10 Incredible Facts About Hong Kong

Hong Kong, literally means, “fragrant harbor.”

Hong Kong.
Hong Kong. Photo: Jetset Times

Hong Kong remains one of the most dynamic and international cities in the world due to its shift in identity from a Chinese port city to a British “Oriental Pearl,” then finally back to a reluctant Chinese metropolis. Hong Kong might struggle with its national transitions, but it continues to prosper in stride. A multilingual and multicultural state, here are some incredible facts you might not have known about the phenomenal Hong Kong.

1. 香港. 

Hong Kong means “fragrant harbor” in Cantonese.

2. Qin Dynasty.

Qing Dynasty
A painting showing the daily life of a family of the officials in the Qing Dynasty. Wikipedia

During the Qin Dynasty (214 BCE), Hong Kong officially became a part of mainland China. More folks from China began to settle in Kowloon throughout Yuan (1279 to 1368) and Ming (1368–1644) Dynasties.

3. Portuguese-Chinese trade.

Portuguese merchants were the first European visitors who came to Hong Kong and started to trade regularly with southern China during the 1500s. After a difficult military clash, Portugal acquired the nearby Macau in 1557.

4. When the British got hooked on Chinese tea…

Chinese opium smokers
Chinese opium smokers. Photo: Wikipedia

…the Opium Trade happened. During Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1912), China was living so well on its own with tea, silk, and porcelain that it didn’t need to rely on any Western imported goods. The demand for Chinese goods created a trade imbalance between Qing Imperial China and Great Britain. When the British became hooked on Chinese tea, the Chinese declared they would only receive silver in exchange for exporting its coveted commodity. The deal was fine until the British Treasury ran out of silver and hit a national crisis.

The Opium Trade accelerated when Great Britain exported opium grown in India then sold it to China, according to Britannica:

“The British used the profits from the sale of opium to purchase such Chinese luxury goods as porcelain, silk, and tea, which were in great demand in the West.”

The influx of narcotics in China shifted the Chinese trade surplus, wiped out the economy of silver, and increased the number of Chinese who became opium addicts. When the Chinese officials ordered a blockade of foreign merchants’ ships to confiscate opium chests, the British government responded with military force.

5. Treaty of Nanking handed Hong Kong over to the British Empire.

Treaty of Nanking. Photo: Wikipedia

If you ever wondered why Hong Kong was a British colony, then you need to know about 1842’s Treaty of Nanking which ended the First Opium War. When tensions over the opium trade continued, it led to the Second Opium War which resulted in the Qing Imperial handing over Kowloon Peninsula to Great Britain. Hong Kong was on a 99-year-lease as a British colony, but would need to return as part of mainland China in 1997.

Under British rule, however, Hong Kong’s economy thrived due to growing foreign investments and the establishment of higher education institutes including University of Hong Kong. The British government also built modern infrastructures such as an international airport and Mass Transit Railways.

6. Even Margaret Thatcher’s fall couldn’t save the 99-year-lease. 

It’s safe to say that the British government never thought they had to ever give Hong Kong back to China. During the 1850s, the year 1997 seemed incredibly far away. As Hong Kong became Britain’s commerce pride in the Far East, China remained sulking in humiliation over the loss of Hong Kong. When Deng Xiaoping took control of China in 1978, he was determined to ensure China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997.

Then Prime Minister of the UK, Margaret Thatcher, visited China in 1984 to speak with Deng Xiaoping in an attempt to keep Hong Kong. The Iron Lady insisted that if China took Hong Kong back, it would be a violation of an international treaty. Deng Xiaoping did not budge. Thatcher was so stunned by Deng’s steel-like persistence that she famously fell to the ground as she stepped out of the meeting.

7. 1997’s Handover of Hong Kong, and “One Country, Two Systems.”

british flag
UNSPLASH Aleks Marinkovic

For many Hong Kongers, the feeling of transitioning from being a British to a Chinese in 1997 was a complicated sentiment. There was a certain occidental pride that came with being a Hong Konger prior to the handover, though being a Chinese equates to the politics of CPC (Communist Party of China.)

Hence, the principle of “one country, two systems” was crucial. For 50 years, China will leave Hong Kong’s administrative and economic systems as they are until the year 2047. Even though Hong Kong has officially been a part of China since the handover, it has maintained its own governmental, legal systems including foreign and trade relations.

8. Sky high.

Mid-Levels, Hong Kong.
Mid-Levels, Hong Kong. Photo: Wend Hung

With 9,000 high-rise buildings, 1,500+ of which are skyscrapers, Hong Kong has the highest number of skyscrapers in the world. 7,000 buildings have over 14 floors, surpassing New York City which only has half of these. How is it possible? There aren’t earthquakes in HK!

9. Hong Kong cinema.

Bruce Lee Hong Kong
UNSPLASH Pop & Zebra

Since the late 1940s, the island has fostered a popular filmmaking industry that even launched Bruce Lee’s career, and expanded martial arts to Hollywood. Actors including: Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, and Chow Yun-Fat also stretched their careers from Hong Kong films to international blockbusters.

10. Cantopop and the “4 Heavenly Kings.”

INSTAGRAM @leslie.tong3399

With the rise of filmmaking in HK, Cantopop became a trendy music genre during the 1970s featuring artists such as Leslie Cheung, Anita Mui, and the Four Heavenly Kings 四大天王 (Jacky Cheung 張學友, Andy Lau 劉德華, Aaron Kwok 郭富城 and Leon Lai 黎明). All four artists reached superstar status for decades by releasing music albums and movies. Their popularity spread throughout HK, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia…and more. Even in their fifties today, all four entertainers remain wildly popular.

Wendy Hung


As the founder of Jetset Times, Wendy is an avid traveler and fluent in five languages. When she's not traveling, Wendy calls Paris and Taipei home. Her favorite countries so far from her travels have been: Bhutan, Iran, and St. Bart's because they were all so different!

Jetset Times in your inbox

Sign-up for our newsletter

By signing up, you agree to our Privacy Policy and European users agree to the data transfer policy.