(The name "Hong Kong", literally meaning fragrant harbour, is derived from the area around present-day Aberdeen and Wong Chuk Hang on Hong Kong Island, where fragrant trees were once abundant and exported.)
Even though Hong Kong has been occupied since the Neolithic Age, the area now known as Hong Kong remained distant from the major events that took place in Imperial China for most of its history. Hong Kong only began to attract the attention of China and the rest of the world in the 19th century. Hong Kong was first visited by a European in 1513, by the Portuguese mariner Jorge Alvares. He first landed on the island of Lintin, which is to the west of the New Territories in the Pearl River Delta.
Alvares began trading with the Chinese, and the Portuguese continued to make periodic trade stops at various locations up and down the coast. This lead the Portuguese to establish a permanent trading station at Macau, which was to be the first European settelement in Chinese territory. The Portuguese introduced Europe to tea, silk, and other Asian luxury goods, and by the mid-18th century, these items were in high demand, and in particular, tea. At this time, China enjoyed a near monopoly on the entire tea industry, and insisted that all tea be purchased in silver. The British, in order to buy tea from China, grew opium and sold it for silver, which it then used to buy tea to export. Tensions arose over increasing Chinese dependenec on opium, which culminated in the Chinese destruction in over 20,000 chests of opium in Canton. Britain, seeing this as an act of war, invaded China, winning the First Opium War in 1841.
Hong Kong Island was first occupied by the British during the war, and was formally ceded by the Qing Dynasty of China the following year under the Treaty of Nanking. Kowloon Peninsula south of Boundary Street and Stonecutter's Island were ceded to the British in 1860 under the Convention of Peking after the Second Opium War. Various adjacent lands, known as the New Territories (including New Kowloon and Lantau Island) were then leased by Britain for 99 years from 1 July 1898 ending in 30 June 1997.
Hong Kong became a crown colony in 1843. For the first twenty years of its existance, the colony had almost no government as no British civil servants spoke any Chinese. Exacerbating matters, there was little contact between the European and Chinese communities. The first specially recruited Hong Kong civil servants to be taught Cantonese were recruited in 1862, markedly improving relations.
Hong Kong entered a dark age during the Japanese Occupation of World War II, which lasted for three years and eight months. The Japanese assumed control of Hong Kong when the Governor of Hong Kong, Sir Mark Young, surrendered to Imperial Japanese Army on 25 December 1941 after 18 days of fierce fighting. After the Japanese surrendered on 15 August 1945, and civilian rule was re-established on 30 August 1946. The port was quickly re-opened, which welcomed a mass migration of Chinese refugees in 1949 from the civil war and new Communist government in China.
The Hong Kong economy took advantage of this new pool of workers who were willing to work for almost any wage, establishing a textile industry lead by Shanghainese entrepreneurs who had fled the Communists. During this time period, the economy grew extremely rapidly and Hong Kong grew into one of the largest industrial centres in Asia. Towards the 1970's, Hong Kong began to move away from the textile industry and develop its financal and banking economy. This lead to even greater levels of wealth, and Hong Kong quickly became among the wealthiest countries in the world.
When it became clear that the lease for the New Territories would soon be expiring, it became necessary for Britain to negotiate the return of Hong Kong to China. This was done between Margaret Thatcher and Deng Xiaoping in 1984. Pursuant to an agreement signed by the People's Republic of China and the United Kingdom on 19 December 1984, the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the whole territory of Hong Kong under British colonial rule became the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the PRC on 1 July 1997.