Hong Kong - 1839: Opium Wars begin
The Chinese were forced to cede the island to the British in 1842 following their defeat in the First Opium War. According to one legend, the Chinese named the settlement Heung Keung, or "Fragrant Harbor," because of the scent of Indian opium that hovered in the air from the British clipper ships waiting to make their run up the Pearl River to Canton. Beginning with the Taiping Rebellion in 1850, Hong Kong grew rapidly. Civil wars and economic and social changes in China drove various waves of refugees into the territory. At the end of the Second Opium War in 1860, the British forced the Chinese to cede part of the Kowloon peninsula. In 1899 the British took a 99-year lease on the New Territories. China has always considered the agreements to be "unequal treaties."
At the outbreak of World War II, Hong Kong was occupied by Japan. The occupation and bombing by the Allies decimated the territory's population.
The Communist victory in mainland China in 1949 drove more refugees into Hong Kong, and it became the base for Western "China watchers." Many Chinese lost their lives trying to swim over the border through shark-infested Mirs Bay. In 1963 and 1967 Communist terrorists instigated riots in the territory.