China's revolution of 1911 brings a new wave of refugees to the British colony. Hong Kong's population swells from 33,000 in 1851 to nearly 900,000 by 1931. Anti-British sentiment rises alongside growing Chinese nationalism, fed by events on the mainland. The first commercial flight is made from Hong Kong to Guangzhou in the early 1930s.
Japanese troops battling on the mainland sweep across the border and enter Hong Kong's New Territories in 1941. They destroy the colony's weak defenses and take control of Hong Kong on Christmas Day. By 1941 the population reaches 1.6 million.
Japan tries to "Japanize" Hong Kong, renaming buildings and landmarks and instituting Japanese language programs at schools. Allied prisoners of war and civilians are held in local camps or shipped to Japan. Some prisoners are beaten, tortured, or executed for espionage or attempting to escape. Thousands are forced across the border into China in an effort to conserve Hong Kong's food and fuel.
Hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing violence and political uncertainty in China stream into Hong Kong. Within five years the population swells to more than two million. Charities and relief organizations cannot handle all the new arrivals, who struggle to survive in appalling conditions.
A lack of housing leads 300,000 squatters to build tin and board huts on slopes too steep for development, and to share them with their pigs, chickens, and ducks. Drugs, gambling, prostitution, and disease flourish. Fires sweep a squatter settlement in 1953, displacing 70,000 people and spurring the government to action. Vast concrete public resettlement buildings are constructed.
Hong Kong becomes a major manufacturing center with a booming economy. The population reaches 3.1 million. Problems with crime, corruption, and income disparity worsen. Hong Kong becomes a recreation place for U.S. troops and a major listening post in Asia. China erects a barbed-wire border barricade.
Hong Kong is a freewheeling international city that is continually rocked by turbulence in China. During the Cultural Revolution, Hong Kong officials step up anticommunist purges and close pro-Beijing newspapers. Chinese incursions into Vietnam in 1978 and '79 send waves of boat people to Hong Kong and throughout the region. Yet the quality of life remains high, and property values soar.
Hong Kong is the most densely populated city in the world. Economic ties with China increase, but cultural ties remain limited. After the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, Hong Kong protestors are warned, "The well water does not interfere with the river water." Plans are announced for an ambitious new airport that will be one of the largest infrastructure projects in the world.
Hong Kong continues to strictly limit the entry of immigration from the mainland while also reaping the benefits of being close to a large, low-income population. Elections are held in 1990 and 1994, with strong Liberal Democrat victories. As the population braces for change, many apply for British citizenship.
With the erosion of migration barriers, communication and travel between Hong Kong and China grows. The largest suspension bridge in the world is completed, linking Kowloon to the Lantau airport construction site. The local press reports freely and critically on the PRC and Hong Kong government. In April '98 the first contingent of People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers marches into Hong Kong.
Though closely overseen by China, Hong Kong retains distinctive freedoms and energy; China sees in its "one country, two systems" example a model for eventual reunification with Taiwan. But the economy grows sluggish: Rising unemployment, competition from other cities, and the ambiguous political system combine to dull the city's edge. The 2003 spread of SARS prompts quarantines and school closings.
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