|THE HONGKONG COAT OF ARMS|
Location of Hong Kong within the continent of Asia
Map of Hong Kong
Flag Description of Hong Kong:The new Hong Kong flag was officially adopted on July 1, 1997.
A stylish white, five-petal bauhinia flower is centered on a red field.
Official name Xianggang Tebie Xingzhengqu (Chinese); Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (English)
Political status special administrative region of China with one legislative house (Legislative Council )
Head of state President of China: Xi Jinping
Head of government Chief Executive: CY Leung (Leung Chun Ying)
Government offices See footnote 2.
Official languages Chinese; English
Official religion none
Monetary unit Hong Kong dollar (HK$)
Population (2013 est.) 7,157,000COLLAPSE
Total area (sq mi) 426
Total area (sq km) 1,104
- Urban: (2009) 100%
- Rural: (2009) 0%
Life expectancy at birth
- Male: (2012) 80.5 years
- Female: (2011) 86.7 years
Literacy: percentage of population age 15 and over literate
- Male: (2002) 96.9%
- Female: (2002) 89.6%
GNI per capita (U.S.$) (2012) 36,560
1Thirty-five seats are directly elected by ordinary voters, and the remaining 35 are elected by special interest groups.
2On Hong Kong Island in historic capital area of Victoria.
Background of Hong Kong
Occupied by the UK in 1841, Hong Kong was formally ceded by China the following year; various adjacent lands were added later in the 19th century. Pursuant to an agreement signed by China and the UK on 19 December 1984, Hong Kong became the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People's Republic of China on 1 July 1997. In this agreement, China promised that, under its "one country, two systems" formula, China's socialist economic system would not be imposed on Hong Kong and that Hong Kong would enjoy a "high degree of autonomy" in all matters except foreign and defense affairs for the subsequent 50 years.
Hong Kong, special administrative region (Pinyin: tebie xingzhengqu; Wade-Giles romanization: t’e-pieh hsing-cheng-ch’ü) of China, located to the east of the Pearl River (Xu Jiang) estuary on the south coast of China. The region is bordered by Guangdong province to the north and the South China Sea to the east, south, and west. It consists of Hong Kong Island, originally ceded by China to Great Britain in 1842, the southern part of the Kowloon Peninsula and Stonecutters (Ngong Shuen) Island (now joined to the mainland), ceded in 1860, and the New Territories, which include the mainland area lying largely to the north, together with 230 large and small offshore islands—all of which were leased from China for 99 years from 1898 to 1997. The Chinese-British joint declaration signed on December 19, 1984, paved the way for the entire territory to be returned to China, which occurred July 1, 1997.
The area of Hong Kong (Pinyin: Xianggang; Wade-Giles: Hsiang-kang) has expanded over the years, and it has continued to grow as more land has been reclaimed from the surrounding sea. Hong Kong Island and its adjacent islets have an area of only about 31 square miles (81 square km), while urban Kowloon, which includes the Kowloon Peninsula south of Boundary Street, and Stonecutters Island measure about 18 square miles (47 square km). The New Territories account for the rest of the area—more than 90 percent of the total. The Victoria urban district located on the barren rocks of the northwestern coast of Hong Kong Island is the place where the British first landed in 1841, and it has since been the centre of administrative and economic activities.
Hong Kong developed initially on the basis of its excellent natural harbour (its Chinese name means “fragrant harbour”) and the lucrative China trade, particularly opium dealing. It was the expansion of its territory, however, that provided labour and other resources necessary for sustained commercial growth that led to its becoming one of the world’s major trade and financial centres. The community remains limited in space and natural resources, and it faces persistent problems of overcrowding, trade fluctuations, and social and political unrest. Nevertheless, Hong Kong has emerged strong and prosperous, albeit with a changed role, as an entrepôt, a manufacturing and financial centre, and a vital agent in the trade and modernization of China.
