Perched precariously on the edge of mainland China, Hong Kong has been battered by geopolitical forces for centuries. Thanks to its strategic deepwater harbor and proximity to Asia’s most populous nation, the city profited as the capitalist gateway for China to the north. What was once a fishing village became one of the world’s busiest international ports and business centers.
Hong Kong is a city of levels. At the top is Victoria Peak, on Hong Kong Island, from which mansions of the super-rich look out over the high-rise apartments of the merely affluent. Farther down the mountain are alleys and old tenements dotted with colorful balcony gardens. Living on the water itself are Hong Kong’s boat people—fishing families who spend most of their lives on their boats. Across the water on the mainland are Kowloon and the suburban New Territories, which were once Hong Kong’s vegetable garden. Although the popular image of Hong Kong is a place where every square inch/centimeter of land is crammed with high-rise apartments and office buildings, in reality, 38% of all land in Hong Kong is parkland or undeveloped greenery.
There is evidence of fishing and farming settlements in the area dating back 2,000 years, but Hong Kong’s history is generally documented from the 17th century, when the Manchus from the frigid northeastern regions ruled all of China. Hong Kong’s location near the mouth of the strategically important Pearl River made it a favored port of call for trading vessels—and the haunt of pirates and adventurers from around the globe.
Hong Kong lies on China’s southeastern seaboard and borders the mainland Chinese province of Guangdong, the capital of which is Guangzhou. Hong Kong is divided into three distinct regions: Hong Kong Island, the Kowloon Peninsula and the New Territories, which include the largely rural mainland area north of Kowloon and south of the border with mainland China and the 235 Outlying Islands that speckle the South China Sea. The New Territories is also home to large, high-density new towns such as Tuen Mun and Tsuen Wan, created in recent decades to handle population overspill from Kowloon and Hong Kong Island.