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Hong Kong


Hong Kong Special Administrative Region

(SAR) of the People's Republic of China



Hong Kong is located in eastern Asia. It borders the South China Sea to the south, west, and east, and shares a land border with mainland China to the north. It consists of 4 main areas: Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, the New Territories, and the Outlying Islands. Kowloon and the New Territories are on a peninsula, accounting for the bulk of Hong Kong's land. The New Territories link Hong Kong to mainland China. The Outlying Islands are made up of 234 islands in the proximity of Hong Kong, excluding Hong Kong Island where the capital city (Hong Kong) is located; the island is in the southern part of the territory. Lantau Island and Hong Kong Island are the largest islands. The entire territory, including its islands, has an area of 1,092 square kilometers (421 square miles), which makes it 6 times larger than Washington, D.C. The length of its land border and coastline are 30 kilometers (18 miles) and 733 kilometers (455 miles), respectively.


Hong Kong's population was estimated to be 7,116,302 in July 2000. Its population increased from 4.4 million in 1975 to 6.7 million in 1998, indicating a growth rate of 1.8 percent. With an estimated growth rate of 0.8 percent, the population will increase to 7.7 million by 2015. In the year 2000 the estimated birth rate was 11.29 births per 1,000 people while the estimated death rate was 5.93 deaths per 1,000 people.

The majority of Hong Kong's population is of Chinese ethnicity, but non-Chinese constitute more than 8 percent of the population. Out of 595,000 foreigners residing in Hong Kong in 1999, 274,100 were from Asian countries (Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, India, Japan, and Nepal) and the rest from Western countries (United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and Australia). The number of expatriates grew from 320,700 in December 1993 to 485,880 in December 1998.

The population of Hong Kong is old, with 18 percent of the population age 14 or younger and 71 percent between the ages of 15 and 64. This leaves 11 percent of Hong Kong's people 65 years old and up. Given the estimated low growth rate for the 1998-2015 period, the population will be even older by 2015 when 13.7 percent of the population will be over 65 years of age.

Hong Kong is a highly urbanized society. About 95.4 percent of its population lived in urban areas in 1998, an increase of 5.7 percent since 1975. The urban population is estimated to reach 96.7 percent by 2015. The capital city of Hong Kong and the Kowloon peninsula house the majority of the population.


During the first Opium War (1839-43), the British government colonized Hong Kong in 1841. Over time it established a free-enterprise economy in the colony and turned it into a trading center in Asia. Hong Kong has retained these characteristics since its hand-over to China in 1997, as stipulated in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration on the transfer of Hong Kong's sovereignty to China. Accordingly, the Chinese government guaranteed that it would preserve Hong Kong's capitalist economy and its political and social systems for at least 50 years. This commitment was justified under the Chinese formula of "one country, two systems," which allowed for the coexistence of a capitalist Hong Kong with the socialist mainland China as 2 parts of 1 single country. The Chinese government also guaranteed that it would not intervene in the internal affairs of Hong Kong, and would let its government function independently in all its internal affairs, including economic policies. The Chinese central government in Beijing is in charge only of Hong Kong's foreign and defense issues. China's official acceptance of Hong Kong's mini constitution, the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, consolidated this arrangement when China's National People's Congress passed it in 1990. The latter guarantees free trade, free enterprise, and low taxes for at least 50 years.

Much of the anxiety of the pre-1997 period has proven to be baseless. China has kept its promise and Hong Kong continues to be a bastion of free enterprise. The territory has retained all its colonial financial and monetary policies and laws, including those regarding its currency, the free flow of capital into and out of its territory, and taxation. It uses its own currency, the Hong Kong dollar, and keeps its revenues for its own needs. Its government does not pay any tax to the Chinese central government. The hand-over has not changed Hong Kong's economy, but the post-1997 period has had at least 2 major impacts on it. First, this period has consolidated a change in the economy that began in the early 1980s. This was the transfer of large, sophisticated, and labor-intensive industries from Hong Kong to mainland China where there is no scarcity of land and raw material and where labor is significantly cheaper. As a result, existing manufacturing in Hong Kong mainly focuses on the necessary activities for the re-export of goods produced by Hong Kong enterprises in China. Being the largest economic sector even prior to 1997, Hong Kong's service sector has since grown significantly in the fields of trade and transportation. This was done to meet the increasing demand for re-exporting and to absorb the loss of jobs in the manufacturing sector. Second, there has been a growing interest in 2 new industries: high-tech and information technology (IT). This is a positive move towards the broadening of the service-dominated economy of Hong Kong. IT activities have also created new types of employment opportunities, most of which cannot be filled immediately due to a lack of skilled workers. Consequently, there were 18,400 vacant IT positions in 2000. The root cause of this problem is that those who have lost their jobs in other sectors (e.g. manufacturing) are either unskilled or have skills that are not in demand. The Hong Kong government has addressed this issue by increasing its spending on retraining programs by 5.4 percent in 1997-98, 11.8 percent in 1999-2000, and 42.8 percent in 2000-01.

Like many other Asian economies, the Hong Kong economy suffered from the financial crisis of the late 1990s. However, unlike most of them, it was able to cope with the crisis with tolerable losses and begin recovery in 1999. Its large service sector has been given credit for the economy's ability to recover. This sector has been the reason for a constant balance-of-payment surplus since 1997. In that year, Hong Kong had a balance-of-payment deficit of US$6.159 billion (equal to 3.6 percent of its GDP). However, it enjoyed 2 consecutive balance-of-payment surplus years of US$2.902 billion (equal to 1.8 percent of its GDP) and US$9.285 billion (equal to 5.8 percent of GDP) in 1998 and 1999, respectively. Figures for 2000 are not yet available, but there are indications of a surplus for that year as well. Unlike other Asian countries fallen victim to the 1997-98 financial crisis, Hong Kong's external debt has remained small in comparison to its available finances. For example, its total foreign debt was US$48.7 billion in 1998, US$53.5 billion in 1999, and US$56.5 billion in 2000 while its foreign exchange reserves were US$89.601 billion, US$92.236 billion, and US$97.218 billion, respectively. The crisis slowed down the economy temporarily, as reflected in a large drop in its GDP growth rate from 5 percent in 1997 to-5.1 percent in 1998. However, it did not lead to widespread closures of industries and companies or massive unemployment as experienced in Indonesia and Malaysia, for instance. The economy began to recover in 1999 and 2000 when the GDP growth rates jumped to 3 percent and 9.7 percent, respectively. Additionally, its unemployment rate reached the record high of 6.2 percent in 1999, only to drop to about 5 percent in 2000 despite the continued relocation of the manufacturing jobs to mainland China.

Geography and size impose certain limits on the economic activities that Hong Kong can undertake, but they also open opportunities for its economic growth. Maintaining extensive ties with China has been an imperative for the survival of this small territory, which has no mineral and water resources and lacks an adequate agriculture sector to meet its essential private and commercial needs. Being connected to China via land, Hong Kong has depended on its only neighbor for raw materials, food, and water. Its small size and acute scarcity of land also lead Hong Kong to look to China for the establishment of large and labor-intensive manufacturing establishments. This has been a blessing in disguise as China's low wages significantly reduce the cost of production of its exports and make them more competitive in international markets. Reliance on China has also helped Hong Kong penetrate the huge and growing Chinese market, the largest in the world and to which many developed economies are trying so hard to gain access. Not only are Hong Kong businesses interested in China, but the Chinese government also encourages extensive ties with Hong Kong, its reunified territory. Expanding economic ties with China also helps Hong Kong tolerate losses in its economic transactions elsewhere.

The service sector dominates Hong Kong's economy. This is the result of the territory's limited opportunities for agricultural and industrial activities on the one hand, and the interest of the British colonizers to develop it as a trading center on the other. Being the engine of economic growth, the service sector is the largest employer and the largest contributor to Hong Kong's GDP (84.7 percent in 1998). The major services are trade, financial services (e.g., banking and insurance), tourism, retail , and real estate. Trade has been the heart of Hong Kong's economy. The service sector has been growing steadily over the last few decades under British and Chinese rule alike.

Agriculture is negligible as a source of employment or revenue and makes only a miniscule contribution to GDP (0.1 percent in 1998). The scarcity of arable land leaves very limited opportunity for agricultural activities. Hong Kong is heavily dependent on agricultural imports.

Industry is a significant sector, but is mainly geared to the re-export of goods produced in China. This sector is small, accounting for 15.2 percent of GDP in 1998. Thanks to a lack of minerals, there is no mining industry of any significance. There is a small utility (water, gas, and electricity) industry, a relatively significant construction industry, and a more important export-oriented manufacturing sector. As a small territory with limited land and a very large population, Hong Kong cannot support heavy industries, which are land-intensive by nature. Nor can it have large labor-intensive industries. Besides low wages and an abundance of resources in China, space has been the main reason for the relocation of Hong Kong's large and labor-intensive industries to that country. The remaining industries of Hong Kong are small-scale establishments, which employ small numbers of workers. Garment production has been the leading component of the manufacturing sector for decades, but Hong Kong has other marketable productsmainly light and consumer goods such as footwear, toys, and plastics. Manufacturing lacks a significant high-tech segment, but has a viable electronics branch in need of development.


The political parties of Hong Kong are at the initial stage of their development and do not represent a long tradition of political activities. Political parties were illegal until 1990. Being a British colony directly ruled by a British-appointed governor, the territory did not need active political parties. They seemed to be irrelevant to a political system whose executive branch, the Executive Council (Exco), and the legislative branch, the Legislative Council (Legco), were simply advisory bodies. The latter was run by appointed or selected businesspeople and professionals and not by elected politicians.

As part of the preparation for the hand-over of Hong Kong to China, efforts to democratize the Hong Kong political system led to the introduction of an elected Legco and the gradual elimination of legislative seats occupied by the British governor's appointees. These developments justified the creation of political parties. Yet, the Basic Law of Hong Kong provides for an election process, which undermines the status of the Legco as a truly democratic and representative body. Out of its 60 members, only 20 members are directly elected by popular votes. Functional constituencies (created by professional, business, and labor groups) elect 30 members, and an electoral committee (formed mainly by functional constituencies' chosen delegates) elect the remaining 10 members. Consequently, big business dominates Legco, which reflects the pre-eminence of business-oriented groups and the irrelevance of political parties in the running of Hong Kong and overseeing its economy.

In such a situation, the emerging political parties, which suffer from internal weaknesses, are practically out of the decision-making process and are therefore unable to have a major impact on the economy. Major politicians, including Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, do not have party affiliations and are prominent business figures.

The Hong Kong political parties are divided into 3 major groups: pro-democracy, pro-business, and pro-China. None of these groups advocate any economic policy to undermine the free-enterprise nature of the economy or the status of the territory as a center for free trade. The merger of 2 pro-democracy groups (the United Democrats of Hong Kong and the Meeting Point) formed the Democratic Party of Hong Kong in 1994, the largest pro-democracy party. It suffers from infighting on various issues, including economic issues. Pro-business parties include the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood, the Hong Kong Democratic Foundation, the Frontier Party, the Citizens Party, and the Liberal Party. All these parties tend to advocate close ties with China and cooperate with pro-China groups. The major pro-China groups include the DAB (Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong). Not surprisingly, it also advocates close economic ties with China. The 3 largest parties in Legco are the Democratic Party of Hong Kong, the Liberal Party, and the DAB.

The Hong Kong government has a very limited role in economic affairs. This is in keeping with the proclaimed status of Hong Kong as a haven for unfettered free enterprise and free trade, in which the task of creating a viable economy is granted to the private sector . The intervention of the government in the economy is limited only to providing the essential services for its normal functioning and for creating an environment conducive to its growth. Therefore, government must ensure the existence of the required infrastructure for the daily life of the population and the economyfor instance, education, health care, communications, and telecommunications with or without the involvement of the private sector. It must also ensure the absence of barriers to free economic activities. Such barriers include laws and regulations which complicate, impede, or prohibit economic activities such as difficult and lengthy processes for registration of economic establishments, various licenses for their activities, restrictions on the transfer of funds from and to Hong Kong, and the imposition of tariffs and restrictive export/import regulations.

To create a suitable environment for economic growth, the Hong Kong government imposes very few laws and regulations on economic activities. It continues the British policy of "positive non-intervention," meaning it levies low taxes to encourage economic activities and limits government expenditures as well as its role in providing essential services (e.g. education, health care, and housing). Apart from these functions, the government's role in the economy is limited to the extent justified for the well-being of the economy. In this regard, its first and foremost duty is to ensure the stability of the Hong Kong dollar, which demands the stability of the economy. To that end, in August 1998 it purchased US$15.3 billion worth of stocks to prevent the fall of the Hong Kong stock market and put it back in a healthy position. That move also prevented huge losses which could have seriously damaged the economy and weakened its currency.

Hong Kong's government gives a free hand to the private sector in practically all economic affairs pertaining to the 3 main economic sectors (agriculture, industry, and services), including investment, production, trade, and transfer of capital. For example, there is no need for a business to acquire a license in Hong Kong. Regardless of the nature of their activities, the only requirement for setting up businesses is to register them as companies; the registration process is not complicated. Nor is there any restriction on investments or on financial transactions regardless of size, including the transfer of funds from and to Hong Kong or the repatriation of profits and investments. Finally, tariffs do not exist in Hong Kong.

The private sector has been the main engine of growth before and after 1997. This sector also includes foreign businesses, which are treated practically like local ones. The only major restriction on foreign investors checks their involvement in television broadcasting concerns. These investors can buy up to 10 percent of the concerns' shares individually and cannot own more than 49 percent of the voting shares as a group. While there is no systematic restriction on the operation of foreign investors in Hong Kong, there is not any specific program to attract them either. The Hong Kong government believes that its territory's geographical location, its good infrastructure, its low taxes and absence of tariffs, and its very limited and simple business regulations make investment in Hong Kong attractive enough for local and foreign entrepreneurs.


The Hong Kong government imposes tax on salaries, employment-generated incomes, pensions, property incomes, and on revenues of economic establishments. The simple tax system is characterized by low tax rates, varying between 15 and 16 percent. All individuals who receive salaries, wages, or pensions are liable for income taxes , which are not more than 15 percent of their income. As an equity measure provided by law, 61 percent of the workforce does not pay tax on salaries. All corporations or individuals involved in any type of trade, business, or profession are liable for taxes on their profits, excluding those generated from the sale of capital assets. There is a flat rate of 16 percent for the business profit tax.

The Chinese government cannot tax Hong Kong in any manner, as stipulated in the Basic Law and the Sino-British Joint Declaration. The Hong Kong government keeps all revenues, including taxes, for its own use. In February 1998, Hong Kong signed a treaty with China to eliminate double taxation of their respective businesses operating in each other's territory.

Taxes account for more than 50 percent of government revenues. The amount of direct and indirect taxes (personal and corporate) collected in the fiscal years 1998 and 1999 was US$9.7 billion and US$4.9 billion, respectively. The total amount accounted for 52.5 percent of the total government revenue of US$27.8 billion. This showed a drop in both the absolute amount of collected taxes and in the percentage of their contribution to the government revenue in 1997-98. In that fiscal year, the government collected US$11.7 billion in direct taxes and US$8.39 billion in indirect taxes. The total collected taxes contributed to 55.4 percent of the government revenue of US$36.2 billion. The financial crisis of 1997-98 caused a slowdown in the economy and lowered the amount of collected taxes in the fiscal year of 1998-99. Transportation services, including those related to seaports and airport, and capital revenues (i.e. revenues generated from investments by the Hong Kong government) are 2 other major sources of government revenues. They accounted for 44.6 percent (US$16.11 billion) and 47.5 percent (US$13.2 billion) of such revenues in the fiscal years of 1997-98 and 1998-99, respectively. In the same years, the government's share of capital revenues fell from 29.4 percent (US$10.6 billion) to 22.8 percent (US$6.3 billion), while the share of transportation services rose from 15.2 percent (US$5.3 billion) to 24.7 percent (US$6.7 billion). A growth in the use of port facilities by China-based enterprises was the main factor for the rise.

The judicial system of Hong Kong plays a major role in the economy. It is an independent body in charge of ensuring the continuation of the rule of law in all fields, including in the economy as set prior to the hand-over of Hong Kong to China and as stipulated by the Basic Law. This is essential for the free enterprise economy of Hong Kong, as it guarantees the right of its people to private property and to engage in legitimate economic activities. It also guarantees the unrestricted economic environment of Hong Kong and prevents government intervention in Hong Kong's economic affairs, which would have a negative impact on the status of the territory as a bastion of free enterprise. This status has been the major factor for the phenomenal economic growth of Hong Kong and its continued attractiveness to local and international investors. Finally, the continuation of rule of law is a guarantee against any attempt on the part of the Chinese government to intervene in the internal affairs of Hong Kong and to impose its laws and regulation on that territory.

The Hong Kong courts are in charge of upholding laws, rights, and freedoms, including respect for private property and all rights and laws necessary for the continuation of economic activities. These courts are independent and exercise jurisdiction over all cases except those falling under the jurisdiction of China's central authority, namely defense and foreign affairs.


Hong Kong has a superb infrastructure, which meets its population's needs and contributes to the efficiency and growth of the economy. Hong Kong has an advanced land, sea, and air transport and communications system, including 1,831 kilometers (1,138 miles) of paved roads (1997 est.) and 34 kilometers (21 miles) of electrified railways (1996 est.). The railway system is one of the most efficient systems of the world and is connected to Chinese railways via the Kowloon peninsula. The construction of 3 new lines was begun in 1998. In 2000, the Hong Kong government hinted at a huge project to construct 6 more lines to facilitate (make easier) rail traffic between Hong Kong Island and the rest of the territory and also to improve freight links with mainland China to meet the expected future needs.

Hong Kong's land transportation services are very efficient. To decrease the level of air pollution, its government encourages the use of public transportation

Country Newspapers Radios TV Sets a Cable subscribers a Mobile Phones a Fax Machines a Personal Computers a Internet Hosts b Internet Users b
1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 1998 1999 1999
Hong Kong 792 684 431 61.8 475 54.3 254.2 142.77 2,430
United States 215 2,146 847 244.3 256 78.4 458.6 1,508.77 74,100
China N/A 333 272 40.0 19 1.6 8.9 0.50 8,900
South Korea 393 1,033 346 138.3 302 N/A 156.8 55.53 10,860
aData are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.
bData are from the Internet Software Consortium ( and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

services and discourages the use of private cars in its small territory. It therefore keeps improving public transportation services while increasing the cost of maintaining private cars through various measures such as high car-registration fees, a compulsory inspection for cars over 6 years old, and a point system to disqualify offending drivers. Public transport facilities include the mainly underground Mass Transit Railway, which provided services to 2.2 million passengers every working day in 1999. It also includes very efficient bus services run by 4 private companies, supplemented by public and private light minibus services. A line of streetcars, about 18,000 taxis, 113,770 cargo vehicles, and 321,617 private cars further facilitated passenger movements in 1999.

Sea communications are vital for Hong Kong, both for trade and daily life. There are at least 5 major ferry companies providing daily service between the islands where its population lives and works. Hong Kong is a major port in Asia and one of the busiest container ports in the world. It handled 6.2 million twenty-foot containers in 1999. To meet future increases in cargo handling, an expansion of its container terminal facilities began in the same year.

Hong Kong's eminent status as a major international port could be undermined in 2 ways. First, Taiwan and Singapore rival Hong Kong by improving their port facilities regularly. Second, a major portion of Hong Kong's cargo handling is shipping of re-exports to and from China, which will decrease as China develops its mainland ports. Besides its good port facilities, Hong Kong has a very advanced commercial fleet, which operated 38,000 vessel departures in 1999. In the same year the capacity of its cargo fleet was 215,226 metric tons.

Hong Kong has high-quality private airlines and was home to 3 modern airports with paved runways and 2 heliports as of 1999. A new Hong Kong international airport, Chek Lap Kok Airport, replaced the old international airport (Kai Kak airport) in 1998. Kai Kak Airport handled 30 million passengers and 1.6 million tons of cargo in 1997. Located on Lantau Island, the new airport is one of the world's best airports, and is capable of handling up to 460 flights a day. Its annual passenger and cargo capability is 87 million passengers and 9 million metric tons of cargo, respectively.