Geography of Hong Kong
Hong Kong has rugged relief and marked variations in topography, which is in sharp contrast to the low-lying areas of the Pearl River Delta region but conforms geologically and structurally to the well-eroded upland region of the great South China massif. Structurally, the area is an upfold, running northeast-southwest, that was formed about 150 million years ago toward the latter part of the Jurassic Period. Lava poured into this structure and formed volcanic rocks that were later intruded by an extensive granitic dome. The harbour of Hong Kong was formed by the drowning of the denuded centre of the dome. The surrounding hills on the mainland and on Hong Kong Island are partly capped by volcanic rocks, and steep, scarplike concave slopes lead to the inner harbour.
The area is a partially submerged, dissected upland terrain that rises abruptly to heights above 2,950 feet (900 metres); its backbone is made up of a series of ridges, running northeast to southwest, that tie in closely with the structural trend in South China. This trend is clearly observable from the alignment of Lantau Island and the Tolo Channel. From Mount Tai Mo—at 3,140 feet (957 metres) the highest peak in the territory—the series of ridges extends southwestward to Lantau Island, where the terrain rises to 3,064 feet (934 metres) on Lantau Peak and 2,851 feet (869 metres) on Sunset Peak. Extending southeastward from Mount Tai Mo, the Kowloon Peak attains an elevation of 1,975 feet (602 metres), but there is an abrupt drop to about 650 feet (198 metres) at Devil’s Peak. Victoria (Hong Kong) Harbour is well protected by mountains on Hong Kong Island that include Victoria Peak in the west, which rises to 1,810 feet (552 metres), and Mount Parker in the east, which reaches a height of about 1,742 feet (531 metres).
Lowlands of the Hong Kong region, including floodplains, river valleys, and reclaimed land, occupy less than one-fifth of the land. Extensive lowland regions are found only north of Mount Tai Mo, in the Yuen Long and Sheung Shui plains. The urban area that spans the two sides of the harbour, with ongoing reclamation, takes up only about one-tenth of the level area.
Hong Kong lacks a river system of any scope, the only exception being in the north where the Sham Chun (Shenzhen) River, which forms the boundary between Guangdong and Hong Kong, flows into Deep Bay after collecting a number of small tributaries. Most of the streams are small, and they generally run perpendicular to the northeast-southwest trend of the terrain. The construction of reservoirs and their catchment systems has reduced the amount of fresh water available downstream.
In general, Hong Kong’s soils are acidic and of low fertility. An exception is the alluvial soils, which are found mainly in the Deep Bay area, where the sediment-laden waters of the Pearl River estuary meet saline waters at high tide and slow down to deposit their sediments to form mudflats. Paddy rice farming and, more recently, intensive vegetable cultivation have modified the alluvial soils. Elsewhere, hill soils, classified as red-yellow podzolic and krasnozem, abound. Under forest, these hill soils have a well-developed profile, with rich topsoil, but, when they are exposed, as is mostly the case, they tend to be thin and lacking in nutrients. Under tropical conditions, sheet and gully erosion is extensive and drastic.
Hong Kong lies at the northern fringe of the tropical zone. Its monsoonal (wet-dry) seasonal changes are well marked, however, with hot, humid summers and cool, dry winters. The climate is largely controlled by the atmospheric pressure systems over the adjacent great Asian landmass and ocean surface. Thus, relatively dry monsoonal winds blow from the northeast in winter as a result of the cooling of the landmass and the development of a large thermal anticyclone over Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Warm, wet southeasterly winds develop in summer when the North Pacific Ocean heats up more slowly through solar radiation and becomes a high-pressure area.
The mean January and July temperatures are about 60 °F (16 °C) and 84 °F (29 °C), respectively. The lowest recorded temperature was 32 °F (0 °C) in January 1893, and the highest was 97 °F (36 °C) in August 1900. Frost occasionally occurs on hilltops in winter. The average annual rainfall amounts to about 88 inches (2,220 mm), more than half of which falls during the summer months of June, July, and August; only about 10 percent falls from November to March. Tropical cyclones, or typhoons, generally occur between June and October, and, of the 20 to 30 typhoons formed over the western North Pacific and South China Sea each year, an average of five or six may affect Hong Kong. The torrential downpours and strong winds that frequently accompany the typhoons sometimes devastate life and property in Hong Kong and in adjacent areas of Guangdong.
