English and Chinese are Hong Kong's two official languages. The Cantonese dialect is the most commonly spoken language in the territory, though English is the language of the business and service industries; hotel employees, many urban Hong Kong residents, most young people and shop and service personnel understand and speak it to some degree. Other Chinese dialects. such as Mandarin (Putonghua), Shanghainese, and Chiu-Chow can be heard as well.
The rugged mountains of Hong Kong constitute its most dramatic natural settings. However, there are other landform types that also demonstrate the relationship between scenery and rock type, including rounded hilly landscapes (underlain by granitic rocks).
Hong Kong has a largely mountainous terrain, very flat land, no major rivers, no great forests, and a paucity of mineral wealth. Following the planting of the British flag at Possession Point by Captain Elliot on the 26 January 1841, the British Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston scathingly remarked that Hong Kong was a "barren rock with hardly a house upon it."
Hong Kong's economic system maintains a highly capitalist that built on a policy of free market, low taxation and government non-intervention. It is an important centre for international finance and trade, with the greatest concentration of corporate headquarters in the Asia-Pacific region. The GDP per capita of Hong Kong exceeds the four big economies in Western Europe (UK, France, Germany and Italy) and Japan in Asia.
The territory has little arable land and few natural resources within its borders, so it must import most of its food and raw materials. Hong Kong is the world's eleventh largest trading entity, with the total value of imports and exports exceeding its gross domestic product. Much of Hong Kong's exports consist of re-exports, which are products made outside the territory, especially in the Mainland China, and distributed through Hong Kong.
By the 1980's, Hong Kong's scheduled return to China in 1997 brought home to the younger generation of locally born Chinese that their fate was linked to that of China. As economic ties between Hong Kong and China grew, many also found that their work required them to travel or reside on the mainland. China became real to them. But what they saw and experienced was not always pleasant. The livelihood of the Chinese people had improved tremendously after Deng led China to open up to the outside world, to put an end to political campaigns, and to develop a market economy.
Hong Kong's population grew rapidly after the war, as a wave of Mainland migrants arrived for refuge from the ongoing Chinese Civil War. And after 1949, more migrants settled in the territory. Many corporations in Shanghai and Guangzhou also shifted their operations to Hong Kong. The colony became the sole place of contact between the Mainland China and the Western world.
Hong Kong inaugurated Sir Henry Pottinger as its first governor in August 1841. Despite British cynicism, Pottinger dedicated his time to building up Hong Kong's future as he realized its potential. He inspired long-term building projects and awarded land grants. In order to make peace with the Chinese, he sent his troops to the Chang Jiang (Yangtzi River) and threatened to attack Nanjing (Nanking).
Just when the area that is now Hong Kong became an integral part of the Chinese empire is difficult to say. What is certain, however, is that by the time of the Eastern Han dynasty (AD 25–220), Chinese imperial rule had been extended over the region. The discovery of a number of Han coins on Lantau and Kau Sai Chau Islands and at several important digs, including the tomb of a senior Han warrior at Lei Cheng Uk in central Kowloon and So Kwun Wat southeast of Tuen Mun, attests to this.
Hong Kong has supported human life since at least the late Stone Age. Finds uncovered at almost 100 archaeological sites in the territory, including a rich burial ground discovered on the island of Ma Wan in 1997 and three hoards on the west coast of the Tuen Mun peninsula, suggest that the inhabitants of these settlements were warlike. The remnants of Bronze Age habitations (c 1500–220 BC) unearthed on Lamma and Lantau Islands and at around 20 other sites – as well as the eight geometric rock carvings that can still be viewed at various locations along Hong Kong’s coastline – also indicate that these early peoples practised some form of ancient religion based on cosmology. Other finds indicate Hong Kong’s Stone Age inhabitants also enjoyed a relatively nutritious diet of iron-rich vegetables, small mammals, shellfish and fish harvested far offshore.
Hong Kong consists of the island of Hong Kong (32 sq mi; 83 sq km), Stonecutters' Island, Kowloon Peninsula, and the New Territories on the adjoining mainland. The island of Hong Kong was ceded to Britain in 1841. Stonecutters' Island and Kowloon were annexed in 1860, and the New Territories, which are mainly agricultural lands, were leased from China in 1898 for 99 years. On July 1, 1997, Hong Kong was returned to China. The vibrant capitalist enclave retains its status as a free port, with its laws to remain unchanged for 50 years. Its first chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, formulated a policy agenda based on the concept of “one country, two systems,” thus preserving Hong Kong's economic independence.