History of Hong Kong/Imperial years/Ming and Qing

The Ming and Qing dynasties were the last two to rule China. The former had Han Chinese emperors surnamed Zhao; the latter had Manchu emperors. During these two periods, Hong Kong experienced changes much more significant than the previous dynasties. During the Ming Dynasty, Hong Kong was threatened by bandits, pirates and even Portuguese invaders. More people moved to Hong Kong (although in smaller scales compared to Song and Yuan.) The economy of Hong Kong was better than ever.

The Manchus later invaded China, starting the Qing Dynasty, and thus the anti-Qing movement had to be stopped by Kangxi. This spelt trouble for the development of Hong Kong, for the Emperor decided to issue an order for the Great Evacuation, which left Hong Kong deserted for many years. When the people came back, Hong Kong was quite a different place.

Hong Kong was part of Xinan County in the Ming Dynasty, which had been split from Dongguan County. Xinan County was merged back into Dongguang in 1666, and split yet again in 1669, which did not change until the British came along.

Ming Dynasty to early Qing


Administration and defence


Early in the Ming Dynasty, weisuos were stationed in Hong Kong. A 1000-soldier weisuo was stationed in Eastern Hong Kong, and another in the West. Since Tuen Mun was sandwiched between the two, the military paraphernalia there was limited to a pier, which was later reduced to flood barracks. In other words, it was not considered important.

Te Tuen Mun Inspection and Patrol Office was renamed again during the Ming Dynasty. This time, it's Guanfu Inspection and Patrol Office. Two government officials managed it and it was protected by fifty archers. The head of te office's job was pretty much the same as that in the Yuan Dynasty. Little is known about the Office before the reign of Wanli Emperor, but the list of heads are, according to the Xinan Gazetteer,[1] as follows:

Lin Yunlong Lin Tingcai Ye Qi Lin Yumo
Li Jiacai Li Chonggang Yang Denggao Wan Wei
HuangZhe Chen Guoli Xu Chaowang Zhong yinglun
Ge Zilü Shi Tingxian Cheng Yingzhi Cha Xiao
Yu Qiong Li Lan Li Dacheng Zhang Yiji
Huang Zuxiang Zhu Chengxue Hong Yixiang Zhong Yingyang
Zhu Bangtai Liu Yingping Wang Zhixie

A statue of Álvares in Macau

External threats


In the mid Ming Dynasty, the countries of the south seas had started to break their relationship with China and surrender to the Portuguese. In 1511,[2] Alfonso de Albuquerque, a Portuguesse, captured Malacca, so Rui de Brito Patalim sent Jorge Álvares to lead the fleet home. Álvares led the troops to Tamao, or Tuen Mun, in 1514. He erected a stone pillar with the Portuguese coat of arms, and set up a camp where weapons such as huochongs were made. Fernando Perez d'Andrade, who was in charge of Malacca, sent Thomas Pirez to Humen through Tuen Mun with a ship loaded with goods, supposedly tribute, but was denied entry by Chinese officials. Pirez advanced anyway. He was greeted by Chen Jinling, the Viceroy of the Two Guangs, who first spent three days studying etiquette in a temple before ordering the ship to be unloaded and the goods be brought to the land. Chen later allowed the Portuguesse to proceed to the capital. However, soon a plague broke out in the Portuguese ships and most of them fled to Tuen Mun, leaving only Pirez behind. The Portuguese were later shooed out of China because Portugal was not listed as a tributary.

In 1518, Portuguese general Simao d’Andrade led his fleet to Tuen Mun, which he occupied. He set up execution grounds in nearby islands, refused to pay taxes, and stole from and abused the locals. Censorate officers Qiu Daolong and He Ao reported to the throne, requesting permission for and assistance in defeating the Portuguese, so Wang Hong, a famous general, was sent. As there were strong southerly winds, the Portuguese ships could hardly move. Wang ordered ships loaded with coal and grease to near the Portuguese ships, causing them to catch fire. He also sent divers to sea and sink the ships. He Ru, who headed the Inspection and Patrol Office in Baisha, Dongguan, persuaded the two Chinese working for the Portuguese to serve China instead. They reproduced Portuguese huochongs, which proved useful in the Battle. After forty days, only eight men were left on each Portuguese ship. The Portuguese escaped on the three larger ships. It was called the Battle of Tamao. As the two armies met in Sai Tso Wan, a bay on Lantau, and later moved to the island of Shao Chao.[3], the battle is also named the Battle of Sai Tso Wan. The Portuguese never bothered Hong Kong again and targeted other parts of China instead.

Not long after the Portuguese decided to change their target to Macau, Hong Kong faced the problem of piracy. Lim To Khiam with his gang of thousands roamed the seas of China, focusing on Southern China but threatening the seas of as far as Kaohsiung, a city in Taiwan. demanding silver from the passing ships. This meant the Hong Kong ships kept at bay as they had little intention to mess with Lim. Lim later fell and went to Changwat Pattani instead, so the seas were safe again.

In 1551,[4] He Yaba, another pirate, led his army of foreigners to the Dongguan qianhu suo, but was defeated by Li Maocai. Pirates Lin Feng, Li Kui (no, not the Li in Water Margin) and Liu Xiang (no, definitely not the hurdler) have also robbed Hong Kong ships.

Bandit Chen Yaowei tried to attack Lung Yeuk Tau in 1586[5], but failed.