Plant and animal life
Hong Kong is noted for the lushness and great diversity of its plant life. The transitional climate between humid subtropical and warm temperate maritime excludes the most sensitive humid tropical genera due to the cool, dry winter conditions, but many tropical as well as temperate-zone families are represented. Most of the land, except for the heavily eroded badlands, is under tropical herbaceous growth, including mangrove and other swamp cover. The most common forest genus today is Pinus, represented by native South China red pines and by slash pines, introduced from Australia. Some of the oldest areas of woodland are in the feng-shui wood, or “sacred groves,” found in many New Territories villages. These woods consist essentially of native forest trees, some of which are of potential value to the villagers. Centuries of cutting and burning, however, have destroyed much of Hong Kong’s original vegetation, leaving only about one-sixth of the land forested. A large portion of Hong Kong’s present-day forest cover owes its origin to afforestation programs undertaken since World War II, which have restored some of the stands of pine, eucalyptus, banyan, casuarina, and palm trees.
Hong Kong’s animal life consists of a mixture of mammals adapted to the subtropical environment. Among the few arboreal mammals are two species of nonnative monkeys that flourish in forests of the New Territories, the rhesus macaque and the long-tailed macaque. Tigers are reputed to have once roamed the area, but they are no longer in evidence. The largest remaining carnivores are rare and include the South China red fox, the Chinese leopard cat, the seven-banded civet, and the masked palm civet. Some rat and mouse species typically inhabit scrubland and grassland areas. Birdlife is abundant, and there are numerous species of snakes, lizards, and frogs.
Demography of Hong Kong
- Ethnic groups
The overwhelming majority of the population is Chinese by place of origin, the non-Chinese making up only a tiny fraction of the total. Non-Chinese groups consist largely of Asians (primarily Filipinos, Indonesians, and South Asians), with small numbers of non-Asians (mainly Americans, Canadians, and Australians). An overwhelming majority of the Chinese are from Guangdong province and from Hong Kong itself, with smaller numbers coming from other parts of China.
Chinese and English are both official languages. Chinese, especially Cantonese in the spoken form, is the common language, however, and is almost universally understood. A variety of dialects and other languages are used among the ethnic minorities. Apart from Cantonese, common dialects such as Teochew, Hakka, and Tanka are used within separate communities of the Guangdong and Hong Kong Chinese. Groups from other parts of China are also likely to use their own native dialects, and, similarly, the non-Chinese are likely to use their own native languages among themselves. The use of Mandarin Chinese has risen as Hong Kong has reintegrated with China.
The majority of Hong Kong’s population does not profess a religion. Those that do practice a wide variety of beliefs. Among the Chinese, followers of Buddhism and Daoism far outnumber other groups; a large number also follow Confucianist beliefs. The numerous Buddhist and Daoist temples and monasteries, some centuries old, play an important role in the daily life of the average Chinese. Although each temple is generally dedicated to one or two deities, it is not unusual to find images of a number of other gods or goddesses inside. For a fishing and trading port, the most significant deities are those associated with the ocean and the weather, such as Dian Hau, the goddess of heaven and protector of seafarers, who is honoured by temples at virtually every fishing harbour. Other leading deities include Guanyin (Avalokitesvara), the Buddhist bodhisattva of mercy; Hong Shing, god of the South Seas and a weather prophet; and Wong Daisin, a Daoist saint and deity. A small but significant proportion of the people are Christians, with somewhat more Protestants than Roman Catholics; there are dozens of Protestant denominations and sects such as Baptist, Lutheran, Anglican, and Methodist. There are also small numbers of Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and Jews.
- Settlement patterns
The predominantly urban settlements of Hong Kong are typically distributed linearly, following the irregular coastline and transportation routes. The principal urban areas are established on Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsula, where roughly half of the total population lives. There, most of the population is concentrated around Victoria Harbour, living on the limited flatland that is being continuously extended by reclamation. Many major streets, especially those on the northern shore of Hong Kong Island, as well as the entire industrial district of Kwun Tong and much of the southern tip of the Kowloon Peninsula, have been built on reclaimed land.
