It was over the space of nearly 60 years that Hong Kong came to be under British rule. It all began after the First Opium War when Britain won and China ceded Hong Kong Island to them. In 1860, after the Second Opium War, a portion of the Kowloon Peninsula and an island named Stonecutter's Island were also ceded to Britain. In 1898, Britain obtained a lease for Lantau Island and the rest of the northern lands, which would later become known as the New Territories.
The First Opium War came about due to China's refusal to import opium. One might say that it began with a trade imbalance. There was a high interest in Chinese tea by the British, but the Chinese only had an interest in British silver. Therefore, the Chinese were giving more than they were buying from the British. The British, seeking for a way to even things out, began to import opium in large quantities.
Opium grew in popularity and eventually led the Chinese emperor in the early 1700's to ban the import of opium in order to prevent its spread. He did, however, allow for a small amount to be imported for medicinal purposes. Even though the import of opium was banned, it steadily grew over the years. In 1838, taking steps to seriously halt the illegal import of opium, the Emperor began seizing cargo and the Chinese Comissioner at the time destroyed 20,000 chests of opium. The British, not wanting to replace the costly opium, began the First Opium War.
The Chinese lost the First Opium War and were forced to cede Hong Kong Island to the British and give several trade concessions as well. The Second Opium War was won by the British as well and the Chinese were forced to do the following:
- Legalize the importation of opium.
- Cede part of Kowloon Peninsula.
- Cede Stonecutter's Island.
Finally, in 1898, Britain obtained a lease for the rest of what is known today as Hong Kong.