Note New Territories is abbreviated to NT. Here's an overview of the UK's acquisition of HK -

The handover of Hong Kong was in 1997 so it's safe to discuss the PRC's land policy in Hong Kong. But I'm not too familiar with it, so perhaps another user can comment on it.

Hong Kong was acquired piecemeal by the British government. The Hong Kong island was ceded to the British monarchy in 1842, thus making the island property of the British Crown (Crown Land):

...the Island of Hong-Kong, to be possessed in perpetuity by Her Britannic Majesty, her heirs and successors...

Kowloon was first leased, and then outright ceded to the British monarchy in 1860, thus also making it Crown land:

His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of China agrees to code to Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, and to her heirs and successors, to have and to hold as a dependency of Her Majesty's colony of Hong Kong, that portion of the township of Cowloon, in the province of Kwang-Tung, of which lease was granted in perpetuity to HARRY SMITH PARKES, Esq., Companion of the Bath, a member of the Allied Commission at Canton, on behalf of Her Britannic Majesty's Government, by LAN TSUNG KWANG, Governor-General of Two Kwang.

The rest of the land, mostly rural farmlands and villages, was actually leased to the British government for 99 years ("As good as forever" according to the British representative) in the Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory, signed in 1898:

It has now been agreed between the Governments of Great Britain and China that the limits of British territory shall be enlarged under lease to the extent indicated generally on the annexed map... The term of this lease shall be ninety-nine years.

This was also the treaty that set up the handover date of 1997. The same treaty also left an exclusion for the Kowloon Walled City:

It is at the same time agreed that within the city of Kowloon the Chinese officials now stationed there shall continue to exercise jurisdiction except so far as may be inconsistent with the military requirements for the defence of Hong Kong.

So to summarize, lands were either owned by the British crown, or by the Chinese government but leased to the British government. In any case, there were no private ownership of land apart from the aforementioned exclusions.

Did the British in 1898 overlook the significance of the NT? Even if this significance weren't obvious in 1898, Kowloon and NT are obviously contiguous. Thus wouldn't it have been shrewd to control NT still?

RockyMcNuts 9 points 6 years ago

The island and the NT were highly integrated, there was a subway connecting them, and there were essential facilities in the NT. It would have been like dividing Manhattan from Brooklyn and Queens and drawing a border down the middle of the East River. Wouldn't have been viable as the kind of world city it had become.

MrBuddles 3 points 6 years ago

The leased area contained around half the population of the colony, along with several important infrastructure and government buildings e.g. hospitals, universities, landfills, mass transit hubs and the only remaining airport. It would have been impractical to attempt to maintain Hong Kong as a sovereign nation lacking that infrastructure (and especially since Hong Kong is largely a trade hub - it could not survive without the airport).

snackburros 39 points 6 years ago* [* means last edited 2013]

Thatcher then brought up her view as to how the treaties were historically valid, but this only angered Deng who for all intents and purposes threatened military action. The talks didn't go anywhere really, but Thatcher seemed to have forgotten that due to the proximity, Beijing's words can wreck significant havoc on Hong Kong's economy, which in this case, it did [emboldening mine]. David Bonavia of the Times wrote "seldom in British colonial history was so much damage done to the interests of so many people, in such a short space of time by a single person." The stock market tanked and with it, the value of the HK Dollar as well, because there were genuine fears that the PLA would march across Shenzhen River and take over Hong Kong.

LAiglon144 14 points 1 year ago

It's important to remember that the 99 year lease was only for the "New Territories", the parts of the Colony that were on the mainland and separate from Hong Kong Island itself. The British Colony on Hong Kong Island was ceeded to the British in perpetuity by the Qing Empire. So when the 99 year lease came up, the British were technically only obligated to give up the mainland portion of the territory. However the highly interconnected nature of the "New Territories" to Hong Kong Island made separating the two unworkable, and thus Britain negotiated to give the entirety of the colony (with some major political provisos) to the PRC. It's a fascinating topic.

