Establishment Day! Did you know about it?


Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Establishment Day, a public holiday which occurs each year on July 1, commemorates the date in 1997 that sovereignty over Hong Kong was officially handed back from Great Britain to China after 156 years of being a British colony.


To understand this and how Hong Kong’s time as a British colony ended, we look back at the tenuous state of trade between China and Western powers during the late Chinese Imperial era.

In the 18th and early 19th centuries, there was a great demand for Chinese products (especially tea, silk, and porcelain), tipping the balance of trade in China’s favour. In particular, the British had developed a strong taste for tea. Furthermore, trade between China and the West took place within the restrictions of the Canton System, effectively subjecting foreign trade to regulations imposed by the Chinese government. The system stated that trade could only happen at one Chinese port: Canton (called Guangzhou today); and only through licensed Chinese merchants. 

To right this trade imbalance, the British East India Company started importing opium to China, reversing the flow of silver into the Asian economy and leading to widespread addiction in the population.

Opium had already been used for mostly medicinal purposes in China for centuries. But when imports started pouring in, more and more people began smoking it as a recreational drug. With millions of addicts by the mid-1800s, the Chinese government recognized the problem and banned the production and importation of opium.

In 1839, a government official, dedicated to eliminating the “evil” of the illegal opium trade, seized and destroyed 2.6 million pounds of opium cargo from a group of merchants. The British government backed the merchants, citing the principle of free trade, and sent its navy forces to China. These tensions led to the breakout of the first Opium War

The British negotiated the signing of the Treaty of Nanjing. Among the stipulations that overwhelmingly benefitted themselves, the treaty allowed British merchants to trade at five additional ports, called the “treaty ports,” and with anyone they wanted. Also among the terms of the treaty was China’s cession of the island of Hong Kong. Although lacking in natural resources, Hong Kong has a deep-water harbour sheltered by granite hills, making it an ideal port for British ships to ground and do repairs. With the Convention of Peking in 1860, the crown colony was expanded to include Kowloon; and the Second Convention of Peking in 1898 gave Britain a 99-year lease over the approximately 230 outlying islands that make up the New Territories.

The Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed in 1984 for China to resume sovereignty over Hong Kong. The special region was to be governed under the ‘one country, two systems’ policy for 50 years, until 2047.

When the British officially left on HKSAR Establishment Day, Hong Kong was left with a mostly expatriate police force, the pervasive architectural style of a shopfront with living quarters on the second floor and a balcony (imported from Singapore, another British colony). The handover ceremony culminated on July 1, 1997 in Golden Bauhinia Square in Wan Chai.

This year marks the 27th anniversary of the handover, and with the public holiday landing on a Monday, we get to enjoy another extra-long weekend! To get you out and about, a ton of freebies will be on offer for everyone in town, including free tram rides, museum visits, and more. If you’re not too busy taking the family around the city’s best attractions or planning a weekend at the beach, here’s how you can celebrate Establishment Day this year. 

According to TIME OUT, you will enjoy these freebies:

  • Families can make use the public holiday on July 1 as kids aged three to 11 will be able to enjoy free rides on the MTR! Light rail and MTR buses will also provide free services for all passengers on the day.
  • Those in town on July 1 will be able to take the tram and ride around Hong Kong Island completely for free.
  • The public will be able to enjoy free Star Ferry rides for the whole day on July 1 going between Tsim Sha Tsui and Wan Chai.

  • On July 1, Fortune Ferry will be giving away 2,000 ferry vouchers. 1,000 vouchers will be for routes going between Central and Hung Hom, while the other half will be for the North Point-Kwun Tong-Kai Tak routes.
  • As for those whose birthday falls on July 1, ride on the 'Tuen Mun-Tung Chung-Sha Lo Wan-Tai O' and 'North Point-Kwun Tong-Kai Tak' routes will be on the house!
  • For culture vultures looking for activities on July 1, there will be free admission to all general admission exhibitions at the M+ museum, along with all thematic exhibitions at the Hong Kong Palace Museum.

  • Visitors will also be able to gain free access to permanent exhibitions at the Hong Kong Science Museum and Hong Kong Space Museum (excluding Space Theatre shows), as well as the special exhibition 'The Hong Kong Jockey Club Series
  • The public will be offered free admission to the Hong Kong Wetland Park on July 1.

So, enjoy some free time with your family on July 1st!


Thanks to The HK Hub and TIMEOUT for the sources!

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