In the New Territories north of the Kowloon hills, rural settlements vary from hamlets to small towns. Most of the villages, compactly built and often walled, follow the alignment of the river systems in the low-lying but fertile alluvial floodplains or the major route corridors. Villages of the Cantonese people are located mainly in the flat alluvial regions, whereas villages of the Hakka people usually are found in narrow valleys or on foothills. The feng-shui grove and pond are characteristic of both the Cantonese and Hakka villages: the grove is generally planted on the upslope, or back side, of a village for shade and protection, and the pond is for fish-farming.
A number of new towns have sprung up in the New Territories as a result of the tremendous increase in population there. Among these are Tsuen Wan, Tuen Mun (Castle Peak before 1973), and Sha Tin, which were established in the 1960s and designed to have populations of between about 500,000 and 850,000 each. Others, including Tai Po, Fanling, Yuen Long, and, more recently, Tseung Kwon O (Junk Bay), were designated as new towns in the 1970s, with population goals ranging from about 200,000 to 450,000. Thus, the New Territories, where only one-eighth of the population resided in 1961, accounted for more than half of the total by 2005; the bulk of the New Territories population is now concentrated in the new towns.
True to its original character as a fishing port, Hong Kong has a sizable, though rapidly dwindling, marine settlement. The “boat people,” or Tanka as they are locally known, are essentially fisherfolk living on junks and boats, as their ancestors did for centuries before them. They inhabit fishing towns, such as Aberdeen, Shau Kei Wan, and Cheung Chau, and typhoon shelters in the harbour areas. With the advance of urbanization and the decline of fishing activity, increasing numbers of them are working ashore.
- Demographic trends
As in many large urban centres of the world, Hong Kong’s population has increased in the late 20th century. Since the 1950s the average annual rate of growth has fluctuated between about 2 and 4 percent, the variations based in some degree on the sporadic flow of immigrants from China. Immigration has been a chief cause of population increase, but it was slowed through changes in immigration policy in 1980 and 1982, and emigration rose from the late 1980s. Birth rates have steadily declined since the late 1950s, the rate of natural increase falling below 1 percent by the 1980s. Life expectancy, however, has been showing a gradual increase. Since the 1950s, the proportion of the population under 15 has decreased rapidly, while that between 15 and 64 has shown a marked increase and the group over 65 has more than doubled. Hong Kong is one of the world’s most densely populated places.
Economy of Hong Kong
With its limited natural resources, Hong Kong depends on imports for virtually all of its requirements, including raw materials, food and other consumer goods, capital goods, and fuel. Under its unique status as an international free port, entrepôt trade, mainly with China, flourished until 1951, when a United Nations embargo on trade with China and North Korea drastically curtailed it. This situation, combined with the need to export and with the availability of cheap labour, led to the establishment of competitive light industries and a transformation of the economy in the early 1960s. The market economy and the laissez-faire policy of the British colonial government provided flexibility for further industrialization and the incentive and freedom, from the late 1960s, to attract foreign investment and financial transactions. In succeeding years, with China adopting a more open foreign policy, entrepôt trade rapidly revived, while Hong Kong–China trade surged. Hong Kong developed not only in manufacturing, trade, and shipping but also as a regional financial centre and as an agent in China’s pursuit of modernization. The tertiary (services) sector of the economy now makes up some four-fifths of the gross domestic product (GDP).
- Agriculture and fishing
Only 6 percent of Hong Kong’s land area is arable, and another 2 percent is under fishponds. Since the 1950s about one-third of the agricultural land has been lost to other uses. The growing season is year-round, however, and several crops per year are possible. Paddy rice cultivation once dominated agricultural land use, but it has practically disappeared, having been surpassed by vegetable and pond fish farming. Other minor uses include the production of fruits, flowers, and crops such as sweet potatoes, taro, yams, and sugarcane. There also is some livestock farming, mainly of chickens and pigs.
Marine fishing in the adjacent waters is one of Hong Kong’s most important primary activities. Apart from pond fish, a marine fish culture has shown signs of development, notably in the eastern New Territories.
