Heung Gong (Cantonese), Xianggang (Mandarin)
Identification. Hong Kong means "fragrant harbor." Once administered by the United Kingdom, it has been known since 1997 as the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People's Republic of China (PRC). Many residents do not identify with either Britain or China. The generation born and raised in Hong Kong from 1949 to 1979 (when China was isolated) has a much more local identity than do their parents.
Location and Geography. The total area is 425 square miles (1,097 square kilometers). Hong Kong Island is only ten square miles. Only 15 percent of the area is built up, while 67 percent consists of grassland, scrub, and woods. Forty percent of the territory is designated as recreational parks, largely hills and mountains.
Demography. The population was 6,805,600 in 1998. At the end of World War II, the population was only about 600,000; it swelled with refugees when the Communist Party won the civil war in China in 1949. Both fertility and infant mortality are low, and life expectancy is the seventh highest in the world. Hong Kong is one of the world's most crowded cities. The proportion of the population born in Hong Kong is about 60 percent, but among those under age 15, the proportion is about 88 percent.
Linguistic Affiliation. Cantonese is spoken in 89 percent of households. Other languages include Fukienese (2 percent), Hakka (1 percent), Mandarin or Putonghua (1 percent), Chiu Chau (1 percent), Shanghainese (less than 1 percent), and Sze Yap. English is spoken as the primary language at home by 3 percent of the population. Thirty-eight percent of the population claims the ability to speak English, and 25 percent claims to speak Mandarin (or Putonghua), the national language of China. In the colonial period, English was used in business and the courts. Chinese was added as a second official language in 1974 in response to anti-colonial riots. This Chinese was Cantonese, not Mandarin (or Putonghua) which is the official in the mainland, Taiwan, and Singapore. The Cantonese spoken in Hong Kong is similar to that used in Guangzhou (Canton), but the accent and some vocabulary are slightly different.
Hong Kong uses the traditional complex Chinese characters, while mainland China and Singapore have adopted simplified characters. Since the 1970s, popular magazines and newspapers have taken to writing using many new characters to represent the Cantonese spoken locally.
Symbolism. Hong Kong prides itself on being "the gateway to China" and the place "where East meets West." In tourist brochures, a junk is used to capture the idea of a traditional port, although by 1990 there was only one junk left. The Star Ferry, which until 1972 was the only way to cross the harbor, is also a common symbol of the city. The skyline of the harbor, with skyscrapers and Victoria Peak, is a famous view.
Many symbols are in flux. Holidays related to Britain and local events have been replaced with Chinese holidays such as 1 July, celebrating the restoration of Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1997, and 1 October, commemorating the founding of the PRC in 1949. A newly created "Buddha's Birthday" in May has replaced Queen's Birthday in June. The Hong Kong flag is now considered a regional flag that must fly lower than the PRC national flag. It is pinkish red with a stylized bauhinia flower in white in the center.
Emergence of the Nation. Hong Kong was claimed by Great Britain in three steps: Hong Kong island was handed over to Britain by China "in perpetuity" in 1842 after the Opium War, the peninsula of Kowloon was ceded in 1860, and the New Territories were leased to the United Kingdom for ninety-nine years in 1898. The PRC never accepted these "Unequal Treaties," which it viewed as products of imperialism. The end of the lease to the New Territories led to the return of the entire territory to China. Under the Sino-British Joint Declaration signed in 1984, Hong Kong is to be ruled "with a high degree of autonomy" until 2047. The guiding principle is "one country, two systems," meaning that the territory can keep its distinctive lifestyle and economic system for fifty years, by which time Hong Kong and China are expected to be more alike.
The population is descended primarily from long-term urban residents, the aboriginal Chinese population of the New Territories, and the refugees who fled China. These refugees were a source of cheap and willing labor.
The key to Hong Kong's emergence was its status as a free port at the edge of China, but the emergence of a national identity dates to the early 1970s, when a generation of young people born and raised in Hong Kong came of age. Before the victory of the Chinese Communists in 1949, Hong Kong had no border with China; it was a British-administered city with a constant flow of people in and out. From 1949 to the late 1970s, there was little movement across the border. After twenty years of division from mainland China, people identified with the locality rather than the nation. Popular songs began to focus on the territory as home. Hong Kong was also different from the rest of China in its use of English. Once Chinese immigrants began coming in the 1980s, local residents felt superior to and more sophisticated than their mainland brethren.
Since the handover in July 1997, there have been few changes. None of the place names with colonial connotations have been changed, though the word "royal" has been dropped from names. Textbooks have stopped referring to China as a foreign country, and the flag of the "Republic of China" (Taiwan) can no longer be flown in public.