Hong Kong's utility services are excellent even though they are highly dependent on imports for their daily operations. The territory has no source of fresh water, which makes it dependent on China for all its water needs to run its efficient water system.

Hong Kong has the highest rate of energy consumption per capita in Asia. For example, in 1998 its electricity consumption per capita was 5,569 kilowatt hours (kWh) compared to mainland China's 922 kWh. Hong Kong imports all its needs in fuel for private and commercial consumption, and power generation amounted to 18 million metric tons of oil in 1998. Hong Kong also imports gas from China and liquified gas through oil companies such as Shell, Mobil, Esso, Caltex, and China Resources, while producing gas from naphtha (a mixture of liquid hydrocarbons made from distilling petroleum, coal tar, and natural gas) at home. The value of its energy imports increased from about US$3 billion in 1998 to US$3.5 billion in 1999.

Two private companies supply electricity to Hong Kong and each has a monopolized area. In addition to the generated electricity in its 3 fossil-fuel power stations, Hong Kong imports electricity from China, including from the Daya Bay atomic power station, a Chinese government-Hong Kong joint venture . The power generation capacity of the 2 private companies (9,590 megawatts [mw] in 1998) is well above the demand (8,620 mw in 1998). This guarantees a continuous supply of uninterrupted power.

The telecommunications system of Hong Kong is excellent, consisting of fixed-line and cellular services. In 1998, there were 3.7 million fixed-line telephones and 2.4 million cellular phones in use. Hong Kong has one of the highest rates of usage of cellular phones in the world. In 2000, for instance, 55.6 percent of its population (3.9 million people) owned cellular telephones, an increase of 1.5 million from 1998. Personal computers are widely used and their availability is high (254 computers per 1,000 people in the same year). Internet services were provided by 49 Internet service providers in 1999.

Cable & Wireless HKT, a private company, dominates the telecommunications market. It had a 100 percent monopoly until 1997, when the Hong Kong government began to end its monopoly by encouraging competition. Through licensing of 3 new companies, the government reduced the market share of Cable & Wireless HKT to 97 percent in 2000. In that year it announced the licensing of 5 more companies.

Radio and television services are also advanced. In addition to foreign cable and satellite TV programs, 20 AM and FM radio stations and 4 television networks were operating in 1997. The number of televisions and radios in use in that year were estimated to be 1.84 million and 4.45 million, respectively.


The economy of Hong Kong survived the financial crisis of 1997-98. This service-dominated economy began its recovery in 1999 and continued it in 2000 thanks to its viable service sector. To a varying extent, the 3 economic sectors suffered from the crisis. The impact of the crisis on agriculture, the smallest sector with a very small contribution to the Hong Kong economy, was negligible. However, the industry and particularly the service sectors suffered considerably and experienced contraction during the crisis period. The CIA World Factbook reported the percentages of each sector's contribution to GDP in 1997 to be agriculture, 0.1 percent; industry, 14.7 percent; and services, 85.2 percent. As the largest and dominant economic sector, the service sector has always been the engine of growth and includes international trade, financial services, tourism, retail, and real estate. These service industries are the largest employers and taxpayers.

The industry and service sectors have undergone structural changes over the last decades. The catalyst has been the gradual relocation of large and labor-intensive manufacturing to mainland China, which began in the early 1980s. This trend has been reinforced since the 1997 hand-over of Hong Kong to China. As a result, the industry's manufacturing branch has been shrinking. The service sector has been expanding to re-orient itself towards functions pertaining to China's international trade.

The reunification with China has not changed the business-friendly environment of Hong Kong. As promised, China has respected the autonomy of the territory in its internal affairs, including its economic policies. China's approach has bolstered the confidence of the local and international business community in the stability and predictability of Hong Kong, which became somewhat shaky on the eve of the 1997 hand-over. Hong Kong is as friendly as ever to local and foreign investors, including Western (American, British, French, Swiss, and Dutch) and non-Western (Japanese and South Korean) multinational corporations (MNCs).


Hong Kong has a small agricultural sector, including fisheries, with a very limited productivity and insignificant role in the economy. Its contribution to GDP and share of the workforce was about 0.1 percent in 1998. The available arable land is extremely limited in Hong Kong, where land is generally scarce. Less than 7 percent of Hong Kong's land is used for agricultural activities, i.e., farming and fish farming. As the available farming land cannot produce enough food for the Hong Kong population of more than 7 million, the population survives on large imports of agricultural products valued at US$8.32 billion in 1998, which fell to US$7.335 billion in 1999 as a result of the financial crisis. China is the main exporter of these products.

The scarcity of land has determined the nature of agricultural activities. Instead of land-intensive and low-priced rice and grain production, 2 lucrative activities (vegetable farming and flower growing) have become the dominant activities, accounting for 93 percent of the total value of crops grown in 1998. The scarcity of pastoral land sets limits on animal husbandry, and has led to the rearing of only poultry and pigs. Domestic production accounted for 10 percent of live poultry and 16 percent of live pigs in 2000.

Fishing is a very small source of employment, but its products meet a significant portion of demands for seafood. They amounted to 75 percent of the fresh marine consumption and 11 percent of the freshwater fish consumption in 2000. Fish ponds produced 4,900 metric tons of freshwater fish in 1998, and the fresh marine catch was 188,000 metric tons. In 2000, the fishery fleet consisted of 4,460 vessels of various sizes, of which 3,820 were motorized.


Industry has experienced a slow decline over the last 2 decades. Its contribution to GDP was 15.2 percent (equal to US$23 billion) in 1998, a significant decrease from its 1990 contribution of 17.7 percent. Its share of the workforce, which was 28 percent in 1990, dropped to about 15 percent in 1998. The decline of industry has been the outcome of a steady contraction in manufacturing, the result of the continued relocation of manufacturing establishments to mainland China. Manufacturing's share of GDP sharply fell from 24.3 percent in 1984 to 6.2 percent in 1998. The constant expansion of the service sector has also contributed to the process of decline. Other activities, such as construction, energy, and mining, are not significant enough to stop the steady decline of the industrial sector.

The largest sector of industry is manufacturing. It is a major contributor to GDP (6.5 percent in 1998) and the workforce (7.3 percent in 1998, or 245,457 employees). Manufacturing's contribution to the workforce dropped to 7 percent (244,720 employees) in 1999, and the value of manufacturing exports also fell from US$10.31 billion in 1998 to US$9.42 billion in 1999, suggesting that the sector was beginning to contract.

There were 23,553 manufacturing establishments in Hong Kong in 1998. Known as "flatted factories," these establishments are mostly very small and located on 1 or 2 floors of a high-rise building. The average number of employees per establishment is 10. The migration of many large and labor-intensive industries to mainland China resulted in the loss of more than 500,000 industrial jobs in the 1990s.

Certain factors have created "natural" barriers to the growth of the manufacturing sector and have forced a peculiar pattern of development on it. Scarcity of land, the absence of mineral resources, the high cost of labor, and the close proximity to China have ruled out the establishment of heavy industry or other land-and labor-intensive industries in Hong Kong. Prior to the 1980s, Hong Kong produced mainly labor-intensive consumer products, including food, beverages, clothing, textiles, printed products, and fabricated metal products. Being a resource-and land-rich country with a very low-wage labor force , China became a "natural" place for Hong Kong's manufacturing in the 1980s. Improved relations between the 2 sides made the relocation of major industries to China feasible. China's growing interest in foreign investment facilitated the process.

The result was a re-structuring of Hong Kong's manufacturing sector. Labor-intensive and sophisticated industries were moved to China, mainly to the neighboring Guangdong Province, while light and capital-intensive industries were kept in Hong Kong. This trend is continuing. Given the removal of all political barriers and the willingness of the Chinese government, it is simply logical for Hong Kong industrialists to continue their establishment of the labor-and land-intensive industries in China where they have access to minerals, low-cost labor, and abundance of land. Their products are exported via the very modern and efficient port of Hong Kong.

The existing Hong Kong industries are small-scale operations. They are involved mainly in certain manufacturing processes pertaining to re-exporting goods produced in China by Hong Kong-owned establishments. These processes can involve the packaging of goods produced on the mainland, for instance. However, there are still export-oriented industries that produce textiles, electronics, plastics, and watches and clocks. The textile industry is the largest industrial employer and accounts for the bulk of annual domestic industrial exports, accounting for 45 percent (US$11.3 billion) and 49 percent (US$10.79 billion) of those exports in 1998 and 1999, respectively.

The electronics industry, including telecommunications, is the second largest export earner, but it is small and underdeveloped. The value of its exports was US$4.24 billion in 1998 and US$3.55 billion in 1999. Its products are generally of lower quality compared to other Asian products such as those of Singapore and Taiwan. Its rapid growth over the last 3 decades is owed to large foreign investments and transfer of technology. This situation makes it highly dependent on foreign sources for investments and parts; local industries can produce only 20 percent of the necessary parts. The electronics industry produces various sophisticated products, including semiconductors, computers, televisions and telecommunications equipment. The Hong Kong government has sought to help expand this industry, especially in the fields of computer products, in order to diversify the economy, now heavily dependent on services.

The plastics industry has been shrinking in Hong Kong, with most of its manufacturing establishments being moved to China. Nevertheless, Hong Kong is one of world's largest toy exporters. The exports of plastic goods generated about US$210 million in 1998 and US$163 million in 1999.

A major component of the industrial sector is the construction industry. It accounted for 6.1 percent of GDP and employed 2.2 percent of the workforce (72,253 employees) in 1998. In the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis, a decline in construction activities lowered its share of the workforce to 2.1 percent (71,789 workers) in 1999, but government-financed infrastructure projects increased its share to 79,300 employees in June 2000. The constant government investment in infrastructure and private sector investments in related fields (such as housing and commercial establishments, which total more than 50 percent of investments in the sector) make construction a viable industry.

The industry has gone through periods of expansion and contraction for political and economic reasons since the 1980s. Politically, the smooth hand-over of Hong Kong to China encouraged investment in private and commercial construction projects in 1998 and 1999. Recent economic factors include a 1994 government policy on buying and selling unfinished apartments. That policy made those transactions more difficult and therefore lowered property prices, resulting in a reduction in investment in apartment building projects. Thanks to a wide range of road and railway expansion projects, the construction industry is expected to experience a period of growth in the first half of the decade (2000-10).

The utility industry is a vital sector in Hong Kong, which lacks freshwater and fossil energy resources. As discussed earlier, several companies ensure uninterrupted supplies of water and energy (electricity and fossil fuel) for private and commercial purposes through imports of water and both limited local production and large imports of energy. Despite its importance, the utility industry is small and employs an insignificant portion of the work-force, but its contribution to GDP is significant (2.4 percent in 1998).

There is no mining industry of any significance in Hong Kong, as the territory lacks mineral resources. The share of mining and quarrying activities of GDP was about 0.02 percent in 2000. Cement production is the most important activity of this sector.


The service sector dominates the Hong Kong economy. In the absence of a significant agriculture and a large and growing industrial base, it has become the largest economic sector in terms of income-generation, employment, and contribution to GDP. The contraction of the manufacturing sector has contributed to further enlargement of the service sector to absorb the growing number of those laid off from manufacturing jobs, a continuing trend since the 1980s. So far, this strategy has been successful, but there are concerns about the future ability of the service sector to absorb manufacturing job losses, especially because many of the affected workers are middle-aged and/or unskilled or poorly skilled. The contribution of services to GDP was 84.7 percent (equal to US$129 billion) in 1998, when they employed roughly the same proportion of the workforce.

The service sector consists of a wide range of companies of various sizeslocal and foreign, including multinational corporations (MNCs)interested in Hong Kong for its many opportunities for service activities. The major services are financial, trade, tourism, retail, real estate, and transportation.

Finance, insurance, real estate, and investment services are the most viable economic activities, which have made Hong Kong a major global financial center. These services accounted for 26.2 percent of GDP and employed 390,454 people (11.6 percent of the workforce) in 1998. The number of employees rose to 415,326 (11.9 percent of the workforce) in 1999, and to 429,300 (about 12 percent) in June 2000.

Banking is the heart of Hong Kong's financial services. In terms of the volume of external transactions, Hong Kong is the ninth-largest international banking center in the world. It is home to many local and foreign-owned banks. Banking makes a major contribution to the growth of the Hong Kong economy, and the huge revenues generated in this sector help the territory to tolerate fluctuations in its manufacturing exports and pay its foreign debt.

Hong Kong does not have a central bank, but the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) assumes some of the functions of a central bank, namely monetary management, supervision of the banking sector, and regulating financial institutions. However, the issuance of bank-notes is the task of 3 banks: the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC), the Standard Chartered Bank, and the Bank of China. In 2000, Hong Kong's banking system consisted of 285 authorized banks and 127 representative offices of other financial institutions. Of Hong Kong's 158 licensed (full-service) banks, 125 were registered outside Hong Kong.

Most major American, Japanese, and European banks operate in Hong Kong. There are also Thai and Taiwanese banks as well as 3 major state-owned banks from mainland China. In general, foreign banks concentrate mainly on large business clients (such as MNCs), unlike local banks, which tend to be more interested in small- and medium-size clients. Apart from its importance as an international trading center, Hong Kong's access to the growing market of China is the major reason for its attractiveness to foreign banks, through which they can enter the Chinese market. Foreign banks have a free hand for banking operations. The only restriction on their activities is a limit on their branch operations, meaning that in 2000 they could have only 3 branches.

The large and efficient insurance industry of Hong Kong is among the best such industries in Asia. This growing segment of the economy consists of 204 authorized insurers, of which 148 are general insurers, 43 long-term insurers (mostly life insurers), and 19 combined life and non-life insurers. The insurance companies include foreign ones, e.g., American (22) and British (18). In general, the industry has experienced growth over the last decade, excluding the year 1999, when the economy was not performing well. Its average annual growth rate was 10.7 percent during the period 1993 to 1998.

Hong Kong's retail sector is well developed. The total value of retail sales was about US$25 billion in 1998, equal to 15 percent of GDP. The industry includes a wide range of establishments, including small privately-owned stores, foreign department store chains (e.g., British and Japanese), supermarkets, and domestic retail chains. There are also many large shopping malls housing a wide range of stores. The retail industry includes a large network of restaurants, including international franchises.

Hong Kong's transportation industry, including storage and communications, has developed over the last few decades to meet growing demand in international trade and internal movement of goods and people. As mentioned previously, the territory has an advanced land, sea, and air transportation infrastructure. This industry is a major contributor to GDP, accounting for 9.1 percent in 1998 (equal to US$14.88 billion), and a large employer with 175,000 employees in the same year. The number of employees jumped to 180,600 in June 2000, which indicated 3.2 percent growth from 1998.

The vivid night-life of Hong Kong, including its numerous night clubs and restaurants, and its low-priced imported goods (thanks to the absence of tariffs) attracts millions of tourists to this small territory every year. To host and entertain them, Hong Kong's tourist industry has become extensive and highly developed. The industry makes a significant contribution to GDP (4.15 percent in 1998 and 4.09 percent in 1999) and generates employment for a large portion of the workforce. Restaurants and hotels are major employers of this industry. Together with trade, they accounted for 27.2 percent (equal to 913,070 jobs) and 28.8 percent (equal to 1,002,263 jobs) of the workforce in 1998 and 1999, respectively. There are many hotels, including local and foreign five-star hotels, with 35,420 total rooms in 1999, which are fully capable of providing high-quality services to tourists. In the same year, 10,678,000 tourists visited Hong Kong and generated US$6.5 billion in revenues. In comparison to 1998, this showed an increase of 1,103,000 tourists, but a decrease of US$300 million in revenue. The major factors responsible for this phenomenon were an increase in the number of low-income Chinese visitors at the expense of high-income non-Chinese visitors that led to an overall fall in spending per head from US$715 in 1998 to US$615 in 1999.

A decline in the number of non-Chinese tourists and in the average amount of tourists' spending has created a concern about the declining interest in Hong Kong as a tourist destination. Apart from short-term reasons, 2 major factors endanger the industry in the long run. One factor is the existence of less expensive destinations in Asia offering the same quality of services (such as Singapore). Another is the expected easing of travel restrictions between China and Taiwan. This development may diminish the attractiveness of Hong Kong for the Chinese and especially for high-spending Taiwanese who have had to go through points such as Hong Kong to get to each other's countries, because of the current travel restrictions between China and Taiwan. To address this concern and to ensure a significant increase in tourism, the Hong Kong government has sought to attract more tourists through a joint venture with an American company, Walt Disney, to establish a theme park. It is expected to bring 5 million visitors in its first year of operation (2005) and 10 million by 2020.


International trade is Hong Kong's most important economic activity. Its government policy towards trade reflects Hong Kong's status as a center of free trade. This policy contains minimum restrictions and allows the market forces to regulate exports and imports. It therefore proscribes protective measures (e.g., tariffs and quotas) and subsidies as a means for avoiding balance-of-trade deficits.

Hong Kong is a major exporter and importer of goods and services in Asia. It exported US$175.8 billion in goods and US$34 billion in services in 1998. In the same year the value of its imports was US$183.7 billion for goods and US$11.7 billion for services. As a result of the financial crisis of 1997-98, the value of its international trade decreased in 1999 when it exported US$174.7 billion worth of goods and US$35.7 billion worth of services while importing US$177.9 billion in goods and US$13.2 billion in services.

Exports consist of goods produced in Hong Kong (domestic exports) and those produced in Hong Kong-owned industries in China (re-exports). Re-exporting has become the largest component of Hong Kong's trade since the early 1980s, when its large and labor-intensive industries began to move to mainland China. For example, between 1986 and 1996, the volume of re-exports and domestic exports rose by about 700 percent and 17.3 percent, respectively. The small contribution of domestic exports to total exports was evident in 1999, for instance, when the total value of exports of goods was US$174.7 billion, of which the share of domestic exports was only US$21.9 billion. Because of the growing value of re-exports, Hong Kong has experienced a constant balance-of-trade deficit since the 1980s. As recent examples, the deficit was

Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Hong Kong
Exports Imports
1975 6.026 6.766
1980 19.752 22.447
1985 30.187 29.703
1990 82.160 82.490
1995 173.750 192.751
1998 173.990 184.503
SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.

US$17.298 billion in 1997, US$7.833 billion in 1998, and US$3.158 billion in 1999.

Consumer goods and light manufactures are the major exports of Hong Kong. In order of importance, they include apparel and clothing, electrical machinery and apparatus, textile yarn and fabric, office machinery and data processing equipment, watches and clocks, telecommunications equipment, jewelry, printed matter, plastics, toys, games, and sports goods. The major re-exports consist of consumer goods, raw materials, metals (iron and steel), semi-manufactures, capital goods , foodstuffs, and fuels. Hong Kong's major imports include consumer goods, raw materials, semi-manufactures, capital goods, foodstuffs, and fuels.

Hong Kong has lost most of its manufacturing capability since reunification with mainland China. Its most important domestic export industries are garments, textiles, and clothing, which accounted for 49 percent of its 1999 domestic exports. The Hong Kong government has tried to diversify this sector by encouraging the high-tech industry, which has expanded over the last decade, but its share of domestic exports is still small. For example, telecommunications equipment accounted for 2.2 percent of the domestic exports in 1999, valued at US$486 million.

The major trading partners of Hong Kong are China, the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, and Taiwan. Its main export destinations in 1999 were China (33.4 percent), the United States (23.8 percent), Japan (5.4 percent), and the UK (4.1 percent). In the same year, its main sources of import were China (43.6 percent), Japan (11.7 percent), Taiwan (7.2 percent), and the United States (7.1 percent). Because of re-exports, China has become the largest trading partner of Hong Kong.


