Prior to the establishment of Hong Kong, the name hong was given to major business houses using the Chinese word (Chinese: 行; pinyin: háng; Jyutping: hong4; literally: "profession") based in Canton. The Thirteen Factories were the original Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) hongs permitted to engage in foreign trade under the aegis of the cohong.
The original Canton factories faded from the scene after the First Opium War (1839–1842), just prior to Hong Kong's economic birth and hence had little effect on the new colony's development. One of the earliest Foreign Hongs established was Jardine Matheson & Co., who bought Lot No. 1 at the first Hong Kong land sale in 1841. In 1843 the same firm established a mainland China headquarters on the Bund in Shanghai, just south of the British Consulate. The building was known as "the Ewo Hong", or "Ewo House", based on the Cantonese pronunciation of the company's Chinese name (怡和行, Cantonese: Yiwo Hong, now 怡和洋行). Jardines took the name from the earlier Ewo hong run by Howqua.
The term is most often used in reference to Colonial Hong Kong companies directly.
Prior to the establishment of banking institutions other than small foreign bank branches, the three firms that financed most of Hong Kong's economic activities were Jardine's, Dent's and Russell's.
By the time of the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, many of the hongs had diversified their holdings and shifted their headquarters offshore away from Hong Kong to avoid any potential communist party takeovers.
Conglomerates of colonial Hong Kong
Note: Below are lists of companies that had a predominant effect on Hong Kong's economy at a particular era. Their noteworthiness is debatable. The official names of the era are used.
- Wheelock Marden 1857
- Gilman and Bowman – established by Richard James Gilman as a tea trader in 1840; taken over by Duncan Paterson of Australia 1917 and turned into a privately held company; bought by Inchcape Group in 1969
- Economy of Hong Kong
- Nam Pak Hong
- The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation
- Hang Seng Index
- Old China Trade
- Sogo shosha, Japan
- Zaibatsu, Japan
- Keiretsu, Japan
- Chaebol, South Korea
- Four big families of Hong Kong
- English Chartered Trading Companies, England/Britain -including fur trading company Hudson's Bay Company
- Jardine Matheson – Official history.
- Tales of Old Shanghai. "Earnshaw.com." The Hongs. Retrieved on 29 March 2007.
- Cheong, W.E. (1997). The Hong merchants of Canton: Chinese merchants in Sino-Western trade. Routledge. ISBN 0-7007-0361-6. p.122 Online version at Google books
- "Hong Kong Hongs with Long Histories and British Connections" (PDF). Hong Kong University. 1990. Retrieved 11 April 2011.
- Genzberger, Christine A.  (1994) Hong Kong Business: The Portable Encyclopedia for Doing Business with Hong Kong. ISBN 0-9631864-7-7
- Dan Waters, "Hong Kong Hongs with Long Histories and British Connections", Paper presented at the 12th Conference of the International Association of Historians of Asia, at Hong Kong University (June 1991): 230–231; http://hkjo.lib.hku.hk/archive/files/8deeba7475f950a5f3938fc24f687bbe.pdf