National Identity. Hong Kong sees itself as a modern city and is proud of its state-of-the-art airport and subway system. It has its own style of life, currency (the Hong Kong dollar), and economic and legal systems. Hong Kong is still governed by common law, and judges wear robes and wigs as they do in Britain. Other continuing legacies of British rule include the rule of law, open government, civil and press freedoms, and high professional standards.
Ethnic Relations. Ethnicity and nationality (citizenship) do not overlap. In 1996, 90 percent of the population had some form of Hong Kong Chinese nationality: 59 percent had British nationality overseas, and 31 percent had Chinese nationality with the right to live in Hong Kong. In 1997, Hong Kong began issuing its own passports.
The population is predominantly Cantonese Chinese from the counties of the Pearl River Delta and Guangzhou. A small minority are of Shanghainese, Hokkien (southern Fujian), and Boat People ("Tanka") descent. The younger generation tends to ignore these origins.
Only a small percentage of people claim long descent in the territory, and most live in New Territories villages. The British allowed these villages to follow traditional law. Inheritance of land was exclusively through the male line. Forty-five percent of residents have close relatives living permanently abroad, and about two-thirds have relatives in mainland China.
"New immigrants" are defined as persons who have arrived since the 1980s. Those who adapt quickly can pass as locals; the term "new immigrant" is used to refer to those whose accent, low educational level, lack of skills, and manners are considered typical of mainland China. The term thus combines place of origin with class and education. Many immigrants who arrived in the 1970s and 1980s became brokers and entrepreneurs who invested and worked in factories that moved to China in the 1990s.
Eurasians were a recognized ethnic category until the mid-twentieth century, but have largely disappeared as an ethnic group. Eurasians are considered Chinese if they speak Cantonese or Westerners if they have received a Western education.
Hong Kong is cosmopolitan and multicultural and had a foreign population of 485,760 in 1998, including large groups from the Philippines, Indonesia, the United States, Canada, Thailand, the United Kingdom, India, Australia, Japan, and Nepal. Most persons from the Philippines are female "domestic helpers" who have special visas that prevent them from becoming residents. Professionals who live in the territory for seven years can become permanent residents. Many British, American, and Canadian citizens are ethnic Hong Kong Chinese who have returned to work after receiving citizenship.
The Peak, the area at the top reaches of Victoria Peak, has expensive estates; the higher up the mountain the estate, the higher one's relative rank in business and government. Before World War II, Chinese had to live lower down the hill, mostly in the crowded areas at sea level. After the war, the inflow of refugees from China forced many families to share quarters and live in squatter huts. In 1953, the government began to build public housing, in part because of the realization that the refugees would not go back to the mainland and to allow developers to build on squatter-occupied land. Land reclamation along Kowloon and the north of the island has added significantly to urban space.
Homes are tiny, and bunk beds for families living in single rooms are common. Sidewalks and shopping areas are dense with people. Bumping into others is not uncommon and normally is not acknowledged.
The New Territories include new towns with hundreds of thousands of residents living in high-rise apartment blocks, but there still are villages in which nearly all the residents are descendants of a single male ancestor.
Hong Kong has not preserved much colonial architecture. Colonial history is reflected in road names, a few English place names, and structures such as the Legislative Council Building and Government House. The Anglican Saint John's Cathedral, with its neo-gothic style, is also a reminder of the past. Most older buildings have been replaced with modern structures, although a few colonial-era monuments remain. Notable modern buildings include the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank building, the Bank of China building, and the Hong Kong Exhibition Centre.
Food in Daily Life. There is a wide variety of ethnic foods, including Italian, Japanese, French, and American. Most people, however, eat Cantonese-style Chinese food. Soups are especially important in most meals. A typical Cantonese food is dim sum, also known as yam chah, which is small snacks cooked in bamboo steamers. This meal is served seven days a week, and family members and friends often meet over tea on the weekend. Residents prefer to buy seafood live and meat freshly butchered. Hong Kong has one of the highest per capita consumption rates of fast food in the world, and students buy snacks such as potato chips, fried rice crackers, and prawn crackers from school snack shops.
Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Eating out banquet-style is a common form of entertainment, especially for businesspeople. Banquets differ from everyday meals in that most dishes are meat or fish, and starch is only served at the end of the meal. Alcohol normally accompanies a banquet; beer and brandy are popular drinks, and grape wine has grown rapidly in popularity.
