Prior to 1840s Hong Kong Island was the site of sleepy fishing villages. Foreign involvement in the Pearl River Delta was focused on Macau, controlled by the Portuguese, and Canton (more properly known today as Guangzhou), part of the vast Qing Dynasty of China.
As trade with China expanded from its start in the 1500s via the Portuguese in Macau, gradually an imbalance developed with huge amounts of silver being transferred to China by foreign traders. The answer that many traders came up with was to provide opium, which was widely used around the world for medicinal purposes, in exchange for Chinese goods. This created tremendous addiction problems in China, leading to an eventual effort to stop the opium trade completely. At the time the British government determined to forecibly maintain the status quo and began the First Opium War with China. With its vast sea power Britain was easily able to vanquish the declining Qing forces. One of the conditions of the Treaty of Nanking signed August 29, 1842, ending this First Opium War was the cession of Hong Kong Island to Britain in perpetuity. This began a period of over 150 years of British control of Hong Kong Island, and its excellent deep water harbor, that only ended with its return to Chinese control on July 1, 1997.
Presently Hong Kong Island is part of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China, governed under the "one country, two systems" policy that will be in effect until 2047. Today Hong Kong Island is the center of the financial and corporate activities of Hong Kong, and is in fact a major financial center in the world.
The island consists of many smaller areas of interest to tourists, most notably Central, Wanchai, Aberdeen, and Repulse Bay. One of the most popular tourist stops, Victoria Peak is the best place to get a birds-eye view of the city. The skyline is spectacular during the day but glows with bright neon lights at night. Lang Kwai Feng is a hopping square block that has some of Hong Kong's most popular bars and restaurants. The famous Stanley Market is the go-to spot to find any kind of souvenir or gift. A recently renovated boardwalk provides nice sea-side dining experiences and a picturesque stroll along the water.