Lantau Island is the largest island in Hong Kong, located at the mouth of the Pearl River. Administratively, most of Lantau Island is part of the Islands District of Hong Kong. A small northeastern portion of the island is located in the Tsuen Wan District.
Originally the site of fishing villages, the island has been developed in recent years with the construction of Tung Chung New Town on its north-western coast and the completion of several major infrastructure projects, including Lantau Link (1997), Hong Kong International Airport (1998), Hong Kong Disneyland (2005) and Ngong Ping 360 (2006).
Early human artifacts have been discovered on the island. These include rock carvings at Shek Pik, which are thought to date back to the Bronze Age, and a stone circle at Fan Lau which is probably from the Neolithic Age. Both sites are located on the southwestern coast of the island.
In 1276, the Southern Song Dynasty court fled to Guangdong by boat to escape Mongol invaders, leaving Emperor Gong of Song behind. The resistance centred on two young princes, Emperor Gong's brothers. The older boy Zhao Shi, was declared emperor at the age of nine, ascending the throne as Emperor Duanzong of Song. In 1277, the imperial court sought refuge first in Silvermine Bay (Mui Wo) on Lantau Island (then known as Gangzhou, and later in today's Kowloon City. The older brother became ill, died, and was succeeded by the younger brother Zhao Bing (Emperor Bing of Song) at the age of seven. He died in 1279, and the Song Dynasty ended. These emperors are also believed to have held court in the Tung Chung valley, which takes its name from a local hero who gave up his life for the emperor.
Lantau Island and Tuen Mun were among the first European trading settlements in the Pearl River area, established by Portuguese traders in the 1510s. The Portuguese abandoned these settlements in around 1517, following their defeat by Chinese troops. The island later became an important trading post for the British, long before they became interested in Hong Kong Island.
There were nine settlements on the island in the early 16th century: Kai Kung Tau, Shek Pik, Tai O, Sha Lo Wan, Tung Sai Chung, Tai Ho Shan (now known as Lantau Peak), Mui Wo, Lo Pui O (now known as Pui O) and Tong Fuk. The island was evacuated during about a decade, following the orders imposed by the Great Clearance, and people were allowed to return to settle on the island in 1669. Five villages were subsequently resettled: Tai O, Tung Sai Chung, Lo Pui O, Shek Pik and Mui Wo.
Salt was illegally produced in Lantau island. This was discovered by the Chinese rulers during the 16th century, and the local warlord put many islanders to death as a result.
Like Cheung Chau, Lantau was once a base for pirates and smugglers, and was one of the haunts of Cheung Po Tsai in the 19th century. Silver was mined at Mui Wo until the 19th century.
Lantau was a major site of resistance against the Japanese during the second world war. The resistance movement made use of the island's wooded areas and deep valleys in order to organise ambushes and move supplies. The resistance movement persevered through the war until the end of the Japanese occupation in 1945.
In 2000, Lantau Island acted as an important base for the Fiber-Optic Link Around the Globe project and the Asia-Pacific Cable Network which acts as an Internet bridge to the rest of the world.