- Resources and power
Hong Kong is practically devoid of any significant mineral resources. The mining for graphite and lead at Cham (“Needle”) Hill and iron ore at Mount Ma On stopped long ago. The small-scale mining of feldspar, feldspar sand, and kaolin clay ceased by 1990. Some stone is quarried for use in construction. Hong Kong is similarly poorly endowed in other natural resources: no commercial timber is produced from its sparse forest cover, and there is no hydroelectric potential from the small and short streams. Indeed, even water has been in serious short supply as a consequence of the limited areal extent, the steep terrain, and the lack of catchment areas. In spite of the many reservoirs, which were built mostly before World War II, and several giant projects, such as the water desalinization plant at Castle Peak and the Plover Cove and the High Island reservoirs, which are enclosed sea areas, the bulk of water consumed is piped in from Guangdong province.
Hong Kong must import all of the fossil fuel it consumes. It produces most of its electric-power needs at thermal generating plants. The rest of its power requirements are imported from Guangdong province.
The rapid development of manufacturing in the 1950s was made possible by immigrant Chinese industrialists, mainly from Shanghai, who brought with them technology and capital. Foreign investments soon began to flow in to tap the huge supply of cheap labour and relatively cheap raw materials available in the surrounding region. Most industry has been confined to the urban areas, especially in the densely populated districts of Kowloon. With the development of industrial and other new towns, manufacturing began to disperse into Kwun Tong, Tsuen Wan, Tuen Mun, and other areas. In 1977 the Hong Kong Industrial Estates Corporation was established to develop and manage industrial estates that would accommodate high-technology industries, first on reclaimed land in Tai Po and later in Yuen Long.
Manufacturing, once the most important sector of the Hong Kong economy, has been overshadowed by the vast service sector; manufacturing now constitutes only a tiny fraction of the gross domestic product and employs only a slightly higher proportion of the labour force. Textile and clothing production is the leading manufacturing activity and contributes about one-third of the value of domestic exports. The electronics industry is the second largest export earner. There are some heavy industries such as shipbuilding and repair and aircraft engineering. Steel rolling, production of machine parts and plastics, and cement manufacturing serve local needs.
Since 1969 Hong Kong has emerged as one of the major financial centres of the Asia-Pacific region, despite the fact that it is without the services of a central bank. The regional government delegates the functions of such an institution to the Hong Kong Monetary Authority—which oversees Hong Kong’s monetary policy and regulates its currency, the Hong Kong dollar—and to selected commercial banks. In addition to the licensed banks in the region, there are representative offices of foreign banks, including registered deposit-taking companies.
Domestic and international currencies are traded at the Hong Kong foreign-exchange market. The stock market attracts investment from both foreign and domestic sources. Some of its major shares are also traded on the London stock market. A gold bullion market, once the world’s largest, is operated by the Chinese Gold and Silver Exchange Society. The lack of exchange controls has contributed to the success of Hong Kong as a financial centre.
- Trade and tourism
Hong Kong’s free-trade policy has made the territory one of the world’s great centres of trade. There is no tariff on imports, except for some luxury items, such as perfumes, motor vehicles, alcoholic beverages, and tobacco. Hong Kong is dependent upon imported products, which make up about half of the total amount of external trade, the rest being divided between exports and reexports. Apart from trade with other regions of China, Japan supplies the largest percentage of imports, and other major suppliers include Taiwan, the countries of the European Union (EU), and Singapore. Capital and consumer goods such as electrical machinery and apparatus, clothing, radios, television sets, stereos, and computers represent the largest group of imports. The second largest group includes mineral fuels, raw materials, semi-manufactured goods (such as synthetic and natural textiles, chemicals, and electronic components), and foodstuffs.
China became the main market for Hong Kong’s products prior to 1997, and this trade remained predominant after the territory’s reintegration. Other major export destinations include the United States, the countries of the EU, and Japan. Textiles and clothing are the leading exports. Also important are electrical machinery and appliances, office machinery, photographic apparatus, and a variety of other manufactured items. Reexports constitute a major portion of the goods shipped out of Hong Kong.
Wholesale and retail trade also are major components of the service sector, as is tourism. The tourist trade, which is highly promoted by the government and well catered to by the huge service sector, now constitutes a significant component of the economy. The greatest number of tourist arrivals are from the mainland. In addition, a large number of business and tourist travelers from Taiwan pass through Hong Kong on their way to and from destinations on the mainland. Hong Kong Disneyland, a theme park based on the original Disneyland in California, opened in 2005 on Lantau Island and became a major amusement attraction.