The government of Hong Kong pegged the Hong Kong dollar to the U.S. dollar in October 1983 at a fixed exchange rate of HK$7.8 against US$1, and has continued

Exchange rates: Hong Kong
Hong Kong dollars (HK$) per US$1
Jan 2001 7.7990
2000 7.7912
1999 7.7575
1998 7.7453
1997 7.7421
1996 7.7343
Note: Hong Kong became a special administrative region of China on July 1, 1997; before then, the Hong Kong dollar was linked to the US dollar atthe rate of about 7.8 Hong Kong dollars per US dollar.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].

this relationship as of 2001. Meant to ensure the stability of the Hong Kong dollar, this policy has been implemented under the Linked Exchange Rate System. This system subjects any change in the size and flow of the money in circulation to a corresponding change in the foreign exchange reserves of Hong Kong. This occurs whether as a result of Hong Kong's domestic resources or as a result of an inflow of foreign capital. Accordingly, the 3 banks in charge of issuing bank notes can do so only if they deposit an equivalent amount of U.S. dollars in an exchange fund kept by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) for any amount of HK dollars that they want to issue. The equivalent amount of these foreign currencies is determined at the fixed exchange rate of HK$7.8/US$1. Apart from this official exchange rate , there is also a free- floating exchange rate . This exchange rate has remained around 7.7 since 1995. While the official exchange rate of the HK dollar against the U.S. dollar is fixed and determined by the HKMA, the exchange rate of the HK dollar against any other major currency follows the U.S. dollar exchange rate against that currency, which makes it a free-floating rate.

The HKMA maintains the stability of the HK dollar-U.S. dollar exchange rate through an automatic interest-rate adjustment mechanism. This requires the control of local liquidity and interest rates. Through this mechanism, Hong Kong has managed to have monetary stability and avoid high inflation rates and sharp fluctuations in the value of the national currency. This has made a major contribution to the stability and growth of its economy, which has not experienced long and sudden periods of economic declines with their destructive impacts on employment and prices. The Hong Kong monetary policy has also helped its economy cope better with the financial crisis of the late 1990s, which devastated many Asian economies. However, this policy has a negative side since it links the HK dollar to the U.S. dollar and leaves little room for independent monetary policy of Hong Kong since it has to follow that of the United States.

Consistent with its status as a strong base for free enterprise, there is no official control on foreign currency exchange transactions in Hong Kong. Regardless of their size, there is no restriction on transfers to and from Hong Kong of funds in any currency, including the HK dollar.

The Stock Exchange of Hong Kong (SEHK) was established in 1986 as a result of the merger of 4 stock exchanges. Having a market capitalization of US$616.3 billion (June 2000), the SEHK is one of the world's major stock markets, and the second largest stock market in Asia after Japan.


Hong Kong is a prosperous territory with a high GDP per capita (US$18,813 in 1998). However, the distribution of income is uneven and there is a wide gap between social groups in terms of wealth and income. Large parts of the economy are dominated by a small group of tycoons who are among the richest people in the world and whose wealth is increasing. At the same time, there is a growing number of unemployed with practically no chance for rejoining the workforce. They are the victims of the migration of manufacturing establishments to mainland China who are middle-aged and unskilled or whose skills are not in demand. The service sector has absorbed a large portion of manufacturing unemployed since the 1980s, but the continuation of this trend is unlikely, since the skills of the unemployed often do not match those of the available positions.

The role of the Hong Kong government in the economy is minimal, but it has an extensive role in providing essential services, including health care, education, and housing. The health-care system, which provides high-quality standard services, is accessible by the entire population. Government-run hospitals dominate the medical institutions and provided 85 percent of hospital beds in 1996, but there are also private medical clinics and hospitals.

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Hong Kong 11,290 11,290 13,690 18,813 21,726
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
China 138 168 261 349 727
South Korea 2,894 3,766 5,190 7,967 11,123
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.

Government-provided health-care services are not free, but their fees are low, as these services are subsidized. Costs of medical services can be waived if patients cannot afford them. Government spending on the health-care system receives a large percentage of its total annual spending, increasing from 11.1 percent in 1989-90 to 14.3 percent in 1996-97. The government has considered reforming the health-care system since the cost has been increasing. If the current situation continues, this cost will absorb 21 to 23 percent of total government spending in 2016. Government spending on health-care services amounted to US$3.4 billion in 1998-99. Hong Kong's high life expectancy (78.6 years in 1998) ranks the territory fifth among the top developed economies after Japan (80 years), Canada (79.1), and Sweden and Switzerland (78.7 years). This rank puts it far ahead of China with its life expectancy of 70.1 years in 1998. In addition to the absence of widespread malnutrition and the availability of safe water and adequate sanitation, Hong Kong's impressive high life expectancy indicates the efficiency of its health-care system.

Hong Kong has a very good system for basic education, thanks to significant government spending. Total public funds spent on education were equal to 4.2 percent of GDP (US$4.6 billion) in 1998-99, an increase of about US$500 million from the previous year. About 92.9 percent of its population was literate in 1998. The government provides free and compulsory education for children between the ages of 6 and 15. Children over the age

Household Consumption in PPP Terms
Country All food Clothing and footwear Fuel and power a Health care b Education b Transport & Communications Other
Hong Kong 10 17 4 2 8 6 54
United States 13 9 9 4 6 8 51
China N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
South Korea 18 3 7 5 14 6 48
Data represent percentage of consumption in PPP terms.
aExcludes energy used for transport.
bIncludes government and private expenditures.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

of 14 who wish to continue their studies at the high-school level must pay for their education, but there are government subsidies for those who cannot afford it. In 1998, for example, the government subsidized the education of 84 percent of children of school age. Hong Kong's post-secondary educational system includes 7 universities, which offer degree programs to 18 percent of the 17-to-20 age group who wish to enter university programs. There were 65,800 university students in 1998, an increase of 11,800 from 1994.

Despite its merits, the education system has certain problems. Its inability to train people with the skills required for the economy is the main problem. This has resulted in a vacancy of thousands of jobs in the high-tech industry, for instance, while there is a large number of unemployed with skills irrelevant to the changing economy. Another significant problem is discrimination against the physically and mentally disabled in education, despite the existence of anti-discrimination laws. Finally, some primary schools operate 2 sessions a day at the expense of lowering educational standards.


Hong Kong has a large and growing labor force. Its numeric strength has increased steadily from 3,000,700 in 1995 to 3,476,600 in 1999, in spite of the 1997-98 financial crisis. Over the last 3 decades, Hong Kong's unemployment rate has usually been small. The average unemployment rate during from 1985 to 1997 was 3.5 percent, as the growing service sector could easily absorb many of those who had lost their manufacturing jobs. During the 2 years prior to the financial crisis, the unemployment rate declined from 3.2 percent in 1995 to 2.6 percent in 1996, and to 2.2 percent in 1997. The crisis and its aftermath pushed the rate up to 4.7 percent in 1998 and 6.2 percent in 1999 (equal to 217,100 people). The latter was a record high for Hong Kong. The rate fell to about 5 percent in 2000.

The overwhelming majority of Hong Kong's work-force is employed in urban economic establishments, due to the insignificance of agriculture. The workforce is a mixture of skilled and unskilled workers. The old and middle-aged manufacturing workers tend to be unskilled or low-skilled, whereas those employed with the growing service industries are more likely to be better educated and possess more advanced skills, including those related to high-tech and information technology. There was a shortage of skilled workers for the service sector as well as for the growing high-tech manufacturing sector in 2000.

In keeping with its emphasis on free enterprise, Hong Kong gives the market the authority to determine wages. Apart from a small number of professions with a uniform wage structure, wages are determined by supply and demand. Individual agreements between employees and employers set wages. Thus, there is no minimum wage except for foreign domestic workers, which was set at about US$500 per month in 1998. Employers of such workers are required by law to provide a decent standard of living for their employees, including housing and food, but the law is not widely observed. Two-income households are common in Hong Kong, although the average wage is usually adequate for most workers and their households. In addition to wages, some employers provide their employees with various kinds of allowances (e.g. free medical services and daycare centers), but employers are not obliged by law to do so. As part of the social safety net, employees are entitled to benefits such as pensions, disability insurance, and food assistance.

Hong Kong is a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO), and has laws and regulations on working conditions. These include laws on safety and health conditions at the workplace verified by government inspections. Workers' safety has improved over the last 2 decades, partly because of such inspections and partly because of the transfer of many high-risk manufacturing jobs to China. Nevertheless, there are still many serious safety problems.

Labor laws also include workers' rights, in accordance with international agreements. For example, the right of association is recognized, and trade unions are legal. There were 558 employee unions in 1998, but they represented only 22 percent of the 3.1 million salaried employees and wage earners. Unions are not strong and are unable to impose collective bargaining on management. Consequently, collective bargaining is not widely practiced as a means of settling labor disputes. Generally speaking, work stoppages and strikes are permitted, but there are some restrictions on civil servants' involvement in such activities. In practice, these activities could lead to loss of employment since most workers must include an article in their employment contracts that their refusal to work is a breach of their contracts. This gives the right to employers to dismiss workers involved in strikes or stoppages. There have not been major strikes or similar labor activities over the last 2 decades.

Hong Kong's labor laws also include provisions to ensure the rights of certain social groups and prevent their exploitation. In general, forced labor is prohibited. Employment of children under the age of 15 in industrial establishments is also prohibited. Nevertheless, children between 13 and 14 years of age with a minimum of 9 years of education can work in certain non-industrial establishments if their employers can ensure their safety, health, and welfare. These children are not allowed to work overtime and cannot work for more than 8 hours a day and 48 hours a week. With the exception of male workers of 16 and 17 years of age, children are not allowed to work in dangerous trades. There is also an anti-discrimination law to protect women in the labor market. Women are well-represented in government and in the civil service (46 percent of senior civil servants are women), but they are not nearly as numerous in other prestigious areas. This includes the judiciary, where only 18 percent of senior employees (judicial officers and judges) are women. The physically and mentally disabled are discriminated against in employment and education in spite of the existence of anti-discriminatory laws.


1841. Hong Kong is seized by the British navy at the height of the first opium war (1839-42). The Chinese government is forced to accept Britain's sovereignty over the island by signing the Convention of Chuenpi.

1842. The British Royal Charter formally establishes Hong Kong as "a separate colony." The British government proclaims Hong Kong a free port, which encourages immigration from mainland China to Hong Kong. The United States government establishes the first foreign consulate in the colony.

1844. To control the Chinese population, the Hong Kong Legislative Council (Legco) passes a restrictive law which leads to a general strike, the return of many workers to China, and the paralysis of businesses. The Legco amends the law to restore normalcy.

1856. The Second Opium War (1856-58) begins. The Chinese workers of Hong Kong go on a strike and boycott British businesses.

1860. Britain expands its holdings in China by occupying Kowloon and Stonecutters Island. The Treaty of Beijing legalizes the occupation by leasing these lands to Britain in perpetuity.

1860s. Hong Kong's population grows significantly as a result of migration from mainland China. Its economy begins to flourish. Hong Kong's infrastructure emerges, including telegraph systems, street gas lighting, and secular schools.

1898. In the aftermath of the Sino-Japanese war (1894-95), the British government forces the weakened Chinese government to cede to Britain the New Territories and 235 islands in the proximity of Hong Kong on a 99-year lease to expire in June 1997.

1911. The Wuhan Uprising in Canton overthrows the Chinese Empire and makes its leader, Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the first president of China.

1920. Around 9,000 Hong Kong mechanics go on strike and leave for Canton. The subsequent paralysis of commerce leads to a wage increase and the settlement of the labor dispute.

1921. The Hong Kong government has to accept a wage increase for seamen similar to the one given to the mechanics in 1922 to end a general workers' strike.

1926. In October, the long general strike of Hong Kong's workers, in which 30 percent of the workforce participates, ends when the British Foreign Office agrees to change some of its unequal economic treaties with China.

1937. The Sino-Japanese War begins. The Japanese navy lands at Bias Bay in the New Territories.

1939. Japanese military forces occupy Hong Kong's Hainan Island.

1941. On 8 December, Japan invades Hong Kong. Governor Young accepts defeat and surrenders to the Japanese commander on 25 December.

1949. The Chinese Communist Party wins the civil war in China and declares the establishment of the People's Republic of China (PRC) on 1 October.

1950s. Hong Kong's population increases to 2.5 million as a result of the flight of hundreds of thousands of refugees from mainland China.

1961. Hong Kong's population increases to 3.1 million.

1970. Hong Kong's population grows to 4 million.

1979. As part of improving ties between China and Britain, China invites Hong Kong governor MacLehose for an official visit to discuss certain issues, especially the expiration of the New Territories lease in 1997.

1980. Hong Kong's population increases to 5.2 million. Hong Kong governor MacLehose announces the "Touch Base" policy to stop illegal immigration from China, which provides for the return of illegal immigrants to China.

1982. In September, British prime minister Margaret Thatcher visits Beijing to begin negotiations about the future status of Hong Kong.

1983. In July, the first official round of Sino-British talks over the future status of Hong Kong begins. In October, the Hong Kong dollar is pegged to the U.S. dollar at a rate of HK7.8 against US$1.

1984. The British and Chinese governments sign the Sino-British Joint Declaration regarding the peaceful hand-over of Hong Kong to China on 1 July 1997.

1985. In September, the Hong Kong government holds the first elections for Hong Kong's legislative body, the Legco.

1990. China's National People's Congress passes the Basic Law to serve as its mini-constitution based on the principle of "one country, two systems."

1991. In June, the Bill of Rights of Hong Kong is enacted with the power to override all other laws.

1994. Hong Kong holds its first fully democratic elections, and pro-democracy parties win a majority in the Legco. Selecting from among Hong Kong nationals, China appoints a 150-strong Preparatory Committee to lead Hong Kong's transfer to China. Over half of the committee are from Hong Kong's business elite.

1996. In December, China selects a Hong Kong ty-coon, Tung Chee-hwa, to be Hong Kong's first chief executive after the 1997 hand-over.

1997. On 1 July, the British government returns Hong Kong to China, which is renamed as the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People's Republic of China. Its Basic Law guarantees legal, judicial, and legislative systems independent from those of China and full economic autonomy.

1998. Hong Kong signs a treaty with China to eliminate double taxation of their respective businesses operating in each other's territory. In May, a Legco is formed by elections, which replaces the Provisional Legislative Council (PLC).

2000. In September, a new Legco is formed by elections.


Hong Kong has a very strong economic base, which has enabled it to tolerate periods of economic hardship. Its economic strength helped it survive the severe financial crisis of the late 1990s with minor damage, compared to the extensive devastation of many Asian economies. This strong economic base will help Hong Kong to regain its losses and expand its economy to play a more significant role in global markets. Hong Kong's access to China will make a large contribution to the expansion of its economy and will elevate its international status. The migration of the manufacturing industry to mainland China has weakened the local industrial base and created unemployment, but it has also opened a very promising economic opportunity for Hong Kong. China's abundance of land and raw materials and its low cost of labor have addressed the major limitations of the Hong Kong manufacturing sector. These limitations have prevented it from growing in light and consumer industries and from establishing labor-and land-intensive industries, including heavy industry. Mainland China has thus offered to Hong Kong an opportunity for industrial growth and expansion of exports of manufactures. It has also offered its huge 1.3-billion strong market, the world's largest, for investment and exports. This has put the Hong Kong economy well ahead of many other developed economies, which have been trying to gain extensive access to China. Hong Kong's manufacturing will surely expand, and its role in its economy will become more prominent, but the service sector will remain the largest and most dominant sector and the engine of growth. This is partly because of the strength and the phenomenal size of that sector, which have enabled it to grow and will ensure its continuity. It is also partly because of its crucial role in the re-export of goods produced in China, including their packaging, shipping, handling, and marketing, as well as financing their production.

Hong Kong's high-tech and IT industries have a great potential for growth. The territory's private sector has taken steps towards that end while its government has encouraged private initiatives. The high-tech and IT industries should have a stronger presence in international markets over the next few years, even though they face a challenge from the more developed industries of Taiwan, Singapore, and South Korea.

The service industry has absorbed most of the unemployed workers of the manufacturing sectors, but it has been unable to find jobs for a growing number of them. Given the continued migration of manufacturing industries to mainland China, the number of these unskilled or low-skilled middle-aged unemployed workers will continue to grow. Unless the Hong Kong government or the service sector retrains them to find jobs in emergent industries, most of them will become permanently unemployed. Their frustration will likely contribute to social and political disorder in Hong Kong, which has not experienced such phenomena in its contemporary history.


Hong Kong has no territories or colonies.


Economist Intelligence Unit. Country Finance: Hong Kong, 2001. London: Economist Intelligence Unit, January 2000.

Economist Intelligence Unit. Country Profile: Hong Kong. London: The Economist Intelligence Unit, 2001.

International Labor Office. Yearbook of Labor Statistics 1999. Geneva, Switzerland: International Labor Organization, 1999.

International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook. Washington, D.C.: International Monetary Fund, 1999.

Lonely Planet. Hong Kong. <>. Accessed February 2001.

United Nations Development Project. Human Development Report 2000. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook 2000: Hong Kong (Special Administrative Region of China). <>. Accessed January 2001.

U.S. Department of State. 1999 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Hong Kong. <>. Accessed January 2001.

U.S. Department of State. FY 2000 Country Commercial Guide: Hong Kong. <>. Accessed January 2001.

Welsh, Frank: A History of Hong Kong. London: Harper Collins, 1993.

The World Bank. The Emerging Asian Bond Market (Background Paper), Hong Kong. The World Bank East Asia & Pacific Region. Washington, D.C.: World Bank, June 1995.

Yan-Ki Ho, Richard, Robert Haney Scott, and Kie Ann Wong, editors. The Hong Kong Financial System. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Dr.Hooman Peimani


Hong Kong.


Hong Kong dollar (HK$). One Hong Kong dollar is equal to 100 cents. There are coins of 10, 20, and 50 cents, and HK$1, 2, 5, and 10. Paper currency comes in denominations of HK$20, 50, 100, 500, and 1,000.


Clothing, textiles, footwear, electrical appliances, watches and clocks, toys.


Foodstuffs, transport equipment, raw materials, semi-manufactures, petroleum.


US$158.2 billion (1999 est.).


Exports: US$169.98 billion (including re-exports, 1999 est.). Imports: US$174.4 billion (1999 est.).

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Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Basic Data
Official Country Name: Hong Kong
Region: East & South Asia
Population: 7,116,302
Language(s): Chinese (Cantonese), English
Literacy Rate: 92.2%
Number of Primary Schools: 860
Compulsory Schooling: 9 years
Public Expenditure on Education: 2.9%
Libraries: 56
Educational Enrollment: Primary: 467,718
  Secondary: 473,817
  Higher: 97,392
Educational Enrollment Rate: Primary: 94%
  Secondary: 73%
Teachers: Primary: 19,710
  Secondary: 23,536
  Higher: 6,504
Student-Teacher Ratio: Primary: 24:1
  Secondary: 20:1
Female Enrollment Rate: Primary: 95%
  Secondary: 76%

History & Background

Hong Kong's 646 square miles (1,040 square kilometers) are mostly small, uninhabited islands. Ninety percent of the 7 million people live on about 97 square miles (156 square kilometers) of landHong Kong Island, Kowloon peninsula, and the New Territories. The Mongkok section of Kowloon has more than 250,000 people per square mile, making it the most crowded area in the world. About 98 percent of the people are Chinese, most of whom have roots in the Guangzhou area, about 84 miles northwest across the channel on China's mainland.

During the last three decades of the twentieth century, Hong Kong developed into one of the world's leading financial capitals. Hong Kong claims to be the world's eighth largest trading economy, the world's busiest container port, Asia's leading air cargo hub, and the financial and banking center of Asia. Even before its return to the People's Republic of China (PRC) on July 1, 1997, Hong Kong was China's leading trading partner; this relationship has continued to expand. By the opening of the twenty-first century, Hong Kong employed more than 3 million workers in China and was a major investor in the Chinese economy.

After it took control of Hong Kong in 1843, the British colonial government never made much effort to educate the Chinese beyond training clerks and servants. Missionaries, however, did establish schools early. St. Paul's College opened in 1849 to train Chinese to become teachers and clergy. During the remaining of the century, only a small number of Chinese children attended government-sponsored schools. Most attended either private Chinese schools or no school at all.

In 1887, the College of Medicine was founded and, in the early twentieth century, this became a part of the first university in Hong Kong. The colony, however, remained a minor economic extension of the British empire until the 1950s. The victory of communists on mainland China transformed the colony into a dynamic center of economic activity. By 1960, about 2 million refugees from the mainland had escaped to Hong Kong. Some were educated, wealthy business leaders, especially in industries such as textiles and shipbuilding, but the vast majority were poor, uneducated peasants. Living in cardboard shacks in refugee camps and on boats in Hong Kong harbor, the majority of refugees provided a huge pool of workers for basic industries that needed unskilled labor. By the 1970s, Hong Kong businesses were converting from low-skilled industries to electronics, banking, and international trade, which required some basic literacy.