  • 2
    Is this your question: "Did the British in 1898 overlook the significance of the NT?" But it was ceded in 1898? Reverted back in 1997 ... or, I must be missing the essence of your question.
    – J Asia
    Jun 3, 2019 at 6:24
  • "But it was ceded in 1898?" It was? The first quote in my post contends that it was leased for 99 years.
    – user8309
    Jun 3, 2019 at 18:30

2 Answers 2


There were (at least) two reasons.

The first was that there was no "provocation" from China in 1898. The British took Hong Kong Island in 1842 after the Opium War, and Kowloon in 1860 after the Arrow War, which is sometimes referred to as the Second Opium War. There was no war (with China) in connection with the acquisition of the New Territories. Given this absence, and the fact that the New Territories were 12 times larger than the rest of Hong Kong, an outright annexation would have appeared overly greedy. The British, in this instance, preferred to "rule by proxy" by leasing it for 99 years.

A second, and related reason, was that unlike the other two annexations, the acquisition of the New Territories was not a move against China, but primarily a move against other European countries. Britain, at that time, was more interested in trade in China than anything else. Unlike the earlier periods, an annexation of Chinese territory in 1898 might have led to "a scramble for colonies" like the one that had recently taken place in Africa. Britain (and the United States) preferred (nominally) "equal access" to all of China, as opposed to "special privileges" (compared to European countries) in part of China and exclusion from the rest.

Basically, an outright annexation of the New Territories would probably have had a lot of unintended consequences, while a 99-year lease appeared to serve the same purpose while being less overtly aggressive, or at least push the problem far enough into the future so that another generation would have to deal with it. And, according to Wikipedia:

"Lord Lugard was Governor from 1907 to 1912, and he proposed the return of Weihaiwei to the Chinese government, in return for the ceding of the leased New Territories in perpetuity. The proposal was not received favourably, although if it had been acted on, Hong Kong might have remained forever in British hands."

This proposal was not adopted because the British preferred to keep Weihaiwei (in Shandong) as a check against the Germans in nearly Tsingdao, and the Russians in nearby Port Arthur. No one at the time thought that China would be the main concern regarding Hong Kong in 1997.


Piece by piece, part by part, the British took over much of the world. And they often took power as the "puppet master". Often, the British play 'games' played with legalism as a prelude to explicit political control.

India, for example, didn't legally become a British colony until 1858. However, the British controlled much of India and its economy since the 1750's. Between 1750 and 1859, the Moguls were legally in charge. So it took 100 years from economic control to political control.

Egypt, as another example, was controlled by the British from 1882 until at least 1952 with the rise of Nasser's popular leadership. However, Egypt until 1914 was a province of the Ottoman empire. There were a variety of legal arrangements after 1914. The point is that the British empire often gained and held colonial power without legal colonial status.

The 99 years from 1898 to 1997 featured geopolitical changes that were impossible to predict. A 1898 Britisher would probably have assumed that China would be completely dismembered and under colonial control by 1980, so the idea of a 99 year lease expiring might have been view as nonsense.

I do have another answer in the SE History question about why China wasn't subjugated by European colonialism. This might also be relevant.

  • 5
    One of the reasons for slow colonial was Britain (as a country) didn't actually want colonies as much as trade advantages. Hence they only took over as much power as was perceived as necessary at the time.
    – user31561
    Jun 3, 2019 at 15:36
  • @Orangesandlemons Of course! Britain would never want power! Perish the thought! (\sarc) Jun 3, 2019 at 19:11
  • 3
    not a matter of whether they wanted local power or not - it is abundantly clear that trade was the primary driver for most of the empire rather than any desire to rule per se. Of course this lead to the 'need' to assume local rule in order to impose their advantage.
    – user31561
    Jun 4, 2019 at 7:22
  • @Orangesandlemons I think you need to be a little bit more realistic. Sure, the Brits were greedy and wanted trade. But how can you deny that they wanted power? For example, what about Rhodes? Is wikipedia wrong that he sought the diamond minds to expand British Control? Jun 4, 2019 at 16:37
  • Do you honestly think Rhodes cared not for power, only trade? And that he was the only man in Britain who sought power? Jun 4, 2019 at 16:38

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