- Transportation and telecommunications
With roadways limited relative to the population, the government has enforced strict limitations on automobile ownership and placed heavy emphasis on the development of public transportation. The rate of car ownership is low, although it is steadily rising. There has been much road and bridge construction in the territory. In 2009 work began on a multiyear bridge project to connect Hong Kong, Macau, and Zhuhai on the mainland.
The majority of the populace makes its daily trips by public transport. Apart from the bus, tram (streetcar), and ferry, the public is also served by a unique minibus service, a rapid transit system, and an electric railway. Buses are the largest road carrier, responsible for roughly one-third of the daily public-transport trips excluding those by taxi, followed by the combined minibus and maxicab (a regulated form of minibus) service. Commuter rail service also accounts for about one-third of overall ridership. The precipitous Victoria Peak area is served by one of the oldest transport companies, which operates a cable-car system between the peak and the Central District.
International traffic is served by Hong Kong’s international airport and its magnificent harbour, and there are good overland linkages with Guangdong province. The Hong Kong International Airport was located at Kai Tak, on the eastern fringe of Kowloon, until 1998, when it was relocated to a new, larger facility on Chek Lap Kok Island. Designed by British architect Sir Norman Foster, the airport’s passenger terminal is among the world’s largest enclosed spaces, covering some 133 acres (54 hectares). The port of Hong Kong, based at one of the world’s finest natural harbours, is renowned for its efficiency and capacity. The capacity of its container terminals at Kwai Chung ranks Hong Kong among the world’s largest container ports. Speedy ferry service between Hong Kong and Macau and parts of Guangdong is provided by various craft, including hydrofoils and hovercraft.
Passenger and freight rail services are provided by the Kowloon-Canton Railway (in operation since 1910). Electrification and double-tracking of the railway and the growth along its lines of the new towns of Sha Tin, Tai Po, Fanling, and others caused a considerable increase in passenger traffic. The railway’s commuter services expanded considerably with its merger in 2007 with MTR Corporation, which had been established in 1975 to develop and operate Hong Kong’s mass-transit system. Hong Kong’s rail system is connected by a line running to nearby Shenzhen and, to the northwest, Guangzhou (Canton) in Guangdong province; the line carries millions of tons of freight annually, as well as passenger traffic between Hong Kong and Guangdong.
Hong Kong has one of the world’s most advanced and technologically sophisticated telecommunications systems, and it is one of the principal centres of the global telecommunications network. Hong Kong is a leader in integrating multiple-platform communication modes (e.g., land-line and mobile telephony) and implementing the most cutting-edge technology. Land-line telephones are nearly ubiquitous among Hong Kong households, and mobile-phone subscriptions exceed considerably the total number of inhabitants. Internet use is widespread, a large proportion of it using broadband.
Government and Society of Hong Kong
- Constitutional framework
When it was a colony, Hong Kong was administered by a governor, who was appointed by and represented the monarch of the United Kingdom, directed the government, served as the commander in chief, and presided over the two main organs of government, the Executive Council and the Legislative Council. With the resumption of Chinese sovereignty over the territory in July 1997, the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (promulgated by the National People’s Congress of China in 1990) went into effect. The guiding principle of the Basic Law was the concept of “one country, two systems,” under which Hong Kong was allowed to maintain its capitalist economy and to retain a large degree of political autonomy (except in matters of foreign policy and defense) for a period of 50 years.
The Basic Law vests executive authority in a chief executive, who is under the jurisdiction of the central government in Beijing and serves a five-year term. Legislative authority rests with a Legislative Council (LegCo), whose 70 members (increased from 60 for the 2012 legislative elections) serve a four-year term; the chief executive, however, can dissolve the council before the end of a term.