As a result, in 1971 Hong Kong authorities passed the first law requiring compulsory education for children between the ages of 6 and 11. By 1980, free education was guaranteed for children through grade nine, or junior secondary school. Three types of schools were established: government-operated public schools, privately owned and operated but with government aid (aided schools), and privately owned and operated without government aid.

Following the British system, Hong Kong's secondary students (seventh grade) were placed in classes according to their tests scores. This "banding" separated students into academic (science and humanities) and vocational tracks. Band 1 consists of students scoring in the highest 20 percent, and Band 5 is made up of students with scores in the lowest 20 percent. Also taken from the British system was the 6-3-2-2 system: primary school is six years; junior secondary school is three years; senior secondary school is two years; and Form Six (preparation for university entry exams) is two years.

Before the 1980s, there were very few institutions of higher education. The oldest is the University of Hong Kong (HKU) founded in 1911, closely followed by the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), which was established in 1963. Several universities that existed earlier than the 1980s were originally postsecondary institutions, but not degree-granting university institutions.

In the 1960s about 15 percent of the population had completed senior secondary school. By 1991, the percentage had grown to 44 percent. Attendance at universities also experienced rapid growth, from 15,381 students in 1975 to 60,289 students in 1995. Even with the rapid expansion of education in the late 1990s, about 45 percent of the population aged 25 years and older had not received any secondary schooling.

Constitutional & Legal Foundation

Free and compulsory primary school education in Hong Kong began in 1971. By 1978 the government had expanded free education to children up to 15-years-old, covering primary and junior secondary school, grades one through nine. Then in the 1990s, the Hong Kong government analyzed the educational system and set down detailed plans for the twenty-first century. The Hong Kong Board of Education (BoE), which is a statutory advisory body of the Education Department (EdD), reported that "the aims of Hong Kong education were not made explicit until a formal document School Education in Hong Kong: A Statement of Aims was published by the Education and Manpower Branch (EMB) in 1993."

The EMB is the top governmental agency responsible for education and training. In addition to supervising policies, budgets, and programs, the EMB prepares reports and proposals for Hong Kong's ruling Legislative Council. Established in 1984, the EdD manages daily educational affairs. Its committees and subcommittees investigate, research, and propose policies to the EMB. Schools are evaluated regularly by the department's Advisory Inspectorate to make sure they are following official policies.

In 1992 the Curriculum Development Institute (CDI) was created as a wing of the EdD to develop curriculum for primary and secondary schools. Its major role is developing and supporting the transition to the new curriculum that stresses independent and analytical thinking skills; the use of new technology, including computers; the new ties with the mainland; and life-long learning skills. The CDI works closely with the Curriculum Development Council (CDC), which evaluates and proposes curriculum from the preprimary through secondary school levels. The CDC reports directly to the Chief Executive of Hong Kong.

Vocational and technical training fall under the responsibility of the Vocational Training Council (VTC), founded in 1982. This organization offers courses for technical and vocational careers. The VTC sponsors programs in a wide variety of occupations, from Chinese cuisine and hospitality to seaman and welding training.

The Hong Kong Examination Authority (HKEA) was created in 1975 to develop and administer a variety of examinations, ranging from testing for professional and commercial licenses to the two major secondary school city-wide examinations: The Hong Kong Certificate of Education (HKCEE) and the Hong Kong Advanced Level Examination (HKALE).

On December 19, 1984, the People's Republic of China (PRC) and Great Britain signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration of the Question of Hong Kong (Joint Declaration). China instituted the "One Country, Two Systems" policy. Article 5 states that "the socialist system and policies will not be practiced in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) and Hong Kong's previous capitalist system and life-style will remain unchanged for 50 years." The PRC further protected Hong Kong's educational system through the Basic Law, which went into effect on July 1, 1997, the date that Hong Kong was officially handed over to the PRC. Article 136 of the Basic Law guarantees that ". . .the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall, on its own, formulate policies on the development and improvement of education, including policies regarding the. . .examination system."

Educational SystemOverview

In order to compete in international commerce, the government places a strong emphasis on education. When free, compulsory primary school education was initiated in 1971, only about 40 percent of the male population had six years of education. By 1999, that figure stood at 75 percent. The figures for females throughout the same period jumped from 35 to 60 percent.

Until 2000, Hong Kong authorities continued citywide examinations for placement into preferred schools from kindergarten through Sixth Form. Examination scores were used to stream students into the major fields of science, humanities, or vocational training. Examinations have also been used to determine which secondary schools students will attend. In 2000, Hong Kong began to switch away from using examination scores to stream and place students. The HKCEE in the final year of senior secondary school and the HKALE in the final year of Sixth Form remain critical examinations for all students hoping to continue their education.

The government subsidizes education at all levels. Primary and junior secondary school fees for students attending government or government-aided schools are paid completely by the government. At the senior secondary and tertiary levels, students must pay fees, but the government offers many grant and loan programs that help students with financing their education. In addition, the government funds most of the costs for students attending certain public-funded tertiary institutions. Annually, government spending ranges between 18 percent and 23 percent of its public spending budget.

Although preschool is not mandatory, 90 percent of all children aged four to six attend preschool. Kindergartens are privately owned and operated, but they must register with the government and follow strict guidelines. The competition for finding good schools begins at the primary level. Until 2000, students in primary grade six took examinations that determined where they attended junior secondary school; the placement scheme has recently been revised. More than 80 percent of those aged 12 to 14 enroll in junior secondary school.

Once students finish grade 9 or are 15-years-old, school attendance is no longer mandatory. The government, however, guarantees openings for 85 percent of junior secondary finishers who want to continue to senior secondary or another type of education. The government also has committed itself to guaranteeing subsidized openings for all students who want to continue their education either in senior secondary or vocational training schools beginning in the 2002-2003 academic year.

The two years at senior secondary school prepare students for a broad range of options, but the main goal is to prepare students for the HKCEE. In their second year (S5), they take the HKCEE to determine who gets into the limited number of places in Sixth Form schools for a two-year college preparatory program. About a third of the students who begin senior secondary school qualify for openings in Sixth Form. Only 18 percent of Sixth Form students can attend universities in Hong Kong because of the limited number of openings.

Some students go from primary six (P6) into technical secondary schools. These schools offer five-year programs, although after the first three years, students are no longer required to attend school. Many students in technical secondary schools take the HKCEE with hopes of scoring high enough to obtain a place in Sixth Form. A small percentage of students finish junior secondary school and decide to take vocational courses offered by the VTC that lead to a Certificate in Vocational Studies (CVS). This prepares them for a broad range of jobs.

Although mainly attended by expatriates' children, the international schools, often run by religious groups, are popular with the affluent Chinese population. These schools are very expensive, with fees ranging from $5,000 Hong Kong dollars (US$641.05 in March 2001) to HK$20,000 (US$2,564.20) a year. Because they emphasize problem-solving and creative thinking, many Chinese parents consider the education superior to public schools. In 2000, there was already a two-year waiting period for openings in the international schools.

Students with special needs have several options. In 1999-2000 there were 74 special education schools, including practical schools and skills opportunity schools. Hong Kong also has separate schools for the blind, the deaf, the physically handicapped, and a school for students with social adjustment problems. Some of these schools are residential. All of the special education schools provide nurses, social workers, educational psychologists, speech therapists, and other specialists. In 1999-2000, nearly 9,500 students were enrolled in special schools. The government offers testing, screening, and checklists for teachers to identify and serve students with special needs. From these tests, students are placed into regular schools if possible.

The institutions at the tertiary level consist of degree granting institutions, teacher training, and postsecondary training institutions. The government guarantees subsidized, first-year university places for 18 percent of 17-to 20-year-olds, approximately 14,500 students in 2000. In addition, the government guarantees subsidized openings in postsecondary training at technical institutions for 8 percent of this age group.

University education is not totally free, however, even at the public-funded institutions. Students do have to pay their tuition, which amounted to HK$5,500 in 2000 (US$705.16). Tuition fees account for about 20 percent of the total budget per student for universities. The remaining money comes from the government.

With the transfer of Hong Kong to the PRC, significant curriculum changes have been instituted in the primary and secondary school curriculum. New courses in civics and Putonghua (Mandarin) are being taught. The civics courses cover information on China and its culture, the basic law that governs Hong Kong, and the meaning of the "one country, two system" policy. Mandarin is the common spoken language of the majority of people in China. In the ideal situation, students will be fluent in their "mother tongue"Cantonese, English, and Mandarin. All primary schools teach in Cantonese but, until the 1990s, secondary schools had used mostly English. Since 1997, the government has implemented the "mother-tongue" policy, requiring all but about 100 secondary schools to use Cantonese as their language of instruction.

A new government education policy instituted in the late 1990s addresses the critical issue of the thousands of newly arrived children (NAC) from mainland China. The policy is to provide 60 hours of orientation, including courses in Cantonese, Hong Kong life, and Hong Kong culture. The government hopes to integrate these children into the mainstream educational system as soon as possible. For this purpose, the government has organized and given grants to hundreds of schools to conduct programs for these children.

In the late 1990s, Hong Kong's first Chief Executive Tung Chee-wah began a public campaign to reform education in Hong Kong. He, and other officials, wanted to make sure the citizens of Hong Kong were prepared to compete in a world that required constant changing and updating of skills. One of Tung's major projects was to make schools at all levels more accountable to the people and government. To do this, he introduced School-Based Management (SBM). Tung and other education officials believed that many schools lacked strong management goals and assessment methods for growth and improvement. Since the late 1990s, Hong Kong has proposed many reforms. Some have remained in place, some have evolved into new plans, and some have been tabled for lack of public support.

Target-Oriented Curriculum (TOC) is one of the reforms being promoted. Begun in 1995, TOC was supposed to redirect the primary and secondary curriculum away from academic, teacher- and textbook-centered, and driven by competitive, norm-referenced examinations to a curriculum that will encourage "individualism and whole-person growth, child-centered and task-based learning, and criterion-referenced assessment." Three core subjects make up TOC: Chinese, English, and Mathematics. The vagueness and subjectivity of assessment standards and the extra time required to create and evaluate student activities, however, has caused some teachers to question TOC. The general idea, however, of focusing on skills in these three subjects continues to provide the foundation for Hong Kong education reform in the twenty-first century.

In line with the movement to encourage more creative thinking in the classroom, the government launched major reform in methods of assessing students. Since the mid-1990s, the trend is to replace rigid, competitive testing with more individual student assessment and guidance. The major assessment tool being used in the early twenty-first century is the Hong Kong Attainment Test (HKAT).

Preprimary & Primary Education

Nursery schools and kindergartens are privately owned, but they must register with the government and follow its regulations. In 1999-2000, some 756 kindergartens were registered and taught 171,138 students. The government provides financial assistance to needy families who cannot afford kindergarten fees. In 1999-2000, the Student Financial Assistance Agency (SFAA) received 72,436 applications for kindergarten fee remission. From this total, 65,128 received half fee remission and 3,741 received full fee remission. The pupil-teacher ratio in 1999-2000 was 12.6 children per teacher, but individual class sizes vary.

There were 819 primary schools with 491,181 students enrolled in 1999-2000. About 6 percent of these schools were operated entirely by the government, about 84 percent were operated by nonprofit groups that received government aid, and about 10 percent were privately owned and funded.

Most primary schools operate half day sessions. One group of children attends the morning sessions, and another group attends the afternoon sessions. The government plans to convert all primary schools to full-day schools in the future. In September 2000, about 39 percent of all primary students attended full-day schools. By the 2002-2003 school year, government plans call for 60 percent of the students to be in full-day primary schools and, by 2007-2008, all primary students should be attending full-day schools. The pupil-teacher ratio was 22.4:1 in 1999-2000, but class size is usually in the mid-thirties. The government has promoted a teaching method called "Activity Classes," a system that encourages student-centered learning. These classes are usually smaller than normal classes.

Before 2000, parents competed to get their children into prestigious primary schools, even if those schools were outside their "NET" (Hong Kong is divided into 58 primary school NETS or home districts). Parents often moved, rented, or even cheated to get their children into one of the higher rated schools. The government began a new policy in 2000 for the Primary One Admission (POA) System that restricts the competition for primary school openings. Parents are allowed to apply to any school anywhere but are only guaranteed places in their home district. There are two stages of selection. In the first, each primary school selects 65 percent of its entering primary one students from applications, but 30 percent of these must come from their district. Those children still waiting for placement are then assigned by the government to schools within their home districts.

For decades Hong Kong education officials have proposed different plans to assess student learning and to evaluate each school's performance. One was the Academic Aptitude Test (AAT), put into place in 1978. It measured verbal and numerical reasoning in Chinese and consisted entirely of multiple choice questions. In the 1990s it came under increased criticism for not measuring higher order thinking skills and for not testing more of the actual subjects from the curriculum. It was also used to compare each school's relative success at educating students. As of September 2000, the AAT was abolished. Authorities are attempting to devise tests that will allow them to assess student competency, individual school performance compared to other schools, and the city-wide school system as whole. In the meantime, a temporary three-part method will be used that combines the school's average AAT results from 1997-2000, each student's grades, and parents' preferences.

Besides the core subjects of Chinese, English, and mathematics, primary schools teach courses in general studies, including sciences and health; civics; music and art; physical education; English; and Mandarin. Instruction in computer use is also being added to the curriculum.

Although Cantonese is the language of instruction, English is taught in every primary grade. Overall, each student receives between 180 and 210 hours per year in English instruction.

Secondary Education

Hong Kong's secondary schools are operated by three separate groups: the government (about 8 percent of students); voluntary groups largely funded by the government (about 77 percent of students); and private schools that raise their own finances (about 15 percent of students). Secondary education is divided into three years of junior secondary (S1-S3) and two years of senior secondary (S4-S5) school. Senior secondary students take the HKCEE, and about 30 percent usually score high enough to qualify for places in Sixth Form (Secondary Sixth or S6-S7), a two-year program that prepares students to take the university qualifying exam (HKALE).

There are three types of secondary schools: grammar, which concentrates on academic subjects; technical/ vocational, which prepares students to enter the workforce after their ninth year but also offers academic preparation if students wish to continue their education; and prevocational/special schools, which are for students with disabilities. In 1999-2000, there were 433 grammar, 20 technical, and 27 prevocational schools, with more than 450,000 students: 235,974 in S1-S3; 159,343 in S4-S5; and 58,248 in S6-S7. Although the pupil-teacher ratio is about 19 to 1, class size in 1998-1999 averaged in the upper thirties, not much lower than in 1985-1986, when there were slightly fewer than 40 students per class.

Where students attend school has always been a controversial issue. Certain secondary schools established superior reputations, and parents competed to place their children in these schools. Until 1978, the availability of openings in secondary schools was limited, so students had to take a competitive exam called the Secondary School Entrance Examination (SSEE) to get into S1. After 1978, the government guaranteed a subsidized place for everyone through S3 or the age of 15. Therefore, the SSEE was not needed and it was eliminated. To determine which junior secondary school students attended, the Secondary School Places Allocation (SSPA) was introduced. Under the SSPA, there was no competitive examination. Allocation was based on a student's academic record, the Academic Aptitude Test (AAT) used to weigh the academic standards at each school, parental choice of secondary schools, and school NETS or districts.

In the late 1990s, the Education Commission began an extensive review of the SSPA system and eliminated the ATT. In 2001 they began looking at alternative plans, but the interim system is similar to the former SSPA except with less dependence on public examination scores. The end result is that most students must attend secondary schools in their own secondary school NET. The government has encouraged primary and secondary schools to link together in a system called "Through Train" so that students will pass directly from P6 (sixth year of primary school) to specified junior secondary schools for S1. The commission plans to have a new system in place by 2004 or 2005.

Gaining a place in senior secondary schools is also competitive. Because there were limited places in senior secondary schools, the government created the Junior Secondary Education Assessment (JSEA) in 1980. In 1993, the present system called Secondary Four Places (SFP) was adopted. It combines student performance in school with a formula called Mean Eligibility Rate (MER), which determines the success of each junior secondary school in placing students in S4.

The government subsidizes places for 85 percent of the S3 leavers in grammar and technical schools and another 10 percent for places in vocational subsidized schools. In 1999, approximately 78,000 students finished S3. Almost all of them sought further education. In addition, a few thousand former S3 finishers sought some form of post S3 education. The government offered subsidized places for 73,749 students. Courses taught by other agencies and subsidized by the Department of Education covered 2,240 more students. The Vocational Training Council (VTC) subsidized 4,192 full time openings in vocational and industrial training, including study with the Construction Industry Training Authority and the Clothing Industry Training Authority. Other programs with private schools took 3,498 students in 1999. So in effect, almost everyone who wanted to continue schooling beyond junior secondary had the opportunity.

There are few expenses for students attending junior secondary school other than transportation, books, and uniforms. The government Student Financial Assistance Agency (SFAA) offers textbook assistance for needy families. Students attending senior secondary school, however, must pay an annual fee. For the academic year 2000-2001, this amounted to HK$5,050 (US$647.48). For Sixth Form the fee was HK$8,750 (US$1,121.80).

The SFAA provides fee remission and other assistance for needy S4-S7 students from families with average monthly incomes of under HK$23,200 (US$2,974.37). In 2001, the government promised that subsidized S4 places would be available in the future for everyone who wanted to further his or her education beyond the required nine years.

Getting into senior secondary school puts students on track to take the HKCEE and qualify for Sixth Form, but openings are limited. There were 23,956 guaranteed places in S6 for the 1999-2000 academic year. In recent years the percentage of students going on to post S5 study has been around 33 percent. Many of those who take the HKCEE are not associated with a school; they are retaking the exam to try to increase their scores. In 2000, of the 130,303 examinees, 41,267 were private candidates.

To prepare students for the HKCEE, senior secondary schools dedicate about 50 percent of the curriculum to the three core subjects: Chinese, English, and mathematics. In all, the HKCEE covers 42 subjects, and most students choose 7 or 8 for examination. Chinese, English, and mathematics must be taken by all students, then students select either humanities exams in subjects such as world history, Chinese history, geography, and economics; or science exams in subjects such as physics, chemistry, biology, and additional mathematics. The tests are scored on an A through F basis: A, 5 points; B, 4 points; C, 3 points; D, 2 points; E, 1 point; and F, not passing. The best six grades are counted, and they must total 14 or higher if a student hopes for a place at a subsidized Sixth Form. HKCEE scores are also used in the workforce for mid-level hiring. To get a civil service position as a clerical officer, for example, an applicant must have five grade Es, two of which must be in Chinese and English languages.

Annually, from 60 to 68 percent of the exams are scored E or above. In 2000, the four most popular subjects were Chinese language with 78,975 examinees (66.0 percent scored E or higher); mathematics with 78,658 (74.7 percent scored E or higher); additional math with 21,479 (84.6 percent scored E or higher); English language with 66,064 (64.6 percent scored E or higher); and economics with 38,494 examinees (68.4 percent scored E or higher).

To qualify for university level education, students must take the HKALE. Most students take the exam in the late spring during their second year of Sixth Form. To be eligible to take the HKALE, students must have a grade of E or above in six HKCEE subjects, two of which must be Chinese and English. Because more than 25 percent of those who take the HKALE annually are no longer students, they are classified as private candidates. To be eligible for the exam, private candidates must meet one of three criteria: (1) have taken the HKCEE 18 months before the HKALE examination; scored a grade of E or above in six subjects, including Chinese and English; have a C or above in at least one subject; and a point total from the exams of at least 10 (using the same A through F point system as the HKCEE); (2) have taken the HKALE before; or (3) be 21-years-old by January 1 of the year of the examination.

In 2000, some 35,549 students sat for the exams, 75.7 percent for the first time. Of this total, 16,868 (48.7 percent) scored high enough to qualify for admission to tertiary institutions: 7,586 males (47.1 percent) and 9,282 females (50 percent). Only about 14,500 government subsidized openings were available, however. This shortage of places leads many students to study overseas. The Hong Kong government estimated that in the late 1990s, a total of about 40,000 Hong Kong university students were studying overseas. The most popular countries were the United States (13,000 students), the United Kingdom (10,000), Australia (9,000), and Canada (6,500). Another 2,000 studied in other places such as Mainland China and Taiwan.

