bill that would allow suspected criminals in the city to be sent to mainland China for trial Oh, oh, OH… Oh, no. Well, no turning back now. Come on, Pooh. Let’s do some history. While the Yellow and Yangzi rivers dominate the landscape of central China, the south lives by the Pearl River whose mouth lies on the southern coast. Beyond its value is a trade artery, the geography of the Pearl River Delta made it a strategic jackpot. Its many islands were isolated from the reach of the mainland, but also shielded from seaside storms. And if you’re a little bit on the morally bankrupt side, the first thing you probably thought about this description is that it sounds ideal for piracy. In the early 1800s, the legendary Ching Shih commanded entire fleets and a confederation of over 70,000 pirates from the hidden coves and bays of the Pearl River Delta. At the height of her power, her merry band of brigands ventured upstream to raid the famous port city of Canton before demanding a universal pardon from the vulnerable Qing Dynasty. Man, it really pays to be a pirate queen! Take notes kids. Though the piracy stopped, her ability to stand up to an entire empire caught the eye of foreign navies. Which, oh… Oh boy, was SO much worse than pirates. In the decades following, who else but the British Empire started poking around the Pearl River Delta and the port of Canton. Trading goods, scoping out the joint and discovering how much they loved tea. In exchange, the Qing wanted nothing but pure silver. This was fine until it wasn’t and when they ran out of silver to pay for that delicious tea, Britain did a teensy weensy drug smuggling and flooded China with opium to split the difference. China retaliated, Britain retaliated harder, and then one successful opium war later, Britain acquired the rocky island of Hong Kong in 1842 to use as their own base of operations for Chinese trade and all of the glorious tea that came with it. With a native population of only 7,000, the island itself was pretty small when they first got it, but there was no reason to stop now when there’s empire to be had. So after Opium War 2: Opioid Boogaloo, China ceded the Kowloon Peninsula across the bay. Britain had access to loads of other Chinese ports like Canton, Fuzhou and Shanghai, but Hong Kong was 100% British, for keeps, and they could do whatever they wanted with it. In one last lane grab in 1898, Britain bandwagon-ed off of the Japanese Empire’s victory against China to extend Hong Kong’s borders with a 99-year lease on a bunch of new territories. To the British negotiators, that was as good as forever and that’s typically abysmal British colonial foresight that we all know so well. But imprudent negotiating and illegal drug smuggling notwithstanding, we’ve got a city to manage now! So what happens to Hong Kong from there? Well, half a century after coming under the crown, it had grown to almost 400,000 people. Despite early attempts to segregate the British from their Chinese subjects, both the people and their cultures slowly converged. And speaking of tea, which is a vital subject to Victorian Englishmen everywhere, the Brits took cream and sugar in their tea while the Chinese drank it straight, but with time, Hongkongers got comfortable drinking tea both ways and even invented a unique kind of milk tea. And along those lines, everything from sports to architecture went on to fuse British and Chinese influences throughout the 1900s as Hong Kong grew into a brilliantly harmonised cultural blend. Why does it still sound like I’m talking about tea? The territory’s location as both geographically isolated and not owned by China made it an ideal place to go if you ever had a reason to run the hell away from China. After the collapse of the Qing dynasty and especially after the civil war between the Republic of China and Mao’s People’s Republic of China, loads of political refugees poured into Hong Kong. As a quick tangent, the Communist revolution ultimately forced the nationalist Kuomintang to flee largely on to the island of Taiwan where it remains independent from China. But many of those same democratically inclined dissidents found like-minded friends in Hong Kong. Even though Japan had occupied the territory during the Second World War and thoroughly sacked it, Britain picked up the pieces and gave the city new life after the war, in large part thanks to the influx of Kuomintang members. The immediate result was a severe housing shortage and dangerous overcrowding, but to cope, the city went all in on skyscrapers in the decades following. Construction was so intense that it’s been said the city had a brand new skyline every other decade and it still has the most skyscrapers of any city on Earth. Buildings have gates cut out of them to let the dragons pass through and that is the sickest design feature I’ve ever seen. Honestly, no other skyline can compare. And that’s not an opinion, that is a fact. You can wake me up when you’re lame city gets dragon gates. Hong Kong had largely served as an entry PO for its early history as Britain’s preferred way to ship goods to and from China but trouble struck with the outbreak of the Korean War one year after the Communist revolution ended. When America essentially blockaded the Chinese coast and issued a trade embargo Hong Kong status as an export hub was basically caput So it’s economy adapted by turning inwards focusing on high quality Manufacturing and later Finance tourism and film. After Bruce Lee challenged Asian stereotypes in the late 60s and early 70s Hollywood And introduced the outside worlds at the new Hong Kong, actors like Jackie Chan helped make the city into a legendary cinema hub through The 80s and 90s. The film boom also spread the fascination with Hong Kong’s distinct neon look. Nothing strictly historical there, It just looks rad. But things weren’t all shiny and cyberpunk, one political oddity inside of the already Geopolitically weird Hong Kong was the Kowloon Walled city it was originally a Qing military fort that kind of turned into a no-man’s land following their collapse and the Japanese occupation when a wave of squatters crowded into the city Britain threw up its arms and said, “Oh, whatever, you do you,” and just let it be. From there, it swiftly became a lawless Micro-city and the most densely populated urban area in history. 50 times as dense as modern Manhattan Seriously read up on this place. It is nuts. However, it was ultimately demolished in 1993 to make way for a park whoa Is it the 90s already? man time really flies when you’re empire building! And that 99-year lease is coming due real soon! At the turn of the century Hong Kong was About the size of London with just over half its GDP. That is bonkers and China clearly wanted its old land back Thank you very much So in 1984 Prime Minister Thatcher in China’s leader Deng Xiaoping Negotiated the peaceful handover of all Hong Kong back to China on the condition that the territory remained Autonomous for 50 years as it gradually incorporated into the mainland the so-called one China two systems policy 50 years. Good as forever. In the lead-up to the hand-off in 1997, nearly a million people left the city fearing that things would go south quick when Hong Kong reverted as 1997 passed Hong Kong came into its new role as an autonomous territory under China with Relative calm. Among various redesigns to remove Royal British iconography, the flag got replaced with this Absolute beauty featuring a Hong Kong native white orchid on a red field with China’s five stars on the pedals I think it’s one of the coolest looking flags in the world. And now I’m getting dangerously close to that 20-year rule So I’m gonna keep this next part brief but in the years since the handover China’s mega cities in Beijing and Shanghai have Rapidly grown to rival the economic power of Hong Kong. Even in the Pearl River Delta Shenzhen and Guangzhou grew massively in the past 20 years though its economic distinction is slowly declining, Hong Kong remains a vital treasure of Multiculturalism as it represents the best of China’s long heritage and of Britain’s global mindset. What can I say? I like the places where culture converges. Sue me. And I really really like Seriously want to say more but in the interest of historical integrity I’ve got to stop myself here. Hong Kong has been one of the most impressive, innovative, and influential cities in history flatout It’s more than a footnote on the British Empire and it’s much more than a novelty in China’s backyard. Whoo Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to leave the 21st century as fast as I possibly Can and dive headlong into Renaissance history if you need me, I’ll be in Venice Thanks so much for watching and please Check out the resources linked below to learn about what’s going on in Hong Kong right now as well as what’s at stake the modern World is busy But every so often I get a little twinge whenever I see something that I think will come to be historically transformative in the long run and this is absolutely one of those stories and also Unrelated if you want to keep the conversation going click the link below to join our official OSP discord server. I’ll see you there
Video source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1pEvthHlknk

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