Some holidays and ceremonial occasions are associated with certain kinds of food. Lunar New Year's Eve features chicken, roast pork, and fruit; at the Dragon Boat Festival, people eat rice dumplings wrapped in lotus leaves; and the Mid-Autumn Festival is associated with moon cakes, pomelo, and persimmons. Meals when the family reunites, including New Year's Eve, often include rice flour balls in sweet soup. Birthday banquets for older people include a bowl of long noodles symbolizing long life, and eggs dyed red traditionally are given out at the celebration of a baby's first month.
Basic Economy. Nearly all food comes from mainland China and overseas, as less than 1 percent of the population engages in farming or fishing. The economy has grown rapidly; the real growth of the median household income from 1986 to 1996 was 51 percent.
In 1996, 11 percent of workers are in manufacturing, 67 percent in service industries, 11 percent in transport and communications, 9 percent in construction, and less than one percent in agriculture.
The economy is nearly completely open to the world economy. Most products have no tariffs; only automobiles, petroleum, and alcohol have high import tariffs. Taxes are low. There are no value-added or sales taxes, and less than half of the working population earns enough to pay income tax, which has a minimum rate of 15 percent.
Land Tenure and Property. The government earns enormous revenues from land auctions because it is the owner as well as the principal leaseholder of all land. Once acquired from the government at auctions, land leases can be transferred through private deals, subject to a stamp duty. In 1998, 34 percent of the population lived in public rental housing and 12 percent lived in government-subsidized sale flats.
Commercial Activities. Hong Kong has always been primarily a trade and shipping center, but a sizable amount of light industry has developed. Textile and clothing, toys, and electronics were among the first products manufactured for export in the territory. In the early 1980s, factories began to move across the border into mainland China, and Hong Kong has been transformed into a service center.
Major Industries. Most industry produces for export, such as textiles and clothing, electronic products, watches and clocks, jewelry, gold and silverware, printed matter, plastic products, metals, toys and dolls, and electrical appliances. Hong Kong also is one of the world's leading financial centers.
Much of the economy, though free and competitive externally, is dominated internally by a few large companies. A handful of real estate development companies build the vast majority of new housing and office space, two companies control nearly all the supermarkets, and exclusive importers-distributors of products such as automobiles and compact discs dominate the market.
Trade. Hong Kong, with no natural resources other than a deepwater port, was the world's eighth largest trading economy in 1997. Its port is one of the world's busiest for container throughput, and the airport was the world's busiest in terms of international cargo. The leading trading partners in 1998 were mainland China, the United States, Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore. Textiles and clothing are the major exports but most are made in China and pass through the territory for quality control, packaging, and distribution. Major imports include electronics and consumer goods, raw materials, semimanufactured goods, and machinery. Many are exported for processing in mainland Chinese factories.
Classes and Castes. The gap between rich and poor is extremely large in a territory with a capitalist economy and minimal government interference. Economic inequality is increasing, although from 1986 to 1996 all groups had real growth in income. The only caste-like group is the Boat People. This occupational group of fisherfolk was traditionally marginalized and ritually humiliated. Most have now moved onto land and melted in with the rest of the population. A disproportionate number of the members of the political and economic elite are of Shanghainese descent.
Symbols of Social Stratification. Membership in elite clubs is a mark of status. Designer fashions and gold and diamond jewelry are popular among all classes, but only the very wealthy can afford the latest styles. Ownership of an automobile is another sign of wealth. Habits such as not standing in line, spitting, and wearing "mainlander" clothes mark a person as a new immigrant and low on the social scale. Chinese who speak only Mandarin or speak Cantonese with a Guangzhou accent are also déclassé. Tanned or dark skin is also viewed negatively, suggesting a working-class origin.
Government. In an executive-led government, the chief executive has replaced the British governor of the colonial period. The chief executive is selected by an electoral assembly picked by China, and is assisted by an executive council whose members tend to be leading industrialists. A Legislative Council (Legco) approves executive decisions, although its members can introduce bills and investigate the administration. Only a third of the members are elected by districts; the others are representatives of
Hong Kong has a free and very competitive press. The press and public demonstrations have been important in pressuring the government, as has call-in talk radio.
Hong Kong residents are said to be politically apathetic. The executive-led government and strong bureaucracy left little room for public participation. However, voting rates have risen dramatically, and the slogan "Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong" has been effective and popular.
Social Problems and Control. The crime rate is very low, and there is little vandalism. The most common violent crime is common assault; nonviolent crimes include shoplifting and burglary. Corruption is relatively rare, partly as a result of the Independent Commission Against Corruption established in 1974. Hong Kong has been unable to stamp out the smuggling of narcotics, intellectual piracy of software, and organized crime. Overall, residents have confidence in the police and court system. Maintenance of the common law system and the independence of the judiciary is guaranteed by the Basic Law.
