Stepping into the 20th century, Hong Kong’s infrastructure, including roads, wharves, and warehouses, became more established after about 60 years of development. Trade-related industries such as finance, insurance, transport, communications, warehousing, and ship repairing developed rapidly. By the eve of the Second World War, there were over 30 Chinese and foreign banks operating in Hong Kong. In the early years of the Republic of China, the Chinese mainland was fraught with warfare among warlord cliques. Many mainlanders who fled to Hong Kong to avoid war brought capital and technology with them. Meanwhile, some overseas Chinese came to Hong Kong for business. All these favoured the growth of entrepot trade in pre-war Hong Kong.
Although being struck by the First World War, the overall trade volume of Hong Kong witnessed an increment between 1900 and 1924. The total tonnage of vessels sailing in and out of Hong Kong reached 19,325,384 tons in 1901 and rose to 56,731,077 tons in 1924. The entrepot trade in Hong Kong fluctuated due to the Canton-Hong Kong strike and the world economic crises between 1925 and 1936. In 1937, Japan launched a full-scale war of aggression against China. The centre of China’s foreign trade thus gradually shifted to South China where Hong Kong is located. As the war went on, important foreign trade ports such as Shanghai (上海), Nanjing (南京), and Wuhan (武漢) collapsed one by one. Hong Kong became the only gateway for China’s foreign trade. Pre-war Hong Kong enjoyed a period of prosperity when trade volume surged between 1937 and 1940.
Hong Kong’s major trading partners began to change in the 1900s. Although Hong Kong’s largest trading partner was still the Chinese mainland for this period, its share of the city’s total trade value started to decrease. Another significant change was that Hong Kong’s foreign trade became increasingly diversified and internationalised in light of Britain’s decline on the world stage and the emergence of new markets such as Japan, the United States, and Southeast Asia.
The Kowloon-Canton Railway (KCR) Chinese Section opened and through train service to Canton commenced in 1911. It was a fast and convenient route to reach the vast South China region, promoting both land transport and trade development in Hong Kong. The photo shows the first KCR train.
The main building of The Wharf (Holdings) Limited (around 1910) in Tsim Sha Tsui. Entrepot trade developed rapidly in pre-war Hong Kong. Some consortia operated businesses such as trading and warehousing on both sides of Victoria Harbour.
The area from Tin Lok Lane (bottom left corner) to Jardine Matheson Single Storey Godown area in Causeway Bay in 1920. At that time, British consortia such as Jardine Matheson and The Wharf (Holdings) Limited had a lot of trade investment on both sides of Victoria Harbour.
The banking industry and trade development are interrelated. The photo shows the HSBC Main Building in 1924.
A view of Central from Victoria Harbour in the 1920s. Since Hong Kong was established as a free port, Central became the core area of foreign trade after decades of development.
A view of Victoria Harbour from the Mid-Levels in 1930. The thriving trade manifested itself in the busy harbour traffic.
The city became prosperous from trade. The photo shows a street scene with shops on both sides in Hong Kong in 1938.
A distant view of a residential area in Hong Kong in 1938. Trade and economic growth led to population growth. Buildings were closely packed.
The night view of Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour in 1938. Trade and economic development made Hong Kong a city that never sleeps. Its night scene is well-known at home and abroad.
The S.S. President Polk docking at Tsim Sha Tsui (around 1940). With Britain’s decline on the world stage and the emergence of new markets, trades with countries such as Japan, the United States, and those in Southeast Asia gradually increased. The foreign trade in Hong Kong became more diversified and internationalised.
The images in this material are provided by Professor Lau Chi-pang and Professor Liu Shuyong (Photos 1, 2, 3, 6 and 10) and Fotoe (Photos 4, 5, 7, 8 and 9), and misc. photo sources. Every effort has been made to trace the copyright holders and obtain permission to reproduce this material. Please do get in touch with any enquiries or any information relating to this image or the rights holder.