Hong Kong, Guangzhou and the Opium Wars

I was on my way back to China in the second week of November. The main purpose of the trip was to visit again with our partners at the Guangzhou College of Commerce (GCC) regarding our joint undergraduate business program. I’ve written about this one before. Students will spend their first two years at GCC and second two years at our business school. Students who complete the program receive diplomas from both universities. The first cohort arrives in Omaha in time for the fall 2019 semester.


I chose a different travel route this time. Instead of making my way to Guangzhou through Beijing, I decided to fly directly from LAX to Hong Kong, and take the train the rest of the way. The train is fast (well, kinda fast), covering the distance from Hong Kong to Guangzhou in one hour. The Omaha to LAX flight is an easy one, and the flight out of LAX originates from a new part of the airport, one that has an excellent selection of restaurants and shops. I had dinner at LAX with one of our former MBA students. He was flying from Omaha to LAX to Las Vegas. He’s interesting and smart, and continues to stay connected to our college.


The downside of the LAX to Hong Kong leg is that the time from wheels up to touchdown is 14 hours and 40 minutes (scheduled). Whew. That’s a good deal of restless sleep, way too many movies, and far too much time figuring out my fellow passengers’ snore cycles. We arrived in Hong Kong nearly 40 minutes early, but still had flown for more than 14 hours, plenty of time to also get a bad case of fat feet. I struggled a bit getting my shoes back on.

Cathay Pacific (LAX to Hong Kong) has excellent service, and the food is pretty good as well. We were at the gate in Hong Kong by 6:15 am, a great arrival time with respect to clearing customs and immigration, especially on a Sunday morning. Both processes are efficient in Hong Kong, even if the airport is busy. And, I had avoided the Omaha-Chicago-Beijing-Guangzhou  marathon, where there’s almost always at least one connection problem.


I was greeted in Hong Kong by Shuanglin Lin, one of my colleagues, and a good friend, along with one of his former students. Shuanglin is also the director of a public policy center at Peking University in Beijing (that’s a big deal). His student is originally from China but studied at our college. She is now a graduate student at Hong Kong University. Our plans for the day were simple, to be tourists for as long as I could hold up. I had only slept for a few hours on the LAX to Hong Kong leg of the trip and by mid-afternoon my body was going to think that it was the middle of the night. Plus, my feet were still a bit fat. In addition, Shuanglin and I had a busy Monday scheduled at GCC, so the initial thinking was that we should pace ourselves. Not really.

Hong Kong is too cool to think about any kind of pacing (and my feet returned to normal size) and we quickly developed a “see all that we can” strategy for the day. It was my first time in Hong Kong. I wanted to “see the sights”, which included a lot of walking. So, we were decided first to get something to eat and then explore. Keep in mind that breakfast in China does not involve frosted flakes and milk, bacon and eggs, pancakes, waffles, pigs in a blanket, french toast, or any of the stuff we come to expect when we walk into the Village Inn, IHOP (or whatever it’s now called), Denny’s, Jimmy’s Egg, or some other place that offers breakfast. Breakfast in China means vegetables, fish, dumplings, and a whole lot of other items that we associate with lunch or dinner. No need to worry, I didn’t go without.


My reference to the Opium Wars in the title of this post was made because those wars shaped nearly 160 years of the history of South China, eventually leaving Hong Kong under British governance. Some Chinese refer to this period as the Century of Humiliation, although as noted above the period lasted for much more than a century. In the 18th and 19th centuries, South China, particularly Canton (Guangzhou) and Hong Kong became strong centers of commerce. The flow of silver to buy silk, porcelain, and tea into the region was substantial, creating what one might call a trade imbalance (seem familiar?) with the British and other traders. So, the British developed a plan to counterbalance the trade flow. Opium grown in India began to be sold in South China at much higher levels than it was in previous years, thus reversing the trade surplus. It also created an opioid crisis. The level of opium addiction in the Chinese population grew, creating a host of social and economic problems for the region.

In 1839, Lin Zexu was appointed viceroy by the Daoguang Emperor with instructions to “fix the problem.” Zexu seized over 1,200 tons of opium along with confining foreign traders to Canton. These acts were more than the British would tolerate, and the Royal Navy intervened. Skirmishes broke out, battles were fought, and the small armada won out in what became to be known as “gunboat diplomacy.” The war ended in 1842 with the Treaty of Nanjing. The treaty ceded Hong Kong Island to the British. But, it was not over. Unresolved trade issues (from the British perspective) led to the second opium war (1856-1860). I am leaving out much detail here, and I suggest that you read more, especially as it relates to the treaty signed that led to the turning back of Hong Kong by the United Kingdom in 1999.

Our subway ride and walk to Hong Kong University was interesting. We came across a graduation ceremony that was held indoors in a place that could not seat all of those who came to observe the affair. We caught up with family members, friends, and others as they waited until the end of the ceremony—see the pictures that follow. The campus is very nice, and is located adjacent to the bustling business district that has become well-known worldwide.






We spent as much of the day as possible: hanging out in cool train stations, riding the cog railway to the top of Victoria Park, and enjoying the sights and sounds of one of the most vibrant cities in the world. The train ride to Guangzhou was quick, but not as fast as expected.





The history of southern China is fascinating, and recent economic and social change makes it even more interesting. The old blends in with the new (sometimes). Among the new is the most interesting business school building that I have ever seen, The Peking University HSBC Business School in Shenzhen. It is a seven story structure with an incredibly expansive atrium. It houses a first rate academic program in an area of China that is undergoing significant economic growth. I have also added a few more pictures that represent well the old and the new. I recommend that readers consider a trip to this part of China. You will not be disappointed.



Hong Kong Atrium 3.JPG

Hong Kong Atrium 4.JPG





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