The HKALE tests subjects at two levels: 20 subjects at the A or advanced level and 20 subjects at the AS or advanced supplementary level. Both require two years of study, but the AS courses are half the classroom time as the A level courses. Universities consider two AS exams to be equal to one A-level exam when figuring scores on the HKALE. AS subjects were introduced in 1994 as a part of the government's attempt to encourage students to study outside the narrow course offerings in their majors.

Prior to 1994, the only mandatory language exam on the HKALE was English. Following the government's initiative, tertiary institutions began requiring a passing grade in both English and Chinese on the HKALE as prerequisite for acceptance. However, except for the AS-level English and Chinese exams, AS-level subjects have not become popular. In general, students take examinations that will enable them to meet entry requirements into specific university programs. As a result, more than 50 percent of the students never take AS level exams except in language.

To enter universities, candidates must score a grade of E or above in both "Use of English" and "Chinese Language and Culture," and a minimum of two more A-level or one A-level plus two AS-level subjects. Particular university programs might require additional requirements.

Instead of university study, thousands of students enter technical and prevocational secondary schools. The prevocational schools concentrate more on crafts for industry at the lower range of difficulty, while the technical schools offer three years of courses that also prepare students for possible senior secondary school. Therefore, the first three years in technical secondary schools include concentrations in academic subjects similar to grammar schools. A few technical schools offer S4 and S5 level courses that prepare students for the HKCEE. Technical openings go unfilled, however. In the late 1990s, only half of the 10 percent of subsidized openings were being filled.

Higher Education

Higher education generally covers two major types of institutions: degree-granting and technical/vocational education (postsecondary). Both are under the general supervision of the University Grants Council (UGC). The UGC fully subsidizes eight institutions offering bachelor's degrees. These include City University of Hong Kong (City U), Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU or Baptist University), Lingnan University (LU), Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), Hong Kong Polytechnic University (Poly U), Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), University of Hong Kong (HKU), and most recently Hong Kong Institute of Education (HKIEd).

The oldest university in Hong Kong is the University of Hong Kong, formed in 1912 when the Medical College (founded in 1887) joined with the new Technical Institute. In recent decades, HKU has established itself as a major research institution with international acclaim. The next development came 50 years later, in 1963, when three colleges joined to form the Chinese University of Hong Kong, which also has developed into a highly respected teaching and research university. CUHK is home of the other medical school in Hong Kong.

In the 1970s and 1980s, several new higher educational institutions opened. Hong Kong Baptist University, which offers university degrees through the doctoral level, opened as Baptist College in 1970. Today, Baptist University has no formal affiliation with the church. In 1978, a branch of Guangzhou's Lingnan University opened with a strong emphasis on the liberal arts. LU has expanded into programs offering a Master of Philosophy and Doctor of Philosophy in Chinese, cultural studies, English, philosophy, translation, business, and social sciences. Hong Kong Polytechnic University began in 1972 as Hong Kong Polytechnic and became a fully-accredited university in 1994. In 1984, City University of Hong Kong began as City Polytechnic. It also was fully accredited in 1994. The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (APA) started up in 1984 and, in the late 1990s, began offering first degree level programs, in addition to advanced diplomas and certificates in the fine arts (dance, drama, music, and technical arts). It has about 700 full-time students. In 1989, the Open University of Hong Kong (OUHK) began as the Open Learning Institute, and in 1996 OUHK became accredited as a university. OUHK offers university degrees, but it is funded independently, mostly from student fees. It is Hong Kong's major institution offering distance learning. Half of OUHK's 18,000 students are between 26- and 35-years-old, and most of these students attend part time.

The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) opened in 1991 and immediately offered university and graduate level courses. In 1994, the Hong Kong Institute of Education was formed from four colleges of education. At first it offered professional certificates and training, but in 1997, HKIEd became fully funded by the government under the sponsorship of the University Grants Committee; in the following year, HKIEd offered its first degree programs.

Most bachelor's degree programs take three years. Unlike programs in the United States, Hong Kong university degree programs focus on a single major and closely related subjects, rather than requiring a broad range of core courses across disciplines. There is a strong movement to change to the broader-based education system used by U.S. universities, which would require most Hong Kong universities to restructure course requirements.

Business and related fields are the most popular university degree subjects. In 1999-2000, business and management accounted for 23 percent of the majors in UGC funded institutions. Almost a third of these were studying accounting. About 16 percent studied science and mathematics, and another 19 percent chose engineering as their major field. Other popular majors include economics, medicine, and computer science.

In an attempt to expand their resources and international reputation, several universities have formed partnerships with universities overseas and on the China mainland. For example, Poly U has ties with Tianjin Medical University and Peking Union Medical College for teaching health science research. Baptist University offers a long-distance MBA degree program jointly with Scotland's University of Strathclyde.

A number of private institutions provide education at the tertiary level. They are self-supporting, so they depend on private funding. One is Caritas Francis Hsu College (CFHC) which targets people who are mainly working in the commercial fields and want to continue their formal education. In coordination with universities in Great Britain and Australia, Francis Hsu College's Centre for Advanced and Professional Studies (CAPS) offers bachelor and master programs in a variety of fields, including accounting, business management, and hospitality management.

Higher vocational and technical education in the nongovernment sponsored schools must register with the government under the Post Secondary College Ordinance. Currently, only Shue Yan College (SYC) is registered. Opened in 1976, SYC offers four-year secondary diploma courses and a few first degree and masters programs. SYC has ties to universities in China and overseas.

The other type of postsecondary education consists of institutions that provide technical and vocational courses, called sub-degree levels. These programs tend to be vocational, more specifically targeted to teaching work-related skills. They are not equivalent to a bachelors degree from a university. Typically, candidates need passing scores on at least five HKCEEs to qualify for sub-degree programs. Upon completion of these programs, students receive a higher certificate, a diploma, or higher diploma. As a rule, these students usually attend part time since they normally work full time. The length of study ranges from two to four years. A variety of these programs are offered through several colleges and universities, including Poly U, APA, HKIEd, City U, OUHK, and the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education (IVE).

The major government sponsor of technical and vocational training is the Vocational Training Council (VTC), founded in 1982, which offers programs through its IVE. Although officially these are not classified as secondary education, they do include some senior secondary courses that help prepare some students for the HKCEE. IVE has nine different institutes around Hong Kong that teach a wide range of vocational courses in coordination with industry, from commerce to textiles. In 1999-2000, some 54,781 full- and part-time students studied with IVE. Some of the curriculum is designed for higher level technical positions in industry and commerce. Upon completion, students receive certificates and associate degrees.

Students must pay for their higher education. For needy students attending the University Grants Council (UGC) subsidized institutions, financial assistance is available from government grants and loans. Besides the eight universities listed earlier, other subsidized institutions are IVE, APA, and Prince Philip Dental Hospital. In 1999-2000, the UGC processed 32,085 applications and offered assistance to almost all applicants. In many cases, students received a combination of grants and loans to cover their higher education expenses. The average amount offered was HK$47,223 (US$6,054.60).

In the early 1980s, total enrollment in UGC funded tertiary institutions for full time, first degree students numbered 2,000 and 3,000, or approximately 3 to 4 percent of the 17- to 20-year-old population. Then Hong Kong authorities began to build more institutions of higher education. The percentage of the 17- to 20-year-old population entering as full time, first degree students more than doubled between 1984 and 1990, to more than 9 percent, or approximately 7,000 full-time students. From 1991 to 1997, full-time students increased by 32 percent in UGC funded institutions (46 percent if the VTC technical colleges are included). By the late 1990s, there were approximately 14,500 (about 19 percent) of 17- to 20-year-olds entering UGC funded bachelor degree level institutions full time each year. The total enrollment at all levels for full-time students at UGC institutions in 1999-2000 was 69,948 students. The total enrollment for all of the 11 major tertiary institutions was 112,473 students. Another 150,000 people were taking some kind of continuing training and education.

Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

For the 2000-2001 fiscal year, Hong Kong's government expenditure on education was approximately HK$54.4 billion (US$7 billion). This total was 22.3 percent of the total government expenditure, an increase over previous annual budgets. The total was divided fairly evenly among primary, secondary, and tertiary levels. The agency responsible for education throughout Hong Kong is the Education and Manpower Bureau (EMB). The Education Commission (EC), however, carries out much of the daily planning, developing, and monitoring of all the schools. The EC is composed of 19 members, most of whom are appointed from the field of education, not government officials.

The UGC oversees the distribution of government money to tertiary institutions. Much of this money is allocated as a triennial block grant to each of the eight public funded institutions, and these institutions determine how to spend the money to provide the best educational services for their students. The UGC committee is made up of members appointed by Hong Kong's chief executive from outside the government, including representatives from the business and academic communities. Their mission is two-fold: one is to protect the academic freedom and independence of the institutions that they fund, and the other is ensure that the government's money is used effectively for the benefit of the people.

High quality research in Hong Kong universities is a relatively new activity. Until the mid-1990s, the government was mainly concerned with expanding educational opportunities. Since that time, however, Hong Kong educators have worked toward international respectability in research. The government's Research Grants Council (RGC), a subsidiary of the UGC, has four subject area panels that evaluate research proposals and recommend grants for research to academic staff members at UGC funded institutions. The subject areas are physical sciences, engineering, biology and medicine, and humanities and social sciences. Members of the panels are independent of government. Most are academics from Hong Kong and overseas institutions, while some are from nonacademic sectors of Hong Kong.

The VTC is made up of 22 members, 4 of whom come from government. The remaining are appointed from industry, business, and universities. VTC's main function is to advise government on the manpower requirements in Hong Kong, especially as it pertains to future development. Through its 20 Training Boardscovering areas such as accounting, banking and finance, hotel, catering and tourism, maritime services, textile and clothing, apprenticeship and trade testing, and disability trainingthe VTC offers training and skill upgrading to tens of thousands of workers annually. VTC also operates two technical colleges that offer diploma and higher certificate courses.

Nonformal Education

In the late 1990s, Hong Kong's government made a strong commitment to promoting "life-long learning" skills. The rationale behind this movement is that people in the fast-pace changing world of the twenty-first century must be prepared to learn new skills throughout their lifetime. One type of learning involves professional and career upgrading. Another involves knowledge for improving lifestyle so that people can appreciate the arts or pursue new hobbies.

Hong Kong has extensive continuing and professional education (CPE) programs. In the UGC supported institutions alone, continuing studies has grown from about 20,000 students in 1970 to more than 160,000 in 1996. In 1997, the 20- to 64-year-old age group in Hong Kong was estimated to be 4,214,300 people. From this group alone, the number of people taking some form of continuing education was 872,360 (even higher if the under 20 working group was included). Among the institutions with large CPE enrollments are HKU (School of Professional and Continuing Education), CUHK (the School of Continuing Studies), City U, Poly U (Centre for Professional and Continuing Education and the Centre for Professional & Business English), HKBU (School of Continuing Education), HKIEd, and the OUHK.

Several other agencies offer different forms of CPE, including the Caritas Adult and Higher Education Service at Caritas Francis Hsu College, the Hong Kong Management Association, the Hong Kong College of Technology through its Information Service Centre of Professional Studies (ISCOPS), and dozens of private firms and government departments.

Teaching Profession

Qualifications to teach in Hong Kong schools vary according to the level of teaching. Until September 2001, the minimum qualification to teach kindergarten was completion of S5 with two or more passes on the HKCEE, one of which had to be in either Chinese language or Chinese literature. In September 2001, the minimum number of passes was raised to five, including both Chinese and English languages. In 1999-2000, about 54 percent of the 8,855 kindergarten teachers were qualified kindergarten trained (QKT) and another 19 percent were in training. A person must take 360 hours of in-service training offered by the HKIEd to receive the QKT endorsement.

Only about 15 percent of primary teachers held university degrees in 1999-2000, but the vast majority had received professional teacher training. By 2004-2005 all the teaching programs at HKIEd will offer the Certificate of Education (CEd) university degree. Students with the HKCEE can enter HKIEd and take a three-year program leading to the CEd, the general qualification for teaching in primary schools in the future. Students who possess the HKAL can take a two-year program to get the CEd. Secondary school teachers are also trained at the HKIEd for their CEd. Those with degrees from a university but without teacher training take a year-long postgraduate course at HKIEd, UHK, CUHK, or BU to qualify for a postgraduate certificate in education. In 1999-2000, of a total of 24,453 secondary school teachers, 72 percent were graduates with degrees, while another 10 percent had special teacher training.

The HKIEd was created in 1994 by statute that combined Northcote College of Education, Grantham College of Education, Sir Robert Black College of Education, the Hong Kong Technical Teachers' College, and the Institute of Language in Education. In 1997, HKIE became fully funded by the government under the sponsorship of the UGC. Besides the CEd, HKIEd offers a Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) and Bachelor of Education for primary teachers. By 1999-2000 HKIEd was offering more than 50 courses and had nearly 10,000 students. HKIEd also has added a School of Creative Arts, a School of Sciences and Technology, a School of Early Childhood Education, a School of Languages in Education, and a School of Foundations in Education.

Masters- and doctoral-level degrees are prerequisites for most full time, university teaching positions. Like universities in the West, graduate level students also teach. To encourage postgraduate research in all fields, the government is increasing its positions for postgraduate research by 11 percent each academic year between 2001 and 2004.

The Hong Kong Professional Teachers Union (PTU) represents more than 60,000 teachers, or 90 percent of all teachers from kindergarten through university. It is active in all aspects of education, including protecting academic freedom, offering teacher workshops, publishing newsletters to keep teachers informed. In addition, the PTU sponsors services such as a cooperative supermarket, an optometric center, a dental center, and health project medical center.

Salaries for teachers vary greatly from primary to university level. In 1999, a full time academic professor near the top of the pay scale made about US$190,000 annually. A senior lecturer/reader with several years experience makes around US$125,000. The pay for an assistant lecturer/lecturer varies from US$50,000 to US$120,000. Primary and secondary school teachers with several years experience average around US$42,000 annually, but the scale varies considerably with experience. A teacher/administrator/coordinator position pays more, as much as US$60,000 annually. In 2000, the government was recruiting secondary school teachers for its native English-speaking teacher scheme (NET) for salaries ranging from US$26,000 to more than US$70,000, depending on qualifications. All of these full-time positions offer health and retirement benefits.


The most prominent feature in Hong Kong life and culture is the tension between the people's traditional Chinese respect for authority and conformity, and their need for more flexible and creative problem-solving skills. The two potential changes most often debated are eliminating the total reliance on citywide, standardized examinations for placing students and switching to a more open curriculum that resembles the American model of education, with its broad span of offerings. The government has taken steps to open up the curriculum, but moving to the American 6-3-3-4 system of education (6 years of primary, 3 of junior high, 3 of senior high, and 4 of university) and abolishing "banding" in secondary schools is running into opposition.

Another major reform movement in Hong Kong's educational system involves languages. Hong Kong has begun an intensive campaign to promote "biliterate and trilingual" skills in the curriculum. The first change has been to require most public schools to use Cantonese as the teaching language in primary and secondary schools. Officials believe that students are more comfortable learners when they are taught in their native language. With Hong Kong's heritage of English as the language of commerce, however, educators realize that they have the opportunity to retain and increase the numbers and quality of English speakers so that Hong Kong will remain a center of international finance and trade. To accomplish this goal, the government initiated the NET scheme to recruit 750 native English teacher/coordinators (NETs) for the public schools by the early years of the twenty-first century. The government provides extra funding for schools who hire NETs. The third language requirement comes with the handover of Hong Kong to the People's Republic of China. Mandarin, the language spoken in most of China, is a Chinese dialect not understood by most people in Hong Kong. All the schools now teach Mandarin as a standard course.

The reform that is succeeding with little opposition is the campaign to extend education and use of information technology (IT) from primary schools through universities. As a city without any natural resources, Hong Kong's success is tied to its people's ability to gather and manage information.

The Secretary for Education and Manpower Branch reported that by May 2001 all public supported schools would have computers, and the plan is to supply each primary school with 40 computers and each secondary school with 82 computers. In addition, all secondary and almost all primary schools had Internet access by the spring of 2001. Ultimately, the government wants all publicly supported schools to teach 25 percent of their curriculum through the Internet. To accomplish this, the government has instituted a comprehensive training program for all teachers. By late 2000, 75 percent of the teachers had finished basic information technology training (IT). The goal is to have 75 percent of all teachers trained at the intermediate level by 2002-2003. Another prominent feature of the IT crusade is the online learning tool for public schools and life-long learning projects called Hong Kong Education City. In the spring of 2001, the e-class site listed 294 science courses, 146 language courses, 123 art/music/physical education/vocational/library courses, and 117 social studies courses for students.


Bray, M. "Hong Kong: System of Education." The International Encyclopedia of Education. Vol. 5, 2nd ed. Torsten Husen and T. Neville Postlewaite, eds. New York: Elsevier Science Ltd., 1994.

Board of Education. "Report on Review of 9-year Compulsory October 1997 Education (Revised Version)," October 1997. Hong Kong Special Administrative Region [HKSAR]. Available from

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The World Factbook 2000. Directorate of Intelligence, 1 January 2000. Available from

Chee-Cheong, Choi. "Public Examinations in Hong Kong." Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, no. 3, November 1999. Available from

Cheung, Michael. "Spotlight on Hong Kong: Reading, Writing, and Rote Learning. . .Drive Students to Western Schools." Business Week International Editions, 14 August 2000. Available

Education Commission. HKSAR, March 2001. Available from

Education Department. HKSAR, March 2001. Available from

Hong Kong Examinations Authority. HKSAR, March 2001. Available from

"Recruiting Students in Asia: Hong Kong: Local and International Education," March 2001. Available fromüiie/hked/hkeducation.htm.

John A. Zurlo

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Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Getting There
Getting Around
Public Safety
Health Care
Parks and Recreation
Performing Arts
Libraries and Museums
Holidays and Festivals
Famous Citizens
For Further Study

Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region of China, Asia

Founded: Inhabited since prehistoric times, though the earliest modern people lived there by the 2nd millennium B. C. Modern Hong Kong dates back to the British presence, formalized in 1898.
Location: Southeastern China, in eastern Asia, bordering the South China Sea and China's Guangdong Province
Flag: Red field with a white Hong Kong orchid featuring red stars on each of its five petals.
Motto: "A Future of Excellence and Prosperity for All"
Flower: The Hong Kong orchid, Bauhinia blakeana.
Time Zone: Eight hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT plus eight hours)
Ethnic Composition: Chinese, 98%; non-Chinese Asian (mostly Japanese, Indian, Pakistani, Singaporean), 1%; non-Asian (mostly from UK, Canada, Australia, US, New Zealand), 1%
Elevation: Victoria Peak on Hong Kong Island rises to 550 m (1,810 ft); Tai Mo Shan on Lantau Island reaches 957 m (3,140 ft)
Latitude and Longitude: 22°15N, 114°10E
Coastline: 733 km (458 mi)
Climate: Subtropical, with monsoons between May and August; cool and humid in winter, hot and rainy from spring through summer, warm and sunny in fall.
Annual Mean Temperature: 22.2°C (72°F); 15°C (59°F) in February; 27.8°C (82°F) in July
Seasonal Average Precipitation: 2,220 mm (88 in)
Government: Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China, with a chief executive appointed by Beijing and a legislature combining elected and appointed officials
Weights and Measures: Metric
Monetary Units: Hong Kong dollar (HK$), with an exchange rate of HK$7.8 to US$1 (December 1999)
Telephone Area Codes: 852

1. Introduction

With its spacious harbor offering deepwater anchorage and its prime location on the edge of the teeming continent of Asia, Hong Kong has long been a major center for trade, finance, and small manufacturing. Hong Kong's commercial importance has ensured its prominence in the global economy as well as in the economy of Asia, a position Hong Kong acquired after the establishment of British hegemony over the region in the nineteenth century, when Hong Kong was transformed from a minor coastal town into a center of British influence in East Asia. Hong Kong's prosperity has continued since the return of the territory to China by the British in 1997. Today Hong Kong stands as a bustling metropolis of almost seven million people, a city centered around an island of gleaming skyscrapers reminiscent of Manhattan and offering the world a lively and fascinating amalgam of the cultures of East and West.

