Before proceeding to discuss Hong Kong's part in the interplay of Chinese and Western cultures, it is necessary to make a sketch of Hong Kong's position and role in China's communications with foreign countries.
The development of the island of Hong Kong began relatively late. The Kowloon peninsula and New Territories, had since the T'ang and Sung Dynasties, been prominent in China's intercourse with the outside world. Take the T'un Mên Bay (Castle Peak Bay) in the New Territories for instance. It served as an outer harbour of Canton from the days of T'ang and Sung onward; Chinese and foreign sea-faring craft called there or came to drop anchor, for the bay was linked to Canton by land and sea, and under the shelter of Lantao Island, it provided protection for shipping from the rage of the typhoon. Hong Kong Island, situated to the southeast, stands like a sentinel guarding the entrance to the bay.
Being a port of call for foreign vessels before sailing up to Canton, and for Chinese vessels before continuing their sea voyages, T'un Mên was often mentioned in the literary works of T'ang scholars. For instance, in his work on the sea-routes to Canton, Chia Tan, a literary man of the T'ang era, said: "We sailed southeastward for two hundred li and reached the T'un Mên Mount, and from there we hoisted sail and headed westward." The imposing scenery of T'un Mên often inspired T'ang poets in their compositions.
Even during the reign of Chêng Tê ( Emperor of the Ming Dynasty from 1514 to 1521), the Portuguese who came and traded in the East first thought of developing T'un Mên as their main base. Later they gave up the idea after they had occupied Macao and developed it into a trading centre. Then T'un Mên, as piracy became rife in the neighbourhood, gradually lost its importance in China's communication with foreign countries.
In the 21st year of the reign of Tao Kuang ( 1841), Hong Kong Island was ceded to Britain. Under an efficient British administration which was based on the rule of law, Hong Kong (the island proper) and later, the Kowloon peninsula, grew prosperous and populous, and became a shipping centre in the Far East. Later the construction of the Kowloon-Canton railway linked Hong Kong and Canton. Now with a modern airport, Hong Kong is well connected with Europe and America, and grows daily in importance in the world. As former Governor of Hong Kong, Sir Cecil Clementi, said at the end of 1935: " Hong Kong is but a dot on the map of China; and yet it is a place of worldwide importance because of its ocean-borne commerce. Moreover, its commercial greatness rests upon the safest and most durable foundations, for nature has endowed it with a priceless asset in its wonderful harbour. British foresight divined and British enterprise has developed the potentialities latent in this generous gift of nature to mankind, with the result that today Hong Kong is one of the largest shipping centres in the world."
Since 1842, Europeans and Americans who came to preach or trade in China often came to Hong Kong first, and made themselves acquainted with the conditions in China before leaving for the mainland. The Chinese intending to go abroad also came to Hong Kong first: they either waited here for the arrival of liners or studied Western languages and other subjects here before sailing for their destinations.
For instance, the China Office of London Missionary Society was transferred from Malacca to Hong Kong in 1843; the Anglo-Chinese College, which had been established by Robert Morrison, was removed also from Malacca to Hong Kong in the same year. Rev. J. L. Shuck, sent by the Triennial Convention in the United States, arrived at Macao in 1836; he came and settled down in Hong Kong in 1842. In 1844, he and Rev. I. J. Roberts both left independently for Canton and remained there preaching. W. A. R. Martin came to Hong Kong from the United States in 1850 and studied Chinese here first and then left for the mainland. John Fryer came to the East in 1861 and became a teacher in Hong Kong. Later both taught English at the T'ung Wên College in Peking, and became well-known as translators of Western works.
Even Yung Hung who had petitioned to the Manchu Government to select and send boys to study in the United States, had to come to Hong Kong to enrol boys from among those who had already learned some English. Ou Fêng-ch'ih, a Cantonese, went to Germany and taught Cantonese at an institute of oriental languages, largely because of the fact that he had been a teacher in Hong Kong and had thus got acquainted with Western diplomats. All this points out Hong Kong's role in the cultura exchange between China and the West.
From the days of Han and Chin Dynasties down to 1842, a small number of Chinese dwelt in the Hong Kong area. They fished, ploughed or followed other callings. Naturally, Chinese rites, music, and institutions were relatively preserved here. When Hong Kong became a thriving port, industrialists and merchants from Kwangtung and Fukien continued to come and settle here, and built houses, reared children. They of ten invited literary men from the mainland to come down and tutor their sons and younger brothers, or they sent them back to the mainland to culture for civil service examinations or further their studies. They often came back and lived with their families here. With tutors invited from the mainland, with sons and brothers sent back to join the civil service or to continue their studies, the Chinese community here were naturally brought with greater contact with Chinese culture, and thus the spirit of Chinese culture easily took root here. This is one of the reasons why Chinese culture was easily evolved and diffused here.