Protesters clash with police in Hong Kong in July 2019. The most recent series of demonstrations initially arose from protests against a controversial bill that would allow extradition to mainland China.
How Hong Kong’s complex history explains its current crisis with China
From a British colony to part of Beijing’s ‘one country, two systems’ policy, Hong Kong’s government has almost always been the exception—not the rule.
It was the end of an era: In July 1997, as the flag of the United Kingdom was lowered over Hong Kong, the prosperous colony was returned to China after over 150 years of British rule. The sun had finally set on one of the wealthiest modern outposts of the British Empire. But was it the beginning of lasting autonomy for Hong Kong?
The United Kingdom had held Hong Kong as a colony since 1841, when it occupied the area during the First Opium War. The war broke out after Qing-dynasty China attempted to crack down an illegal opium trade that led to widespread addiction in China. Defeat came at a high cost: In 1842, China agreed to cede the