Surface access for automobiles, trucks and buses is by three routes between Hong Kong and mainland China. Two bridges at Man Kam To handle traffic to and from China, and a new link was completed in 1985 at Sha Tau Kok. A third connection is at Lok Ma Chau, where a road linked to the New Territories Circular Road (NTCR) was finished in 1989.

2. Getting There


Due to Hong Kong's high population density and limited area, there are legal restrictions on the number of vehicles allowed in the city. Even so, about half a million motor vehicles drive Hong Kong's 1,740 kilometers (1,081 miles) of roads. The highway system centers on the NTCR, which rings the city center. A network of bridges and tunnels provides rail and road connections among the various parts of Hong Kong that are separated by water; one of these is the Tsing Ma Bridge, which is among the longest suspension bridges in the world and links Kowloon with Lantau.

Bus and Railroad Service

After the repatriation of Hong Kong in 1997, train service was inaugurated between Kowloon and the cities of Beijing and Shanghai. The Beijing-Kowloon train stops en route at seven intermediate stations. The Shanghai-Kowloon train runs every other day and requires 29 hours each way.

Hong Kong Population Profile

Population: 6,097,000
Area: 1,092 sq km (420 sq mi)
Description: Special Administrative Region (SAR) by the Chinese government, including harbor, Kowloon Peninsula, New Territories, Stonecutters Island, Lantau Island, Hong Kong Island, and more than 230 smaller islands
Ethnic composition: 98% Chinese; 1% non-Chinese Asian (Japanese, Indian, Pakistani, Singaporean); 1% non-Asian (mostly from UK, Canada, Australia, US, New Zealand)
World population rank 1: 35
Percentage of national population 2: 0.5%
Average yearly growth rate: 3%
Nicknames: The Fragrant Harbor

  1. The Hong Kong metropolitan area's rank among the world's urban areas.
  2. The percent of China's total population living in the Hong Kong metropolitan area.


Air access to the city was improved in 1998 when the Hong Kong International Airport began operating on Chek Lap Kok Island and replaced the old airport at Kai Tak. The new airport is connected to the urban areas of Hong Kong by means of a high-speed rail link; travelers going into Hong Kong can make the 23-minute trip downtown by means of the Airport Express train, from which transfers can be made to shuttle buses and Mass Transit Railway (MTR) trains. The MTR itself can be reached by a shuttle bus from the airport, and a number of shuttles connect the airport directly to destinations throughout the city.


Access to Hong Kong, the "fragrant harbor," is readily available by sea for both passenger and freight traffic. A ferry service runs from Tuen Mun to Chek Lap Kok Ferry Pier, from which a shuttle accesses the airport.

3. Getting Around

Bus and Commuter Rail Service

Most of the populace uses public transportation, the cheapest and most efficient means of getting around in crowded Hong Kong. Buses are the most readily available and the most used form of public transport and incorporate a minibus service as well. A rapid transit system, the Mass Transit Railway (MTR), connects the main districts of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon with areas as far away as Tsuen Wan in the New Territories. The Kowloon Canton Railway (KCR) runs between Kowloon and Lo Wu, on the border of Hong Kong and mainland China. In the New Territories, the Light Rail Transit (LRT) connects Tuen Mun with Yuen Long. On Hong Kong Island, there is a funicular that connects the Central District with Victoria Peak, and a tram that runs along the island's northern side. Numerous ferry and hovercraft ply the waters among Hong Kong's numerous islands and link them with Kowloon and the New Territories.


Access to various parts of the city is convenient and relatively inexpensive by both train and bus. Travel within the region is also easily accomplished by means of the train systems and the local buses, and water travel on the different ferries is also cheap and widely used. Sightseers can experience something of traditional Chinese culture in places like the Kam Tin Walled Village (Kut Hing Wei) in the New Territories, the Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island, or the scenic beauty of the outer islands. Soon both Hong Kong natives and travelers will be able to visit Hong Kong Disneyland, scheduled to open on Penny's Bay in 2005.

4. People

Hong Kong's ethnic composition is almost wholly Chinese, from Guangdong province and Hong Kong itself; some ten percent come mostly from Fukien, Chekiang, Shanghai, Kiangsu, and Taiwan. Non-Chinese constitute only about two percent; about half of these are Asians (mostly from Japan, India, Pakistan, and Singapore), and the remainder are mostly British, Americans, Australians, Canadians, and New Zealanders.

English and Cantonese remain official languages, with the latter more widely spoken. The use of Mandarin is increasing and will be required in schools. Dialects such as Siyi, Chao-chow, Hakka, Hoklo, and Tanka are also used in their respective communities.

Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism are the predominant religions in Hong Kong. About ten percent of the population is Christian, with a small number of Hindus, Jews, Sikhs, and Muslims.

5. Neighborhoods

Hong Kong Island is what is typically considered Hong Kong, with crowds pursuing business and pleasure among skyscrapers and elegant department stores and restaurants. The island's Central District, on the north side, is the hub of the Hong Kong good life. To the east of Central is an entertainment district called Wanchai. Further on is Causeway Bay, another area of hotels, restaurants, department stores, and boutiques. The south of Hong Kong Island is mostly residential, with high-rise luxury apartment buildings. Near Aberdeen, also in the south, are two aquatic centers, Ocean Park and Water World.

The theme established by Hong Kong Island's Central District is continued in Kowloon's Tsim Sha Tsui district. The area also boasts a number of museums, the Hong Kong Coliseum, and the Jamia Masjid Islamic Center.

City Fact Comparison
Indicator Hong Kong Cairo Rome Beijing
(China) (Egypt) (Italy) (China)
Population of urban area1 6,097,000 10,772,000 2,688,000 12,033,000
Date the city was founded 1898 AD 969 753 BC 723 BC
Daily costs to visit the city2
Hotel (single occupancy) $180 $193 $172 $129
Meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner) $92 $56 $59 $62
Incidentals (laundry, dry cleaning, etc.) $23 $14 $15 $16
Total daily costs (hotel, meals, incidentals) $295 $173 $246 $207
Major Newspapers3
Number of newspapers serving the city 87 13 20 11
Largest newspaper Oriental Daily News Akhbar El Yom/Al Akhbar La Repubblica Renmin Ribao
Circulation of largest newspaper 600,000 1,159,339 754,930 3,000,000
Date largest newspaper was established 1969 1944 1976 1948
1United Nations population estimates for the year 2000.
2The maximum amount the U.S. Government reimburses its employees for business travel. The lodging portion of the allowance is based on the cost for a single room at a moderately-priced hotel. The meal portion is based on the costs of an average breakfast, lunch, and dinner including taxes, service charges, and customary tips. Incidental travel expenses include such things as laundry and dry cleaning.
3David Maddux, ed. Editor&Publisher International Year Book. New York: The Editor&Publisher Company, 1999.

In the New Territories north of the Kowloon hills, one encounters small to medium-sized rural settlements. Towns and villages in the low-lying areas are generally inhabited by Cantonese; settlements in the valleys and foothills are usually populated by the Hakka people. Among the latter are some traditional fortress-like walled villages, such as Kut Hing Wei. The Temple of 10,000 Buddhas is one of several beautiful temples in the New Territories. Much of Kowloon and the New Territories are comprised of crowded shanty towns.

In contrast to both the luxury of Hong Kong Island and Tsim Sha Tsui and the squalor of the shanties, the outlying islands offer scenic natural beauty. Lantau Island, larger than Hong Kong but with 20,000 people, is rustic enough to be the site of the impressive Buddhist monastery of Po Lin, as well as a Trappist monastery. Lantau's beaches offer an impression of the beauty of the beaches on many of the other of Hong Kong's 230-plus islands.

Hong Kong also has a small and shrinking population of Tanka, fisher-folk who live on boats in fishing towns, such as Aberdeen, Shau Kei Wan, and Cheung Chau.

6. History

Recently discovered artifacts dating back to Neolithic times indicate that Hong Kong has been inhabited for millennia; the earliest modern peoples are thought to have come there from North China in the second millennium B. C. China claimed Hong Kong and its environs about 2,000 years ago, during the Han Dynasty. The Cantonese and later the Hakka settled in the area around the fourteenth century. With its mountainous terrain and lack of fertile soil and fresh water, it was natural that Hong Kong early on became an economic center. With trade came trouble; imperial records mention troops assigned to the area to guard the pearls harvested by the Tanka, while the other two trades plied in Hong Kong appear to have been fishing and opium traffic. The Manchus wiped out the piracy that became rampant by temporarily evacuating Hong Kong in the seventeenth century.

The British, expanding into Asia in the early nineteenth century, recognized the value and strategic importance of Hong Kong's deepwater harbor and began to use it by 1821 to anchor opium-carrying vessels. China's rulers, concerned about the effect of opium on the county's populace, eventually sought to prevent the importation of opium. British resistance to Chinese Imperial control resulted in the first Opium War (183942), in consequence of which, Britain gained control of Hong Kong Island. The conflict continued, and less than two decades later the second Opium War erupted (185660), after which Kowloon Peninsula and Stonecutters Island were ceded to the British by the Convention of Peking (1860). Hong Kong's 235 outlying islands and the New Territories were later leased to Britain for 99 years by the terms of the Convention of 1898. Hong Kong's previously small population had grown to 120,000 by 1861 and to more than 300,000 at the turn of the century.

Subsequent relations between China and Britain were largely antagonistic for the next few decades. Burgeoning Chinese nationalism nurtured a concomitant xenophobia, and Hong Kong became a refuge for political refugees from mainland China after the Chinese Republic was established in 1912. From 1925 to 1927, the Chinese denied British ships access to ports in southern China. In the face of growing hostilities between China and Japan, beginning with Japan's occupation of Manchuria in 1932 and culminating in the Sino-Japanese War in 1937, China looked to Europe for military supplies and support, and Anglo-Chinese diplomatic relations improved. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese fled to Hong Kong as a result of Japan's invasion of China. Britain strengthened the colony's defenses, but they proved inadequate, and the Japanese took Hong Kong in December, 1941, during World War II (19391945). Britain regained control after Japan's surrender in 1945, by which time Hong Kong's population had dropped to 650,000 from its prewar peak of 1.6 million.

Hong Kong's postwar economic recovery proceeded only gradually. A large influx of refugees from the mainland after the Communists took power in Beijing in 1949 added substantially to Hong Kong's population and labor force, but the city's economy was hampered by a U.S. ban on trade with Communist China in 1950. Hong Kong eventually underwent an economic boom by the 1960s, due primarily to heavy foreign investment encouraged by liberal tax policies. Political stability was tested by Communist-inspired riots in 1967, but Hong Kong weathered the storm, and more refugees came from the mainland in the 1970s. However, economic and other ties between Hong Kong and the mainland improved throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

On July 1, 1997, Hong Kong was returned to Chinese sovereignty by Britain according to a 1984 agreement which refined the stipulations of the Convention of 1898. A committee appointed by China from among Hong Kong's civic leaders had designated Tung Chee-hua as Hong Kong's chief executive, and the former British colony became a Special Administrative Region (SAR) under the direct control of China's central committee. Although the 1984 agreement guaranteed the survival of the established legal, social, and economic systems of Hong Kong for the next 50 years, an interim legislative council had already approved restrictions on political rights in Hong Kong before the Chinese resumed control in 1997. Hong Kong's economy suffered along with others in Asia in the subsequent economic recession that affected the region. In the legislative elections in May 1998, most of the open seats were won by pro-democracy candidates.

7. Government

The government of Hong Kong is formulated after the provisions of the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), enacted by China's National People's Congress in 1990. The Basic Law ensures "one country, two systems," according to which principle Hong Kong retains its capitalist economy and a large degree of political autonomy while remaining part of China, which provides for Hong Kong's foreign policy and defense.

The previous law code remains in place and is generally that of Britain. A five-member Court of Final Appeal is the highest court, followed by a High Court, which is in turn followed by district, magistrate, and special courts.

The chief legislative body is the 60-member Legislative Council, 20 of which are directly elected. Executive authority rests with the chief executive, who is directly responsible to Beijing and serves a five-year term. While all these positions were initially appointed by the 400-member Provisional, the positions are to be filled by direct elections by the year 2007.

8. Public Safety

The Commissioner of Police, who is directly responsible to the Chief Executive of the HKSAR, is the commander of the Hong Kong Police Force. The commissioner is assisted by two deputy commissioners, one for operations and one for management.

The Hong Kong Police Department consists of the Operations Wing and the Support Wing and is divided into six regions: Hong Kong Island, Kowloon East, Kowloon West, New Territories North, New Territories South, and Marine.

Force Headquarters consists of five departments: Operations; Crime and Security; Personnel and Training; Management Services; and Finance, Administration and Planning (FAP).

In 1998, Hong Kong had an overall crime rate of 1,076 incidents per 100,000 people, and a violent crime rate of 220 per 100,000.

9. Economy

In 1998, Hong Kong had an estimated labor force of over 3.3 million. The labor force can be roughly divided into manufacturing (28 percent), services (46 percent) finance (9 percent) communications and transportation (4.5 percent), construction (2.5 percent), and other (ten percent). With exports valuing some $181 billion, primarily in textiles, electronics, and small manufacturing, Hong Kong's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $175.2 billion. Inflation stood at slightly less than three percent, and unemployment just under five percent.

Imports (primarily in the form of food, raw materials, petroleum, and unfinished manufactured products) amounted to $199 billion. While exports of goods and services accounts for the bulk of Hong Kong's economy, tourism constitutes seven percent of the GDP. Cinematic production is also a significant part in the region's economy. Hong Kong's primary trading partners are mainland China and Japan for import sources and the U.S., China, Britain, Canada, Germany, and Japan as export markets.

With scarce natural resources, Hong Kong imports much of its food. Water is also largely brought in from the Chinese mainland. Only 12 percent of the land is arable, and of that only half is actually cultivated, mostly in the New Territories. Vegetables are the primary crops. Fishing remains a major industry, with an annual harvest of almost 200,000 metric tons of fish. Two percent of the land is under fish ponds.

10. Environment

Consisting of over 200 islands and a peninsula on the southeast coast of China on the South China Sea and covering a total land area of 1,092 square kilometers (422 square miles), Hong Kong is situated around an outstanding harbor offering 60 square kilometers (23 square miles) of deepwater anchorage. The Sham Chun River defines the border with Guangdong Province, and part of Hong Kong is situated in the Zhu Jiang (Pearl River) delta. On the peninsula are Kowloon and the New Territories. Two of the larger islands are Hong Kong Island and Lantau Island, and there are over 230 smaller outlying islands. Much of the terrain is hilly, with the highest peaks being Tai Mo Shan on Lantau at 957 meters (3,140 feet) and Victoria Peak on Hong Kong Island at 550 meters (1,810 feet). Fifty percent of the region is sparse grass and shrub on poor soil. Seven percent is arable land, although about 40 percent of that lies fallow or uncultivated; one percent is under permanent cultivation; meadows and pastures constitute another one percent; forest and woodland, 12 percent; and two percent is under fish ponds.

With annual monsoonswinds from the southwest bearing warm, moist air from the equatorHong Kong's climate is subtropical, despite its location within the tropics, and has a rainy season from May through August. Temperatures average 22.2°C (72°F), with a low of 15°C (59°F) in February and a high of 27.8°C (82°F) in July. Average rainfall is about 222 centimeters (88 inches). The climate encourages the lush vegetation found in areas that are not urbanized or barren; much of the extant forest is the result of forestation programs since World War II.

11. Shopping

Hong Kong is well known throughout the world as a shopper's paradise, and stores and shops of various kinds can be found on almost every corner. The highest concentrations of places to shop, however, are in the Central District, Causeway Bay, and Stanley on Hong Kong Island, and Tsim Sha Tsui, Mongkok, and Yaumati on Kowloon.

Department stores include both indigenous Hong Kong stores and stores from abroad. The former are the most prominent in the Central District, among them Wing On, Dragon Seed, and Lane Crawford. Elsewhere one can find the British store Marks & Spenser and Japanese stores like Seibu, Isetan, and Mistukoshi. Hong Kong also features a number of large malls that offer a concentration of fine stores, quality restaurants, and upscale boutiques. Also found throughout the region are Chinese product emporia specializing in Chinese goods such as clothing, silks, embroidery, jade, and cloisonné. There are several shopping lanes and street bazaars around Hong Kong, among them East and West Li Yuen Streets, Pottinger Street, Man Wah Lane, and Jardine's Crescent.

12. Education

Schools are divided into primary, junior secondary, and senior secondary levels, with examinations for passage between each. Education through the junior secondary level (for children between the ages of six and 15) is mandatory. About 60 percent of all these schools are private; 30 percent receive some form of government subsidy; and the rest are public. Nearly all of Hong Kong's people have at least a primary school education.

Enrollment in the primary schools in mid-1990s totaled about 470,000 while total enrollment in secondary and vocational schools came to around 520,000.

Colleges and universities in Hong Kong are generally small; the University of Hong Kong (founded 1911) and the Chinese University of Hong Kong (1963), for example, have a combined enrollment of around 14,000. These two schools, together with Hong Kong Polytechnic (1972) and Hong Kong Baptist College (1956), are the main institutions of higher education. There are also students at numerous other schools for vocational, technical, and industrial instruction. The City University of Hong Kong is a new school that opened in 1984, representative of recent efforts to expand the size and the number of institutions for post-secondary education in Hong Kong. Thousands of students also go abroad to pursue their studies.

13. Health Care

Improving health indices and a steady decline in major communicable diseases point to a continued increase in public health, attributable for the most part to efforts to educate the public (such as an anti-smoking campaign) and programs to make preventive medicine and personal health services readily available. Cancer, heart disease, and stroke are the usual causes of death. Moreover, the Hong Kong public generally enjoys a relatively high quality of life. Life expectancy is just under 77 years for men and slightly above 82 for women. A growing elderly population has become an increasing concern.

Hospitals, like the schools, are either private, partly subsidized, or public. Among the region's many hospitals are St. John's and Ruttonjee on Hong Kong Island, Queen Mary and Hong Kong Buddhist Hospitals in Kowloon, and Caritas and Tai Po Hospitals in the New Territories. Social welfare programs are mostly limited to emergency relief, with some provision for old age and disabilities. Hospital services are supplemented by specialized clinics and clinics in outlying areas, some of them on boats, in an effort to provide all citizens of Hong Kong with access to health care.

14. Media

Hong Kong's international commercial importance and strategic location make it a natural communications center. Hong Kong is thus a base of operations for East and Southeast Asian bureaus for a number of news services. Printing and publishing are also significant industries in Hong Kong, and the city has several dozen newspapers and even more periodicals in Chinese and other languages. Among the newspapers are the Hong Kong Daily News, the Sing Tao Daily, and the South China Morning Post. Several television and radio companies serve Hong Kong, among which are Asia Television, Metro Broadcast Corporation, and Hong Kong Commercial Broadcasting.

15. Sports

Hong Kong has two particularly impressive sports venues, the Queen Elizabeth Stadium and the Hong Kong Coliseum, one of Asia's largest indoor stadiums, at which it is able to host international sporting events. Among such events held in the city are the Hong Kong Marathon, the Hong Kong Open Golf Championship, the International Dragon Boat Races, Hong Kong Sevens for rugby, and tournaments of various sports. Horse racing is a Hong Kong passion and can be experienced at two courses, Happy Valley on Hong Kong Island and Shatin in the New Territories. Many clubs around Hong Kong offer excellent facilities where members can play everything from cricket to hockey and tennis.

16. Parks and Recreation

Some 40 percent of Hong Kong's land is devoted to its park system, and its 21 parks scattered throughout Hong Kong and Lantau Islands and the New Territories are well used by the citizens. Tai Chi, hiking, bicycling, kite flying, and picnicking are popular activities for which the ultra-urban people of Hong Kong resort to the wooded areas surrounding the city. Hong Kong's water-front setting also provides ample opportunity for aquatic recreation, such as pleasure sailing, waterskiing, and canoeing, and the city has several boating clubs. Organized recreation is also available at community centers.