Military Activity. The police force is staffed by local Chinese and some remaining British officers. A small military force from mainland China is stationed in Hong Kong, but Chinese soldiers are not allowed to be in uniform on the street.
Spending on social welfare has been rising rapidly, including Comprehensive Social Security Assistance for families that cannot meet their basic needs in food, clothes, and rent. There is a Social Security Allowance for the severely disabled, services for the elderly, and community services. The government passes funds to private organizations that provide services and monitors their effectiveness. Government subsidies are used for the elderly, rehabilitation of the disabled, family and child welfare services, youth services, community services, and services for offenders.
Nongovernmental organizations are important because the government prides itself on nonintervention. Among the charitable associations are Po Leung Kuk (a Chinese benevolent association that ran an orphanage and provided paupers' funerals and now runs schools and hospitals), the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals, the Community Chest, and the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust. There are associations of missionary origin such as the YMCA, YWCA, and Caritas and chapters of international organizations such as the Red Cross, Boys' and Girls' Clubs, and Amnesty International. There are also provincial associations for people from various regions of China and surname associations.
Division of Labor by Gender. In 1999, 60 percent of men and 40 percent of women were in the labor force. The labor force participation rate in 1996 for married and unmarried men was 86 and 73 percent respectively; for women, it was 46 and 68 percent. The average salary of women was 87 percent that of men.
The Relative Status of Women and Men. Traditional Chinese and British societies were patriarchal, and men continue to have more power and authority than do women. In 1996, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was established; among its first acts was ending the practice of specifically asking for men or "pretty girls" in job advertisements. Although women do housework in addition to outside employment, the availability of domestic live-in help allows many women to pursue a career.
Marriage. Polygamy was allowed until 1971. In 1996, 34 percent of men and 29 percent of women age 15 and over had never married. Marriage depends on becoming economically established, finding housing, and reserving auspicious days. Couples line up in advance at the marriage registry office to reserve wedding dates that are believed to be lucky. A common surname is no longer a hindrance to a marriage. Couples may marry legally first in order to get government housing and hold the customary banquet later when they are socially married. The rate of remarriage of divorced men and women is rising rapidly.
Domestic Unit. The average household size has been declining. The single unextended nuclear family is the dominant household type, accounting for 64 percent of households in 1996. Traditionally the children of divorced parents stayed with the father. The father is formally the head of the household, but more equal conjugal relations are common among younger couples.
Inheritance. All children can inherit property, but an estate typically is divided equally among sons in accordance with the traditional Chinese practice, especially if the family owns a business; a half share for each daughter is also common. In 1994 in the New Territories, lineage leaders complained about urban and colonialist meddling when the government decided to let women inherit land when the deceased had no sons and died intestate. Since the lineages are patrilineal, leaders claimed this would disperse assets and ruin the unity of the lineage.
Infant Care. Pregnancy leave for women is commonly ten to twelve weeks in large companies. Breast-feeding is rare. Chinese tend to indulge infants' and preschool children's demands and do not attempt to control their impulsive behavior. After age five or six, however, rigorous discipline and self-control are expected.
Child Rearing and Education. Parents value obedience, proper behavior, and the acceptance of social obligations rather than independence, spontaneity, and creativity. A "good" child is one who obeys, is quiet, and compliant. School-age children are expected to control their impulses, especially aggression. There are not many formal preschool programs for children. Grandmothers are important help in care-giving.
Education is highly valued. Preschool children are taught Chinese characters, and most schools expect children to know up to two hundred characters before they begin their formal education. Most children attend school only half a day since many schools have two sessions. All children have several hours of homework every day. There is great pressure to enter good schools, and school is very competitive, with frequent testing. Education theories such as learning through play are not widely accepted; parents believe in rote memorization and drilling. Many of the best schools are officially English-language schools, but many teachers conduct classes in Cantonese. Sports are not emphasized, in part because of the lack of space in many schools and housing areas.
Higher Education. A university education is highly valued in Hong Kong, with 34 percent of university-age students receiving a tertiary education. Eighteen percent attend school in Hong Kong, while the rest attend schools overseas. There are seven publicly-funded universities in Hong Kong, including the University of Hong Kong, Chinese University, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, City University of Hong Kong, Polytechnic University, Hong Kong Baptist University, and Lingnan University.
