Hong Kong () is one of two special administrative regions (SARs) of the People's Republic of China (PRC), the other being Macau. Situated on China's south coast and enclosed by the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea, it is renowned for its expansive skyline and deep natural harbour. With a land mass of and a population of seven million people, Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Hong Kong's population is 95 percent ethnic Chinese and 5 percent from other groups. Hong Kong's Han Chinese majority originate mainly from the cities of Guangzhou and Taishan in the neighbouring Guangdong province.
Hong Kong became a colony of the British Empire after the First Opium War (1839–42). Originally confined to Hong Kong Island, the colony's boundaries were extended in stages to the Kowloon Peninsula and the New Territories by 1898. It was occupied by Japan during the Pacific War, after which the British resumed control until 1997, when China regained sovereignty. The region espoused minimum government intervention under the ethos of positive non-interventionism during the colonial era. The time period greatly influenced the current culture of Hong Kong, often described as "East meets West", and the educational system, which used to loosely follow the system in England until reforms implemented in 2009.
Under the principle of "one country, two systems", Hong Kong has a different political system from mainland China. Hong Kong's independent judiciary functions under the common law framework. The Basic Law of Hong Kong, its constitutional document, which stipulates that Hong Kong shall have a "high degree of autonomy" in all matters except foreign relations and military defence, governs its political system. Although it has a burgeoning multi-party system, a small-circle electorate controls half of its legislature. An 800-person Election Committee selects the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, the head of government.
As one of the world's leading international financial centres, Hong Kong has a major capitalist service economy characterised by low taxation and free trade, and the currency, Hong Kong dollar, is the ninth most traded currency in the world. The lack of space caused demand for denser constructions, which developed the city to a centre for modern architecture and the world's most vertical city. The dense space also led to a highly developed transportation network with public transport travelling rate exceeding 90 percent, the highest in the world.
The name "Hong Kong" is an approximate phonetic rendering of the pronunciation of the spoken Cantonese or Hakka name "香港", meaning "fragrant harbour" in English. Before 1842, the name referred to a small inlet – now Aberdeen Harbour or Little Hong Kong – between the island of Ap Lei Chau and the south side of Hong Kong Island, which was one of the first points of contact between British sailors and local fishermen.
The reference to fragrance may refer to the harbour waters sweetened by the fresh water estuarine influx of the Pearl River, or to the incense from factories lining the coast to the north of Kowloon, which was stored around Aberdeen Harbour for export before the development of Victoria Harbour. In 1842, the Treaty of Nanking was signed, and the name Hong Kong was first recorded on official documents to encompass the entirety of the island.
Archaeological studies support a human presence in the Chek Lap Kok area from 35,000 to 39,000 years ago, and in Sai Kung Peninsula from 6,000 years ago. Wong Tei Tung and Three Fathoms Cove are the two earliest sites of human habitation in the Palaeolithic period. It is believed the Three Fathom Cove was a river valley settlement and Wong Tei Tung was a lithic manufacturing site. Excavated Neolithic artefacts suggest cultural differences from the Longshan culture in northern China and settlement by the Che people prior to the migration of the Yue people. Eight petroglyphs were discovered on surrounding islands, which dated to the Shang Dynasty in China.
In 214 BC, Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, conquered the Hundred Yue tribes in Jiaozhi (modern Liangguang region) and incorporated the territory into imperial China for the first time. Modern Hong Kong is located in Nanhai commandery (modern Nanhai District) and near the ancient capital city Pun Yue. The area was consolidated under the kingdom of Nanyue, founded by general Zhao Tuo in 204 BC after the Qin Dynasty collapsed. When the kingdom was conquered by Emperor Wu of Han in 111 BC, the land was assigned to the Jiaozhi commandery under the Han Dynasty. Archaeological evidence indicates the population increased and early salt production flourished in this time period. Lei Cheng Uk Han Tomb in the Kowloon Peninsula is believed to have been built during the Han Dynasty.
During the Tang Dynasty period, the Guangdong region flourished as a regional trading center. In 736, Emperor Xuanzong of Tang established a military town in Tuen Mun to defend the coastal area in the region. The first village school, Li Ying College, was established around 1075 in the New Territories under the Northern Song Dynasty. During the Mongol invasion in 1276, the Southern Song Dynasty court moved to Fujian, then to Lantau Island and later to Sung Wong Toi (modern Kowloon City), but the child Emperor Huaizong of Song committed suicide by drowning with his officials after being defeated in the Battle of Yamen. Hau Wong, an official of the emperor is still worshipped in Hong Kong today.
The earliest recorded European visitor was Jorge Álvares, a Portuguese explorer who arrived in 1513. After establishing settlements in the region, Portuguese merchants began trading in southern China. At the same time, they invaded and built up military fortifications in Tuen Mun. Military clashes between China and Portugal led to the expulsion of the Portuguese. In the mid-16th century, the Haijin order banned maritime activities and prevented contact with foreigners; it also restricted local sea activity. In 1661–69, the territory was affected by the Great Clearance ordered by Kangxi Emperor, which required the evacuation of the coastal areas of Guangdong. It is recorded that about 16,000 persons from Xin'an County were driven inland, and 1,648 of those who left are said to have returned when the evacuation was rescinded in 1669. What is now the territory of Hong Kong became largely wasteland during the ban. In 1685, Kangxi became the first emperor to open limited trading with foreigners, which started with the Canton territory. He also imposed strict terms for trades such as requiring foreign traders to live in restricted areas, staying only for the trading seasons, banning firearms, and trading with silver only. The East India Company made the first sea venture to China in 1699, and the region's trade with British merchants developed rapidly soon after. In 1711, the company established its first trading post in Canton. By 1773, the British reached a landmark 1,000 chests of opium in Canton with China consuming 2,000 chests annually by 1799.