According to the Basic Law, the chief executive for the second term was appointed by the central government, following election by an 800-member Election Committee in Hong Kong. The constituencies for LegCo members were then defined during their second and third terms, and by the third term half were directly elected from geographic constituencies and half were selected from “functional constituencies” drawn from business and professional circles. The Basic Law further states, however, that the chief executive and council members ultimately were to be elected by universal suffrage. Those electoral procedures were to have been determined by 2007, but in that year the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in Beijing ruled that universal suffrage would not be implemented before 2012. A 1,200-member Election Committee chose a new chief executive in 2012, but by then Beijing had indicated that direct election for that office may be permitted in 2017.
Civil and criminal law is derived generally from that of the United Kingdom, and the Basic Law states that this system is to be maintained. The highest court in the judiciary is the Court of Final Appeal, headed by a chief justice. This is followed by the High Court (headed by a chief judge) and by district, magistrate, and special courts. The chief executive appoints all judges, although judges of the Court of Final Appeal and the chief judge of the High Court also must be confirmed by the Legislative Council and reported to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress.
- Health and welfare
The health of the populace is generally good, the result, in part, of an aggressive program of public measures, including the promotion of preventive medicine and personal health services, and a relatively high quality of life. Improving health indexes and a downward trend in the occurrence of major communicable diseases are leading indicators of the state of health in Hong Kong. Most deaths are caused by cancer, heart disease, and respiratory diseases. Hospitals are divided into three groups: government, government-assisted, and private. These hospitals are under great pressure to meet the needs of the people. Clinics, some operated by the government, supplement other medical facilities. Boat-borne clinics provide services to some outlying villages.
The social security system long was largely limited to emergency relief programs. However, since the mid-1990s, spending on social welfare has increased significantly. There are assistance programs for the unemployed, the elderly, and people with disabilities. The aging of the population, coupled with the extreme crowding in the city, has been one of the main issues with elder care. More recent programs have included those focused on family welfare (including day care), counseling services, and accident compensation.
Historically, housing has been a major problem in Hong Kong, where space is limited and the number of occupants ever-growing. Changes in the residential environment between the establishment of the colony in 1842 and the Japanese occupation in 1941 were moderate, compared to those that took place in the postwar years. There was no planning in the earlier days of development, except that generally the British lived on the Peak (the area around Victoria Peak), other nationalities in the Mid-Levels (below the Peak), and the wealthy on somewhat higher ground, where the grand garden houses and large mansions remain as landmarks. Most of the Chinese lived on the lowlands surrounding the harbour, where the streets were narrow and the houses made of wood, bricks, and mortar. The houses lacked not only good natural lighting and ventilation but also piped water and flush toilets. Frequently urban development was the result of plagues, fires, and typhoons rather than of comprehensive city planning. However, the government has made efforts to construct public housing and to reduce the number of squatters and street sleepers in the region.
The limited housing supply was further reduced by the ravages of World War II. In the early postwar years, more than half of all families shared accommodations with others, living in cubicles, bed spaces, and attics and on roofs and verandas and in similar quarters. The colonial government’s reluctant involvement in housing provision began with the building of resettlement blocks for fire victims in 1953, but it took real impetus in the early 1960s when the great demand for urban land resulted in the relocation of large numbers of squatters and urban poor. Public housing came to accommodate more than half of the population, most of them living far from the urban core, though by the early 21st century the proportion of the populace in public units was about one-third. Large numbers of people have settled into the new towns, and the design capacity for most of these areas has been increased.
Most of the schools from kindergarten to secondary are either subsidized or aided by public funds, although there also are a large number of private schools. The number of public schools in Hong Kong is quite small though increasing. Education is compulsory through the junior secondary level. Students finishing primary, junior secondary, and senior secondary education take examinations for allocation of school places at the next higher level.
Postsecondary schools, mostly subsidized, are strained by their small size, although efforts are being made to increase the size and number of institutions. The combined enrollment of the two universities, the University of Hong Kong (1911) and the Chinese University of Hong Kong (1963), has risen dramatically since the mid-1980s. The Hong Kong Polytechnic (1972), with mainly technical and vocational courses, and the Hong Kong Baptist University (1956), a private institution, offer degree courses in selected subjects. Colleges of education train teachers, mainly for primary schools, while responsibility for teacher training for secondary education rests with the two universities. In 1984 the City Polytechnic of Hong Kong (now the City University of Hong Kong) accepted its first students. Numerous other vocational, technical, and industrial-training institutions operate throughout Hong Kong, and thousands of students are also enrolled in extension programs. Nonetheless, thousands also travel overseas each year for study. Nearly all of Hong Kong’s people have at least a primary school education.