Higher Education. Acquaintances greet each other with a nod or may shake hands if they stop to talk. Good-byes require a handshake only in business settings. Hierarchy is important in social settings; senior or higher ranking persons are introduced or served first. In family gatherings, older people are greeted first. Younger people are expected to greet older people by title and name. The idea of "ladies first" is sometimes used, though it is recognized as a Western notion. It is easier to break the ice by being introduced by a mutual acquaintance. It is common to use the title and family name until one is invited to use a first name. Many Chinese residents use English names for business. In business situations, it is common to exchange bilingual business cards. The cards are given and received with two hands;
Hong Kong Chinese stand close together. They tend to be uncomfortable with body contact, though women often walk hand in hand. When standing in line or visiting museums, foreigners may mistake the smaller personal space as pushiness. Gift giving is important at visits to a home and at a first business meeting. Gifts are given wrapped and are not opened in front of the giver.
Religious Beliefs. Most Chinese residents practice Chinese folk religion which is an amalgam of Taoism, Buddhism, and ancestor worship. Many individuals say they have no religion, but nearly all people have religious ceremonies at funerals. There are 540,000 Christians, and Christianity is growing among the young and university-educated. There are eighty thousand Muslims, twelve thousand Hindus, one thousand Sikhs, and one thousand Jews. There are many beliefs regarding luck and fortune. Certain numbers are considered lucky, while others are unlucky. Many people visit temples for fortune-telling, to consult gods about specific problems, and to ask for protection and good luck.
Religious Practitioners. Taoist priests officiate at village festivals, but along with Buddhist monks and nuns, their most prominent activity is conducting funeral ceremonies. Christian ministers and priests have a more prominent role for Christians because they lead congregations. Fengshui masters help businessmen in the layout of offices.
Rituals and Holy Places. Major holy places include the Wong Tai Sin Temple, the Che Kong Temple in Shatin, and the Tin Hau Temple in Joss House Bay. These temples are popular destinations for worshipers at the lunar new year. Most villages have small temples that hold annual festivals on a god's birthday, and some in the New Territories have lineage halls at which annual worship and division of pork for lineage members are held. The Po Lin Buddhist Monastery on Lantau Island is a popular site for weekend visits.
Death and the Afterlife. Funerals are conducted in traditional Chinese or Christian forms, with Buddhist monks or nuns or Taoist priest officiating at Chinese ceremonies and a priest or minister handling
There is a modern medical system with government-funded hospitals that provide inexpensive care; these hospitals offer what is called "Western medicine." People turn to Chinese (herbal) medicine, acupuncture, moxibustion (in which users place cones of burning leaves on the skin; it is used to cure rheumatism and other ailments), and other alternative treatment for illnesses and chronic problems that are not cured by modern medicine.
Among the major holidays are New Year's Day on 1 January, the Chinese New Year in January and/or February, Ching Ming (a grave-sweeping holiday) on 5 April, Labor Day on 1 May, Buddha's birthday in mid-May, Tuen Ng (the Dragon Boat Festival) in May and/or June, SAR Establishment Day on 1 July, the Mid-Autumn Festival in September, Chinese National Day on 1 October, and Chung Yeung (another grave-sweeping holiday) in October.
Support for the Arts. The arts have not developed as quickly as the economy, and Hong Kong is often considered a cultural desert. Financial support for the arts comes almost entirely from the government.
Literature. A few local authors write about Hong Kong identity and culture. In literature, the territory is considered a small part of Greater China. Hong Kong is famous for comic books (often with martial themes and set in a vague imperial past) that are read throughout the Chinese-speaking world.
Graphic Arts. Graphic arts are modern and range widely in style. Institutions that collect graphic arts include the Hong Kong Museum of Art (prints) and the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, Contemporary Art and Design Gallery, which has prints and a poster collection. Other exhibition venues include the government-run Visual Arts Centre and the Hong Kong Arts Centre, which holds international and local exhibitions of paintings, photography, design, and crafts.
Performance Arts. Cantopop concerts are the most popular type of performance. The Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, Hong Kong Repertory Theatre, Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, and Hong Kong Dance Company are all government-subsidized, and are far less popular. There are also a Hong Kong Dance Company, City Contemporary Dance Company, and Hong Kong Repertory Company. In recent years, the number of small theater troupes has risen, as their alternative productions explore and reflect on Hong Kong identities. They usually are founded by local Chinese residents who are often graduates of the Academy of Performing Arts. The annual Hong Kong Arts Festival brings in dozens of performers every year in January and February. Hong Kong is also famous for its movies, which are popular among Chinese speakers worldwide.
A major expansion of university funding in the 1990s has increased the number of tertiary students and has led to an increase in internationally recognized research at Hong Kong's universities. The three main universities University of Hong Kong, Chinese University, and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology feature world-class facilities and faculties in many disciplines.
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—J OSEPH B OSCO