Among the larger parks are Hong Kong Park in the Central District, which has a Museum of Tea Ware, a greenhouse, an aviary, gardens, and sports facilities. Victoria Park is built on reclaimed land in Causeway Bay and is a typical urban park. Behind the old Governor's House are the Zoological and Botanical Gardens, which have beautiful manicured gardens, a small zoo, and an aviary. In the New Territories, the MacLehose Trail is a 100-kilometer (60-mile) parkway linking eight separate parks and offering dramatic scenery and coastal views.

17. Performing Arts

Venues for the performing arts in Hong Kong include City Hall (for classical music, theater, and film), the Hong Kong Arts Centre, the Fringe Club (mostly for contemporary and avant garde) in Central District. Queen Elizabeth Stadium (for ballet and pop and orchestra concerts) and the Hong Kong Academy for the Performing Arts (with two theaters for dramatic performances and classical and modern dance) are in Wanchai. The Hong Kong Stadium in Happy Valley is used for pop concerts, as is the Hong Kong Coliseum in Kowloon.

Performance groups include the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, which performs in City Hall; the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, playing traditional Chinese music; some ten troupes performing Cantonese opera; and visiting troupes from the mainland that perform Peking opera. The Hong Kong Dance Company performs Chinese dance and contemporary choreography on Chinese themes. The Hong Kong Ballet performs traditional and contemporary Western pieces while the City Contemporary Dance Company performs more innovative works. The Fringe Club presents drama of various sorts in English and Cantonese, and the Zumi Icosahedron is an avant garde drama and dance troupe.

18. Libraries and Museums

The major higher educational institutions, such as the University of Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong, have fairly comprehensive libraries. The city also operates a system of 25 public libraries, including two mobile library units.

Several of the region's museums are located in Kowloon. Among these are the Hong Kong History Museum in Kowloon Park, the Space Museum by the waterfront, the Hong Kong Museum of Art, and the Science Museum. Also in Kowloon is Young's Wax Museum, with figures of personages from Chinese history, such as Confucius and Sun Yat-sen. The Lei Cheng Uk Museum is a burial vault from the Han Dynasty (c. A. D. 25220). The Sung Dynasty Wax Museum depicts life in a Sung Dynasty village, from about A. D. 960 to 1280. On Hong Kong Island, the Fung Ping Shan Museum, operated by the University of Hong Kong, has a large collection of Chinese and Nestorian antiquities. The Museum of Chinese Historical Relics is located in Wanchai. And the Museum of Tea Ware can be found in Hong Kong Park.

19. Tourism

Some three million tourists visit Hong Kong each year, and the tourist industry accounts for seven percent of Hong Kong's gross national product (GNP). Almost all visitors from abroad need both passport and visa to enter the region. Package tours by which travelers arrive by air or sea are readily available with a variety of options, and both government-run tourist bureaus and private tourist organizations have a wealth of information and services to offer.

Access to various parts of the city from the airport is convenient and relatively inexpensive by both train and bus. Travel within the region is easily accomplished by means of the train systems and the local buses, and water travel on the different ferries is also cheap and widely used. Tourists can experience the ultra-modern in Hong Kong's abundant department stores, boutiques, and malls, or experience something of traditional Chinese culture in places like the Kam Tin Walled Village (Kut Hing Wei) in the New Territories, the Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island, or the scenic beauty of the outer islands. Soon tourists will also be able to visit Hong Kong Disneyland, scheduled to open on Penny's Bay in 2005.

20. Holidays and Festivals

Lunar New Year
Birthday of Che Kung
Hong Kong Arts Festival
Hong Kong City Festival

February Yuen Siu (Spring Lantern Festival)

April Ching Ming (Rembrance of Ancestors)
Birthday of Tin Hau
Hong Kong International Film Festival

Cheung Chau Bun

Birthday of the Buddha
Birthday of Tam Kung

Dragon Boat Festival (Tuen Ng)
Birthday of Kwan Tai

Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Establishment Day

Maidens (Seven Sisters) Festival
Yue Lan (Hungry Ghost) Festival

Mid-Autumn Festival
Monkey God Festival
Chinese Opera Fortnight

Birthday of Confucius
Chung Yeung

National Day

Festival of Asian Arts

21. Famous Citizens

William Alison Anders (b. 1933), American astronaut on Apollo 8.

Jackie Chan (b. 1954), actor.

Marguerite Higgins (19201966), Pulitzer Prize-winning writer (Korean and Vietnam Wars).

Bruce Lee (19401973), actor and martial arts master.

Joan Lorring (b. 1926), actress, best known for her starring role in The Corn Is Green, 1949.

Daniel C. Tsang, American librarian and co-founder of AWARE.

Kitty Tsui, writer, best known for Breathless, 1995, and Words of a Woman Who Breathes Fire.

Lin Yutang (18951976), writer and philologist.

22. For Further Study


CIA World Factbook (Hong Kong). [Online] Available (accessed December 9, 1999).

Daily information bulletin for weather, news and major speeches by government officials. [Online] Available (accessed December 9, 1999).

Hong Kong government. [Online] Available (accessed December 9, 1999).

Hong Kong government. [Online] Available (accessed December 9, 1999).

Hong Kong government Works Bureau and the Planning, Environment and Lands Bureau. [Online] Available (accessed December 9, 1999).

Hong Kong Travel Association. [Online] Available De 1999).

Official website of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region [Online] Available government. (accessed December 9, 1999).

PBS: Hong Kong: Lives in Transition. [Online] Available (accessed December 9, 1999).

Government Offices

Central Government Offices
Lower Albert Road
Hong Kong

Office of the Ombudsman
31/F Gateway Tower 1
25 Canton Road
Tsimshatsui, Kowloon
Hong Kong

Tourist and Convention Bureaus

Hong Kong Tourist Association
548 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10036
(212) 947-5008

Hong Kong Tourist Association
35/F Jardine House
1 Connaught Place
Central Hong Kong


Government Publications Centre
G/F, Low Block, Queensway Government Offices
66 Queensway, Hong Kong

Publications Unit, Census and
Statistics Department
19/F, Wanchai Tower, 12 Harbour Road
Wan Chai, Hong Kong


Cameron, Nigel. An Illustrated History of Hong Kong. Oxford, 1991.

Chan, Ming K., ed. The Challenge of Hong Kong's Reintegration with China. (Hsiang-kang hui kuei Chung-kuo chih t'iao chan / Ch'en Mingch'iu pien chu.) Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1997.

Cheng, Joseph Y. S., and Sonny S. H. Lo. From Colony to SAR : Hong Kong's Challenges Ahead. Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 1995.

Dimbleby, Jonathan. The Last Governor: Chris Patten & the Handover of Hong Kong. London: Little, Brown, 1997.

Elegant, Robert. Hong Kong. Time-Life, 1977.

Fosh, Patricia, ed., et al. Hong Kong Management and Labour: Continuity and Change. New York: Routledge, 1999.

Hsiung, James C., ed. Hong Kong the Super Paradox : Life After Return to China. New York, N.Y.: St. Martin's Press, 1999.

Leung, Beatrice, and Joseph Cheng. Hong Kong SAR: In Pursuit of Domestic and International Order. Sha Tin, N.T., Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 1997.

Lo, C. P. Hong Kong. NY: Belhaven Press, 1992.

McGurn, William. Perfidious Albion: The Abandonment of Hong Kong, 1997. Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1992.

Morris, Jan. Hong Kong. Random, 1988, 1989.

Patten, Christopher. East and West: China, Power, and the Future of Asia. Random House/Times Books, 1998.

Pang-kwong, Li, ed. Political Order and Power Transition in Hong Kong. Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 1997.

Rafferty, Kevin. City on the Rocks: Hong Kong's Uncertain Future. Viking, 1990.

Rioni, S. G., ed. Politics and Economics of Hong Kong. Commack, N.Y.: Nova Science Publishers, 1997.

Scott, Ian, ed. Institutional Change and the Political Transition in Hong Kong. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998.

Segal, Gerald. The Fate of Hong Kong. New York: St. Martin's, 1993.

So, Alvin Y. Hong Kong's Embattled Democracy : a Societal Analysis. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.

Warner, John. Fragrant Harbour: Early Photographs of Hong Kong. Hippocrene, 3rd ed., 1980.

Welsh, Frank. A Borrowed Place: The History of Hong Kong. Kodansha, 1993.

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Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Basic Data

Official Country Name: Hong Kong
Region (Map name): East & South Asia
Population: 7,210,505
Language(s): Chinese (Cantonese), English
Literacy rate: 92.2%
Area: 1,092 sq km
GDP: 162,642 (US$ millions)
Number of Daily Newspapers: 48
Total Circulation: 1,528,000
Circulation per 1,000: 12
Total Newspaper Ad Receipts: 10,203 (Hong Kong $ millions)
As % of All Ad Expenditures: 37.30
Number of Television Stations: 4
Number of Television Sets: 1,840,000
Television Sets per 1,000: 255.2
Number of Cable Subscribers: 534,480
Cable Subscribers per 1,000: 78.6
Number of Satellite Subscribers: 182,000
Satellite Subscribers per 1,000: 25.2
Number of Radio Stations: 20
Number of Radio Receivers: 4,450,000
Radio Receivers per 1,000: 617.2
Number of Individuals with Computers: 2,360,000
Computers per 1,000: 327.3
Number of Individuals with Internet Access: 2,601,000
Internet Access per 1,000: 360.7

Background & General Characteristics

Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People's Republic of China with a high degree of autonomy in all matters except defense and foreign affairs. On July 1, 1997, China resumed sovereignty over Hong Kong, ending more than 150 years of British colonial control. In 1984, Great Britain and China signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which, combined with Chinese laws enacted in 1990, provided a high degree of economic autonomy for the SAR for 50 years beyond 1997.

Hong Kong is located on the southeast coast of China. It consists of 236 islands and islets and a portion of the Chinese mainland, with a total area of approximately 1,046 square kilometers. Hong Kong Island is one of the leading trading centers in the world and constitutes the SAR's principal business and commercial center. Shipping and trade are major aspects of its economy. Tourism is one of Hong Kong's most important service activities and is the third largest source of foreign exchange earnings.

Hong Kong residents have a vast appetite for news. Their press, radio and television industries enjoy freedom from pre-censorship and minimal regulation. The Hong Kong government treats the press as a private enterprise. It has no specific regulatory body to control the media and implements no other form of direct control over the press. In this respect, Hong Kong continues to follow the colonial press regulation, which is still under debate and comes up for discussion from time to time.

Cultures of the East and the West meet in Hong Kong. Although 95 percent of the population is of Chinese descent its composition also includes those who arrived from countries like Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia. Immigrants from Japan, India, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States and other countries comprise the remainder. Hong Kong's many newspapers serve the various close-knit communities in the region. The Internet is no threat to Hong Kong newspapers, whose continued and even increasing popularity confounds claims that the press is a dying medium in the electronic age. Indeed, many newspapers now attract print readers through their online sites.

Nature of the Audience

Hong Kong has an affluent population. Although Hong Kong is the most expensive city in the world, its prosperous economy is reflected in the lifestyle of its people, who have the highest standard of living in all of Asia. Asiaweek ranked Hong Kong as Asia's seventh best city in the world on a "quality of life" index.

There are about 7.2 million people in Hong Kong. About 1.3 million live on Hong Kong Island, around 2 million in mainland Kowloon, and the remainder in the New Territories and Outlying Islands. Almost 96 percent of the population is ethnic Chinese and 4 percent are other ethnic minorities, including a wide range of nationalities. Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated areas of the world, with an overall density of some 6,300 people per square kilometer. A British colony for 156 years, Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China on July 1, 1997.

There are several languages spoken in Hong Kong. The most common languages used in Hong Kong now are Cantonese and English, but as a result of the transfer of sovereignty in 1997, Mandarin is expected to become much more popular. According to the law under which the Hong Kong SAR was structured, Mandarin and English remain the official languages. Other dialects spoken include:

Hakka language; Minnan dialect, also known as Southern Min, Fukienese, Taiwanese, Amoy, Chaozhou/Tiechew, Shantow/Shahtaw; and Fuzhou dialect, also known as Northern Min or Northern Fukienese.

In addition, the characters in which Chinese is written in Hong Kong differ from those used in mainland China. Despite linguistic difficulties, literacy in Hong Kong is high: in 1998, 92.2 percent of people over the age of 15 in Hong Kong were literate.

Freedom of expression and a liberal attitude towards the press have helped to attract a concentration of prestigious international publications to Hong Kong. International publishers operating in Hong Kong manage the production, marketing and distribution of books for the Hong Kong market and export to related companies worldwide. Hong Kong printing exports amounted to over US $1 billion in 2001.

About 120 major international publishers of newspapers, magazines and books have their offices and Asian headquarters in Hong Kong, which is also the base for a number of regional publications. For example, Asiaweek, the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Asian Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, The Economist and the International Herald Tribune are printed in Hong Kong.

International book publishers in Hong Kong include Oxford, Longman, Readers' Digest and Macmillan. In recent years, more foreign titles have been translated into Chinese, including management, personal finance and self-improvement books as well as cartoons and popular novels, especially those that have been adapted for movies or television.

Media Circulation

There are a total of 54 newspapers in Hong Kong. Of these, 32 have a circulation of 2,951,000 (1993). According to the Hong Kong Government Information Center, there are 697 registered periodicals and 54 newspapers in Hong Kong. Of the 54 newspapers, 34 are in Chinese and 11 in English. UNESCO (1999) data shows that in 1996 Hong Kong published 52 dailies with a circulation of 5 milliona penetration of 78.6 copies per 100 people.

Of other non-newspaper periodicals, 347 are in Chinese, 155 in English, 115 bilingual and 17 in other languages. These magazines cover a wide variety of subjects from public affairs and politics to technical matters and entertainment.

Major newspapers circulated in Hong Kong include the following:

  • Hong Kong Standard Front Page
  • Hong Kong Standard China Section
  • South China Morning Post (SCMP) Internet Edition
  • South China Morning Post China Section
  • China Business Round Up
  • Ming Pao Daily News
  • Hong Kong 97 Website
  • Sing Pao Daily News
  • Ta Kung Pao
  • Hong Kong iMail
  • Apple Daily Online Newspaper
  • Hong Kong Commercial Daily
  • Wen Wei Po Daily
  • Sing Tao Electronic Daily

Of some 40 daily newspapers in Hong Kong, five are in English, including the South China Morning Post (circulation 101,000) and the Hong Kong Standard (circulation 60,000). The daily newspapers have a combined readership of over 400,000. Approximately 80 percent of the readers are Chinese. Hong Kong has the highest news readership in Asia after Japan.

Hong Kong newspapers are divided into sections e.g., editorials, politics, education, transportation and real estate. Some newspapers cover mainly general news, both local and overseas; others cover solely entertainment, especially television and cinema news. Chinese and English newspapers belong to the Newspapers Society of Hong Kong, which was formed in 1954 and acts in the interest of the ownership, management and reader-ship of the newspapers. Specialized periodicals, the other main sector of the press, cover a wide variety of subjects from public affairs and politics to technical matters and entertainment.

Press History

Hong Kong's press history has deep roots and a close connection with Chinese politics. The British colonies of Shanghai and Hong Kong were the birthplaces of the modern Chinese press. In the 1850s, Christian missionaries first published a Chinese edition of the English language newspaper. A Chinese-owned newspaper press followed in the 1870s. At the turn of the century, both Manchurian loyalists and revolutionaries published their propaganda in Hong Kong; they aimed to reach the Chinese intellectuals on the mainland, not just to provide news but to promote enlightenment and advocate reform or revolution. There was no explicit censorship, and citizens were allowed to criticize the contending Chinese regimes, although negative discussion of the British colonial government was discouraged. After the 1967 communal riots, the colonial government felt a strong need to close the communication gap with the people. It upgraded the Government Information Services (GIS) to play the double role of news producer and news distributor to the press, both controlling and facilitating press access to government information.

When China and Britain held negotiations in the early 1980s over the future of the colony, a majority of the Hong Kong press sided editorially with the British position and cast serious doubt about the "one country, two systems" policy proposed by the Chinese regime. From 1984 to 1997, the press had to cope with the dualistic power structure of the colonial regime and the Chinese authorities. Throughout the 1990s, the Hong Kong press largely supported Britain's last effort to undertake democratic electoral reforms. Under the basic press law, China must allow Hong Kong to continue its present way of life, including press freedom, for at least 50 years.

In 1997, 30 Chinese dailies, 10 English language dailies, one bilingual daily and four dailies in other languages had registered with the Hong Kong government. Excluding those publications covering only entertainment or horseracing, as well as news agency bulletins registered as newspapers, Hong Kong published 15 large circulation dailies in 1999. Some dailies have distribution networks and print editions overseas, particularly in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. Some regional publications, such as the Asian Wall Street Journal , Asiaweek, the Far Eastern Economic Review and the International Herald Tribune, have chosen Hong Kong as their base or printing location. Many international news agencies, newspapers, and overseas broadcasting corporations have established regional headquarters in Hong Kong because of its advanced telecommunications infrastructure and the availability of the latest technology, as well as its strategically important location in Asia.

In the past, Hong Kong was known for a large number of small, diverse, family-owned newspapers. However, the new publishing economies, as symbolized by the Apple Daily, has made it difficult for smaller newspapers to survive. Newspaper publishing has become the prerogative of those individuals or corporations with substantial economic means.

Hong Kong is a regional publishing center, backed by a highly developed printing industry. Advertising sales are a major source of revenue for the printed media.

Economic Framework

Hong Kong is the world's tenth-largest trading entity and the ninth-largest banking entity, and is one of the world's most open and dynamic economies. Its unique social system, its reputation for hard work and its strategic location combine to produce a bustling free market economy, though one highly dependent on international trade.

Hong Kong has very few natural resources and must import virtually all its raw materials; thus, it is extremely vulnerable to external influences by its trading partners. Recently, Hong Kong has achieved rapid economic growth. Traditionally, manufacturing industries, shipping, banking and tourism have been the major foreign currency earners. Textiles, clothing, toys, electronics and plastic industries employ a large percentage of the work force and contribute significantly to the GDP, accounting for some 70 percent of total domestic exports. As a gateway to Chinaand now as China's window to the outside worldHong Kong is developing into a service-oriented financial center. Its active banking sector and the stock market provide the financial and administrative support for investment ventures in China.

Government policy encourages free enterprise and foreign investment. No distinction is made between local and foreign investment, and both are welcomed. Hong Kong's main trading partners are the USA, the UK, Germany, China and Japan, and the primary products are fish, fruit and vegetables. Major industries in Hong Kong include aircraft engineering, clothing, clocks and watches, electronic goods, fishing, finance and banking, iron and steel rolling, plastic products, ship repair, textiles, and toys.

Hong Kong's press is an amalgamation of privately owned and party-financed newspapers. Most newspapers in Hong Kong are owned by private investors whose main goal is profit. Contrary to widely held predictions, Hong Kong has continued to enjoy a high degree of press freedom as China seems to have kept its promise of not interfering with the SAR's internal matters.

Surveys indicate that journalists as well as citizens have perceived steady erosion in media credibility in the 1990s. In fact, many outlets like the prestigious South China Morning Post and Ming Pao Daily News have lost significant ground. Press freedom is likely to erode seriously without conscious measures to safeguard press integrity.

In 1999, the newspapers' share of display advertising revenue was 36 percent. Only television had a higher share, with 45 percent.

Press Laws

Hong Kong's press freedom is said to be the highest in Asia, except for Japan. Newspapers have enjoyed a high degree of freedom perhaps because of the British tradition. Although the colonial government had a number of laws in hand to control the press, it seldom used them.

The basic law provides for freedom of speech of the press and of publication and there was no apparent change after the Chinese takeover in the tradition of respect for these freedoms by the government. In the early 2000s, there were some instances of intolerance on the part of Chinese authorities regarding press freedom. It is perhaps ironic that in the year 2001, the Hong Kong media was affected less by political events and more by an economic slump. This has forced the closure of one publication and the slimming down of several others. Such moves have an inevitable impact on media diversity.