Culture Life of Hong Kong
Cultural milieu and the arts
Lantao Island: Buddhist monastery statues [Credit: Oksana Perkins/Shutterstock.com]Hong Kong’s is truly a mixed culture. Not only does the territory celebrate festivals and holidays of the East and the West, such as the Dragon Boat Festival, the Mid-Autumn Festival, the Lunar (Chinese) New Year, Christmas, the Western New Year, and others, but it also enjoys hundreds of annual cultural events ranging from traditional Cantonese and other Chinese regional operas and puppet shows to performances of ballet, theatre, and music and exhibitions of paintings and sculptures by nationally and internationally renowned performers and artists. The Hong Kong Arts Festival has become one of Asia’s major cultural events, and the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, the Chung Ying Theatre Company, and the City Contemporary Dance Company are among the best-known local artistic groups. The Hong Kong Conservatory of Music and the Hong Kong Academy of Ballet have been combined into the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, offering full-time diploma courses in dance, drama, music, and technical arts.
Scores of motion pictures are produced every year in Hong Kong, many of which attain international fame; some have even started new trends in the art, such as the so-called kung fu films, and some of their stars (notably Jackie Chan) have achieved international celebrity. The Hong Kong International Film Festival, inaugurated in 1977, is a major event, especially for the display of Asian films. Hong Kong is also a regional as well as an international centre in fashion design and in the cutting and design of ornamental diamonds.
Dragon Boat festival [Credit: Anat Givon/AP]Hong Kong’s country park system covers some two-fifths of the land area, and outdoor recreation in parks is a part of the way of life for many of the people. City dwellers use park areas on the urban fringe for walking, running, and practicing tai chi chuan, among other activities, while remoter locations are used for kite flying, picnicking, hiking, cycling, and camping. There are well-organized programs of recreation and sports at the community level. The Ocean Park, one of the world’s largest oceanariums; the Hong Kong Coliseum, a 12,500-seat indoor stadium that is among the largest in Asia; and the 40,000-seat outdoor Hong Kong Stadium are among the best venues for local and international sports events and for musical, cultural, and entertainment programs. Among the venues constructed for the 2009 East Asian Games hosted by Hong Kong was a sports complex at Tseung Kwan O, New Territories, for track-and-field and football (soccer) events. For those who can afford it, the many inlets and bays in Hong Kong provide a superb setting for pleasure sailing, waterskiing, canoeing, and other aquatic sports; the Hong Kong Yacht Club is one of the most active in the South China Sea region.
Apart from the libraries of the major educational institutions, Hong Kong has a system of several dozen public libraries, including mobile ones, focused on the Hong Kong Central Library (opened 2001). Of the museums, major ones include those specializing in history, art, science and technology, and space. The Hong Kong City Hall (a cultural centre), Hong Kong Cultural Centre, and Hong Kong Arts Centre—each a multifunctional facility with several venues—provide the major gallery, theatrical, and concert facilities. In addition, town halls have been established in the new towns and cultural centres in some districts to serve local communities.
Press and broadcasting
A wide-ranging and sophisticated communications network has developed in Hong Kong, reflecting its thriving commerce and international importance. There are several dozen newspapers (in various languages, but mostly Chinese), and the numbers of periodicals run into the hundreds. The territory is in addition the East and Southeast Asian headquarters for most of the major international news services. Broadcast news is provided by several television and radio companies, one of which is government-run. Under the British administration, the press developed largely free from government censorship. Television provides the major source of news and entertainment for the average family, and the Chinese television programs produced are not only for local consumption but also for overseas markets. Both cable and satellite television reception are growing in popularity. Hong Kong also ranks as an important centre of publishing and printing: numerous books are published yearly for local and overseas consumption, several leading foreign publishers have their regional offices in Hong Kong, and many international magazines are printed in the territory.
History of Hong Kong
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.
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