The Ming society


During the Ming Dynasty, a lot of people migrated to Hong Kong because of its stable society, among them Hakkas.



Hong Kong's supply of pearls had nearly been exhausted by the Ming Dynasty. Hong Kong, whose pearl-hunting industry was surpassed by Leizhou and Lianzhou was no longer a major pearl-hunting centre.

Guanfu was re-established in the Ming Dynasty. The salt was transported from Dapeng to Guangzhou via Ng Tung Shan.[6] Fishing, farming and oyster farming was also noted in Hong Kong during the Ming Dynasty (as well as the consecutive Qing Dynasty).

The soil found in slopes of Hong Kong are not favourable for planting grains or fruits. They are good for incense trees,[7] however. During the Ming Dynasty, incense trees were planted in Dongguan and Xinan, and Hong Kong was among the places where this was grown. Dongguan and Xinan incense was known as guan xiang, and was of the highest quality in China.

Lek Yuen Po[8] and Sha Lo Wan were the main incense-producing locations of Hong Kong. The incense was transported from Heung Po Tau, whose name means a port for importing incense trees,[9] along a small bay at the east end of Aberdeen Bay, and shipped to Guangzhou, where it would be distributed to places along the Yangtze or the Qiantang, such as Susong.

The Dark Age


The Greek Dark Age was named thus because of the lack of records. That of Hong Kong is similar, but not exactly the same: there were no illiterate people in Hong Kong. There simply were no people.

In the early Qing dynasty, the Qing government ordered the coastal areas of Zhejiang and Fujian to be evacuated as an effort to prevent the pirates and Zheng Chenggong, a Ming official who escaped to Taiwan, from invading. In 1661,[10] the ban was imposed on Guangdong as well. Citizens were forced to move 50 miles into the country. Houses and fields left in Hong Kong were destroyed. They were later ordered to move a further 30 miles.

During the Dark Age, the government neglected Hong Kong, so the city became a base for bandits, notably Yuan Sidu, who took Guanfu and other places and raided the place. Troops were stationed in four ports of Hong Kong (Tuen Mun, Lion Rock, Tai Po Tau and Ma Tseuk Leng) to keep the people out.

Wang Lairen, Governer of Guangdong, and Zhou Youde, Viceroy of the Two Guangs, both requested the ban to be lifted. The court agreed in 1669, and lifted the ban. Former residents of Hong Kong were allowed to return to their homeland. Ships were not allowed to leave Hong Kong until 1683, however.

The Evacuation greatly affected the clans of Hong Kong. The To clan was one of the affected. When the returned to Hong Kong, it took them 20 years to stabilise their lives again. Historians believe the Tos were reduced from over 500 people to around 100 because of the evacuation.

Besides the loss of lives, many other clans did not even return to Hong Kong, for they had got used to the life in the Mainland. To remedy the situation, Mainland Hakkas were encouraged to move to Hong Kong. Original 'Hakkas' who re-inhabited Hong Kong after the lift of the Clearance called themselves Puntis. Instead, the people who were encouraged to move to Hong Kong afterwards were called Hakkas.

Pre-colonial Qing era


Administration and events


By the Qing Dynasty, the Guanfu Inspection and Patrol Office was too weak to rule Hong Kong. Hong Kong was divided into autonomous administrative divisions including the du, the xiang (township), the wei (walled village) and the cun (village). These divisions each had their own elected village chief as well as clan chief.

As the baojia system was introduced to the whole of China, ten households formed a pai, ten pais a bao and ten baos a jia. A dibao and a viceroy would be elected by the elders and approved officially before ruling. A dibao was a policeman who worked in towns. The job of the dibao was more focused on investigation and the handling of criminals, while that of the viceroy focused on administration.

Towards the end of the Qing Dynasty, weaker villages and clans formed unions to defend against stronger clans and villages. Such unions were regarded as autonomous administrative divisions and the viceroy was elected. The union's territory was not decided by the government but the people, and the people would report to the government on the matter. While lacking official laws, there were village-specific rules, and the viceroy and dibao did enforce them. Important affairs within villages were still handled by individual chiefs.

Socioeconomic developments


Before the Dark Age, Jiangxi people relied on Guangdong salt. Because of the Great Evacuation, they used salt from the Huai River instead. Moreover, few salt-making people returned to Hong Kong. The government's efforts to revive the industry failed. Nowadays, there are still salt-making sites in Tuen Mun and Tai O, but the quality of the salt is inferior to that of the previous dynasties.

Incense production was also affected by the Evacuation as few people incense farmers returned to Hong Kong. During the reign of Yongzheng, the magistrate ordered incense from Hong Kong to be sent to Dongguan, where it was needed. The people killed all the incense trees and fled in the fear that they would be arrested otherwise. Although some incense trees still remain in Hong Kong, they are no longer used.


  1. The Xinan Gazetteer is a historical document written during the reign of Kangxi.
  2. The sixth year of Zhengde.
  3. Present-day Sha Chao.
  4. The thirtieth year of Jiajing.
  5. The fourteenth year of Wanli
  6. There is a path near present-day Cheung Shan Monastery that leads to the Mainland via Ng Tung. That may be one of the paths along which the salt was transported.
  7. More formally known as Aquilaria sinensis.
  8. Present-day Shatin.
  9. More commonly known as Tsim Sha Tsui or Tsimshatsui.
  10. The first year of Kangxi.