There is a widespread impression among both journalists and the public that it is prudent for the press to engage in a degree of self-censorship. The pressures on journalists to self-censor usually are subtle and indirect. There is a perception of rising censorship in Hong Kong because it is a major business center where economic and political information is sensitive. Self-censorship is more pronounced on issues considered sensitive to the Chinese leadership. These include coverage of Chinese dissidents and Tibetan and Xinjiang separatists, as well as the inner workings of the Communist Party. These issues are reported upon, but reporters tend to play it safe. There are no reports of direct orders to refrain from covering a certain issue, despite a shared perception of a need for special care towards topics of particular sensitivity to China or to Hong Kong's powerful business interests.

There is no censorship of imported videos at all; the government takes the view that these are for private viewing only and not for public consumption. There are no changes to this policy planned.

News Agencies

The domestic news agency in Hong Kong is the Hong Kong China News Agency (HKCNA). HKCNA was established on November 13, 1956, in Hong Kong and offers news releases to Chinese-language newspapers in Hong Kong, Macao and foreign countries and articles for newspaper supplements. HKCNA is a regional agency that offers about 30 dispatches for over 80 clients every day covering news in the Mainland, Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, and Chinese communities abroad. HKCNA is a branch office of the China News Service and carries the news of both agencies.

Broadcast Media

Virtually all Hong Kong households, about 2 million, have access to television. Altogether, the TV industry provides more than 38 channels. The television stations in Hong Kong operate four channels: all commercial, two Chinese and two English. Hong Kong is also the home of major regional broadcasters, including Satellite Television Asian Region Ltd. (STAR TV), Chinese Television Network (CTN) and Chinese Entertainment Television (CETV).

Television Broadcasting International (TVBI) markets about 1,000 hours of its 2-3,000 hours of productions in 25 countries serving overseas Chinese communities. Asia Television (ATV) markets 520 hours of drama, showing 10 hours per week on air.

Radio and Television Hong Kong (RTHK), a quasi-public broadcaster, supplements commercial television. It is a government broadcasting authority, which places its programs on the other four channels. News is broadcast through Radio-Television Hong Kong and can be heard in English and Cantonese. Cantonese radio and TV programs are broadcast from Hong Kong. Recently, there have been some TV programs in Mandarin.

Education & TRAINING

The Chinese University of Hong Kong has accredited journalism and mass media programs, which are supplemented with a required period of practical training in the field. Hong Kong has many schools and colleges providing courses in mass media and journalism, which offer excellent career opportunities. Journalism and media programs aim at training students' analytical ability, independent thinking, and proficiency in language and literacy in various forms of media. The university academic program stresses both theoretical and professional training. There are five professional tracks: journalism, broadcasting, advertising and public relations, multimedia and telecommunications, and communications studies. The program's rigorous training also equips students with high adaptability and professional competence.


The Hong Kong press has remained healthy and diverse despite facing competition. Because of its diversity, the press maintains high quality and high credibility and hence appears to have a bright future.

Freedom House has ranked Hong Kong as partly free regarding governance, political rights and civil liberties. Hong Kong remains a capitalist society with the government firmly wedded to a laissez-faire policy on commercial activities. After the 1997 transfer to China, the press has continued to be more vocal than most people had envisaged. However, it remains to be seen whether this trend will continue indefinitely. A threat to press freedom in recent years has been the many libel suits filed against media organizations and critics. This in effect may dampen the critical exchange of ideas and public monitoring of the press. Broadcasting regulations at the highest level rest with the Chief Executives and the advisory bodies. Under the name of market-driven journalism, yellow journalism has become the order of the day for the popular press and for some so-called "info-attainment" TV programs.

The decline in media ethics is evident in the growing number of complaints that people have lodged with the government monitoring body. The recent economic downturn and the fierce market competition have been another major issue in Hong Kong. As a matter of survival, many newspapers have lowered their editorial standard to attract the largest possible number of readers by offering sensational content. Intense market competition may also lead to folding of newspapers that will further narrow the spectrum of opinion.

Another danger to the Hong Kong media comes from the profession itself. The Hong Kong Press Council, which was set up by the Newspaper Society in July 2000 to consider complaints from the public about media invasion of individual privacy, announced in October that it wished to turn itself into a statutory body for protection from non-member newsgroups.

In terms of media freedom, there have been few noticeable differences since the British colonial rule in 1997. By and large, the media is free and adequately fulfils its role as a public watchdog. However, several political and corporate forces are critical of the independent media and see it as a threat or an inconvenience. Through varied means, many are intent on curtailing the activities of the press. Beating back their advances will take a vigilant and concerted effort.


Atlapedia Online. Latimer Clark Corporation Pty. Ltd., 2001. Available from

Bale, Cliff. World Press Freedom Review, 2001. Available from

Goff, Peter. World Press Freedom Review, 2000. Available from

Gunaratne, Shelton A., ed. Handbook of the Media in Asia. New Delhi: Sage, 1982.

U.S. Department of State: Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. "Background Note: Hong Kong." Available from

Ashakant Nimbark

Binod Agrawal

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Hong Kong

Hong Kong (hŏng kŏng), Mandarin Xianggang, special administrative region of China, formerly a British crown colony (2005 est. pop. 6,899,000), land area 422 sq mi (1,092 sq km), adjacent to Guangdong prov., SE China, on the estuary of the Pearl River, 40 mi (64 km) E of Macao and 90 mi (145 km) SE of Guangzhou (Canton). The region comprises Hong Kong island, ceded by China in 1842 under the Treaty of Nanjing; Kowloon (Mandarin Jiulong) peninsula, ceded (with Stonecutters Island) in 1860 under the Beijing Convention; and the New Territories, a mountainous mainland area adjoining Kowloon, which, with Deep Bay on the west and Mirs Bay on the east and some 235 offshore islands, was leased from China in 1898 for 99 years. China regained sovereignty over the colony on July 1, 1997. The capital, officially named Victoria but commonly called Hong Kong, is on the northwest shore of Hong Kong island.

Land, People, and Government

Hong Kong has many natural harbors, that of Victoria (c.17 sq mi/44 sq km) being one of the finest in the world. The colony grew around this beautiful, sheltered, deepwater port, and today an estimated 75% of the population are concentrated there. Victoria lies at the foot of Victoria Peak (1,805 ft/550 m), the center of an extensively quarried granite range covering much of Hong Kong island. As the city has grown, large sections of Victoria Harbor have been filled in to provide space for office buildings, a convention center, and highways.

About 95% of the people are ethnic Chinese, some 2% are Filipino, and there are substantial British and American communities. Cantonese and English are official languages, and other Chinese dialects are spoken. About 90% of the population practice traditional Chinese religions, and some 10% are Christian. Hong Kong's educational institutions include the Univ. of Hong Kong and Chinese Univ.

Hong Kong is governed under the Basic Law as approved in 1990 by the National People's Congress of China. The head of state is the president of China. The government is headed by the chief executive, who is elected by the 800-member electoral committee for a five-year term. The legislature consists of the 60-seat Legislative Council, half of whose members are directly elected, and half indirectly, for four-year terms. Changes adopted in 2010 increased the number of directly elected seats to 40, but required that 5 of the new members be chosen from among district members; the electoral committee was expanded to 1,200 members. The main parties are the prodemocracy Democratic party, the probusiness Liberal Party, and the Beijing-oriented Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong.


Hong Kong is a free port, a bustling trade center, and a shopping and banking emporium—one of the greatest trading and transshipment centers in East Asia. After 1950, when much of its entrepôt trade with China was halted because of UN and U.S. embargoes, Hong Kong began to industrialize. Overcoming such handicaps as a scarcity of minerals, power sources, usable land, and freshwater, and utilizing its abundant supply of cheap labor, Hong Kong has become a leading light-manufacturing center.

The textile and garment industry is the colony's largest manufacturing sector. Other industries include the manufacture of electrical and electronic equipment, plastics, toys, watches and clocks, appliances, metal and rubber products, chemicals, and jewelry. The majority of goods are exported. Shipbuilding, machine tooling, and other heavy industries are also important, although most raw materials, capital goods, and fuel must be imported. China is by far the main trading partner, followed by the United States and Japan. Tourism is a major source of revenue, in addition to motion-picture production, finance and insurance, and publishing.

Because of the mountainous and rocky terrain, only about 5% of the land is arable; farming is carried on principally in the New Territories; the Yuanlong valley has the best farmland. Rice and a variety of vegetables are grown, but most food is imported from mainland China. Fishing is a common occupation, and chickens and pigs are raised.

Hong Kong's rail link with the mainland is by the Kowloon-Guangzhou Railway. Kowloon is connected with Hong Kong island, 1 mi (1.6 km) away, by ferry and by a vehicular tunnel. Hong Kong has shipping connections with all major world ports and is an international air hub; the airport at Kai Tak (opened 1958) was built on land reclaimed from Kowloon Bay. A new airport, on landfill extending from Chek Lap Kok island, opened in 1998; highways and a high-speed rail system connect Victoria to the airport.


The region of Hong Kong, which had long been barren, rocky, and sparsely settled—its many islands and inlets a haven for coastal pirates—was occupied by the British during the Opium War (1839–42). The colony prospered as an east-west trading center, the commercial gateway to, and distribution center for, S China. It was efficiently governed, and its banking, insurance, and shipping services quickly became known as the most reliable in SE Asia. In 1921 the British agreed to limit the fortifications of the colony, and this contributed to its easy conquest (Dec. 25, 1941) by the Japanese. It was reoccupied by the British on Sept. 16, 1945.

After 1949, when the Communists took control of mainland China, hundreds of thousands of refugees crossed the border, making Hong Kong's urban areas some of the most densely populated in the world. Problems of housing, health, drug addiction, and crime were the target of aggressive governmental programs, and Hong Kong's long-standing water problem was eased by the construction of an elaborate system of giant reservoirs and the piping in of water from China.

In May, 1967, Hong Kong was struck by a wave of riots and strikes inspired by China's Cultural Revolution. The government reacted firmly, and, although the Chinese retaliated by briefly stopping the piping of water and by attacking British representatives in Beijing, relations between Hong Kong and China soon resumed the surface harmony that had existed since the late 1950s.

After several years of negotiations, on Dec. 19, 1984, Britain and the People's Republic of China agreed that Hong Kong (comprising Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, and the New Territories) would become a special administrative region of China as of July 1, 1997, when Britain's lease expired. Declaring a policy of "One Country, Two Systems," China agreed to give Hong Kong considerable autonomy, allowing its existing social and economic systems to remain unchanged for a period of 50 years.

The crackdown in 1989 at Tiananmen Square in Beijing inspired fears that China would not respect Hong Kong's autonomy, and in the next few years many business people left, affecting Hong Kong's economy. In 1991, Hong Kong's first direct legislative elections (which accounted for about 30% of the seats) were won almost entirely by liberal, prodemocracy candidates, and no pro-China candidates were elected.

In 1992, Britain introduced a number of democratic measures, which were denounced by China. Talks between the two countries proved fruitless, and in 1994 Hong Kong's legislature approved further democratic reforms in the colony in defiance of strong Chinese objections. In the subsequent elections (1995) prodemocracy candidates received about 60% of the popular vote. Upon Hong's return to China, Beijing abolished the legislature set up by the British and established a provisional legislature; a chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, was also appointed. Elections were held in 1998, with prodemocracy parties taking 16 of the 20 directly elected seats (the rest of the 60 seats were mostly chosen by professional constituencies).

Hong Kong was affected by the Asian financial crisis of 1997–98, but its economy began to rebound in 1999. A setback to Hong Kong's independent judicial system occurred in 1999, when Beijing overturned a Hong Kong court ruling that had granted residency to children born in mainland China who had at least one parent living in Hong Kong. In the Sept., 2000, legislative council elections, prodemocracy parties won 15 of the 24 directly elected seats.

Tung was reelected as chief executive in 2002. Although not popular, he was supported by the Chinese government, and no other candidate was nominated by the electoral committee responsible for electing the executive. In 2003, Hong Kong's economy was hurt by measures undertaken to control an outbreak of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), which spread there from China. A trade agreeement was signed with China in June; the pact gave Hong Kong businesses greater access to Chinese markets. Proposed new antisubversion laws led to significant antigovernment demonstrations the following month, and Tung subsequently withdrew the legislation.

In Apr., 2004, the Chinese government ruled that Hong Kong would have to petition China in order to make any changes in its electoral laws, including increasing the number of legislators chosen by direct election. In 2004 half the legislators were directly elected, but prodemocracy forces won a total of only 26 seats in the election, which was fiercely contested and marked by heavy-handed Chinese tactics. Tung resigned in Mar., 2005, and was replaced as chief executive by Donald Tsang, who had been chief secretary.

Tsang subsequently resigned to campaign for election to the post, which he secured in June. Two governmental reform proposals failed to pass in late 2005 when prodemocracy legislators rejected them as constituting minor tinkering with the laws governing the election of the chief executive and the size of the legislature. Tsang was reelected chief executive in Mar., 2007. Later in the year the Chinese government indicated that it would consider allowing the direct election of the chief executive beginning in 2017. (In 2013, however, a senior Chinese official said that China would ultimately decide if the person who is elected becomes chief executive.) Elections in 2008 resulted in pro-democracy candidates winning 24 legislative seats.

In 2010 legislators passed a compromise bill that increased the size of the electoral council and expanded the size of the legislature; the changes were supported by pro-Beijing and some prodemocracy legislators. Leung Chun-ying, a business executive and former senior government adviser with close ties to China, was elected chief executive in Mar., 2012. Prodemocracy candidates won 27 legislative seats in Sept., 2012, a result that represented a slight decrease percentagewise in the enlarged legislature. An unofficial referendum on the direct election of the the chief executive was conducted by an opposition group in June, 2014; participants, who numbered nearly 800,000, chose among three options, all of which allowed for the popular nomination of candidates. In August, however, China called for restrictions on the nomination of candidates for chief executive that would effectively prevent a true popular election when the changes were introduced in 2017. There subsequently were large protests in Hong Kong against the proposal, and it failed to win the legislature's approval in 2015.


See R. Hughes, Hong Kong: Borrowed Place, Borrowed Time (1968); J. Pope-Hennesy, Half-Crown Colony (1970); G. B. Endicott, A History of Hong Kong (1964, repr. 1973); N. J. Miners, Hong Kong Under Imperial Rule, 1912–1941 (1988); J. Morris, Hong Kong (1988); G. Peebles, Hong Kong's Economy (1988); I. Scott, Political Change and the Crisis of Legitimacy in Hong Kong (1989); C. P. Lo, Hong Kong (1992); C. Patten, East and West: China, Power and the Future of Asia (1998).

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Hong Kong

Hong Kong


1071 sq km (413 sq mi)



capital (population):

Victoria (1,035,000)


Chinese/Hong Kong provisional legislature

ethnic groups:

Chinese 98%, others 2% (including Europeans)


English and Chinese (official)


Buddhism (majority), Confucism, Taoism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism


Hong Kong dollar = 100 cents

(Xianggang Special Administrative Region) Former British Crown Colony off the coast of se China; the capital is Victoria on Hong Kong Island. Hong Kong comprises: Hong Kong Island, ceded to Britain by China in 1842; the mainland peninsula of Kowloon, acquired in 1860; the New Territories on the mainland, leased for 99 years in 1898; and some 230 islets in the South China Sea. The climate is sub-tropical, with hot, dry summers. In 1984, the UK and China signed a Joint Declaration in which it was agreed that China would resume sovereignity over Hong Kong in 1997. It also provided that Hong Kong would become a special administrative region, with its existing social and economic structure unchanged for 50 years. It would remain a free port. The last British governor Chris Patten (1992–97) introduced a legislative council. The handover to China completed on July 1, 1997, and Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa was sworn in and a provisional legislative council appointed. Hong Kong is a vital international financial centre with a strong manufacturing base (2000 GDP per capita, US$25,400). In 1997 the financial crisis in se Asia caused the Hang Seng index to lose half of its value. In 1998 the administration spent more than US$15.2 billion defending the Hong Kong dollar. Industries: textiles, electronic goods, cameras, toys, plastic goods, printing. Pop. (2001) 1,335,469 (Hong Kong Island); 3,343,046 (New Territories).

Political map


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HONG KONG, also Hongkong. An autonomous region of CHINA, formerly a British colony. Languages: Cantonese, English, and Mandarin Chinese. In 1842, by the Treaty of Nanking, Hong Kong Island was ceded to Britain; in 1898, the mainland New Territories were leased to Britain for 99 years. The colony was restored to China in 1997. English is important in Hong Kong for written and printed communication, as a LINGUA FRANCA between Chinese and non-Chinese, and in international trade, but is not widely used as a spoken medium. Of some 40 daily newspapers, two are in English: the South China Morning Post and the Hongkong Standard.

Hong Kong usage includes: (1) Words and phrases from Chinese: dim sum snacks served in Chinese restaurants, fung shui (‘wind-water’) geomancy used in deciding the sites, orientation, and design of buildings, gweilo (‘ghost person’) a European, hong a large usually long-established non-Chinese trading company, pak choi Chinese cabbage, taipan the head of a hong. (2) LOAN TRANSLATIONS from Chinese: dragon boat a long canoe-like boat raced at festivals, snakehead a smuggler of illegal immigrants. (3) Terms from other languages: amah (Portuguese) a maid, godown (Malay) a warehouse, shroff (Arabic through Persian and Anglo-Indian English) a cashier in a government office. (4) Local uses of general words: the mainland China proper; triad a secret criminal society. See EAST ASIAN ENGLISH.

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Hong Kong

Hong Kong island, which possesses the only safe deep-water anchorage between Shanghai and Haiphong, was used by the British as a staging-post for the opium trade and was taken by them as a free port during the Opium War (1839–42). Their occupancy was ratified by the treaty of Nanking. In 1860 the Kowloon peninsula was added to the port and in 1898 the New Territories were received from China on a 99-year lease. At its fullest extent, the colony reached 398 square miles. It developed as a commercial entrepôt and in 1917 was granted letters patent to be administered by a governor, and executive and legislative councils. Growth was particularly rapid during the 1930s when many Chinese fled the civil wars and Japanese invasion on the mainland and the population doubled to 1.6 million. Hong Kong itself surrendered to the Japanese on Christmas Day 1941 and was not liberated until 30 August 1945. During the 1960s, the colony became a major manufacturing centre and its population further expanded, reaching over 4 million in 1991. The lease for the New Territories ended in 1997, whereupon the whole colony reverted to the People's Republic of China.

David Anthony Washbrook

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Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Culture Name

Hong Kong

Alternative Names

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.

History and Ethnic Relations

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.

Urbanism,Architecture, and the Use of Space

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 and Economy

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.

Social Stratification

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.

Political Life

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 occupational groups or are appointed. The Legco represents the people but has little power.

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.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

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 and Other Associations

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.

Gender Roles and Statuses

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,Family, and Kinship

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; this is the proper way to accept any object, even a gift and cup of tea.

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 Christian funerals. Because of the lack of space, Hong Kong residents have had to accept cremation instead of burial, with ashes stored in columbaria. Traditionally, Chinese people have believed in a continuing relationship with ancestors and in the reincarnation of the soul, but many now express doubt or skepticism, although they continue to follow traditional rituals.

Medicine and Health Care

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.

Secular Celebrations

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.

The Arts and Humanities

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.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

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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Cheung, Sidney C.H., and Siumi Maria Tam. Culture and Society of Hong Kong: A Bibliography, 1999.

Constable, Nicole. Maid to Order in Hong Kong: Stories of Filipina Workers in Hong Kong, 1997.

Evans, Grant, and Maria Siu-Mi, Tam, eds. Hong Kong: The Anthropology of a Chinese Metropolis, 1997.

Hong Kong Anthropologist, annual.

Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department. 1996 Population by Census, 1997.

Journal of the Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, annual.

Lang, Graeme, and Lars Ragvald. The Rise of a Refugee God: Hong Kong's Wong Tai Sin, 1993.

Lau, C. K. Hong Kong's Colonial Legacy: A Hong Kong Chinese's View of the British Heritage, 1997.

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and Teresa Y. C. Wong, eds. 25 Years of Social and Economic Development in Hong Kong, 1994.

Mathews, Gordon. "Heunggongyahn: On the Past, Present, and Future of Hong Kong Identity." Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars 29 (3):313, 1997.

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Joseph Bosco

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Hong Kong

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