The name “Hong Kong” is an approximate phonetic rendering of the pronunciation of the spoken Cantonese or Hakka name “香港”, meaning “fragrant harbour”. Before 1842, the name referred to a small inlet – now Aberdeen Harbour or Little Hong Kong – between the island of Ap Lei Chau and the south side of Hong Kong Island, which was one of the first points of contact between British sailors and local fishermen.
The reference to fragrance may refer to the harbour waters sweetened by the fresh water estuarine influx of the Pearl River, or to the incense from factories lining the coast to the north of Kowloon, which was stored around Aberdeen Harbour for export before the development of Victoria Harbour. In 1842, the Treaty of Nanking was signed, and the name Hong Kong was first recorded on official documents to encompass the entirety of the island.
On 1 July 1997, the transfer of sovereignty from United Kingdom to the PRC occurred, officially ending 156 years of British colonial rule. Hong Kong became China’s first special administrative region, and Tung Chee Hwa took office as the first Chief Executive of Hong Kong. That same year, Hong Kong suffered an economic double blow from the Asian financial crisis and the H5N1 avian influenza. In 2003, Hong Kong was gravely affected by the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The World Health Organization reported 1,755 infected and 299 deaths in Hong Kong.An estimated 380 million Hong Kong dollars (US$48.9 million) in contracts were lost as a result of the epidemic.
On 10 March 2005, Tung Chee Hwa announced his resignation as Chief Executive due to “health problems”. Donald Tsang, the Chief Secretary for Administration at the time, entered the 2005 election unopposed and became the second Chief Executive of Hong Kong on 21 June 2005. In 2007, Tsang won the Chief Executive election and continued his second term in office.
In 2009, Hong Kong hosted the fifth East Asian Games, in which nine national teams competed. It was the first and largest international multi-sport event ever held in the territory. Today, Hong Kong continues to serve as an important global financial centre, but faces uncertainty over its future due to the growing mainland China economy, and its relationship with the PRC government in areas such as democratic reform and universal suffrage.
There are a total of 534 district council seats, 405 of which are elected; the rest are appointed by the Chief Executive and 27 ex officio chairmen of rural committees. The Home Affairs Department communicates government policies and plans to the public through the district offices.
Geography and climate
Hong Kong is located on China’s south coast, 60 km (37 mi) east of Macau on the opposite side of the Pearl River Delta. It is surrounded by the South China Sea on the east, south, and west, and borders the Guangdong city of Shenzhen to the north over the Shenzhen River. The territory’s 1,104 km2 (426 sq mi) area consists of Hong Kong Island, the Kowloon Peninsula, the New Territories, and over 200 offshore islands, of which the largest is Lantau Island. Of the total area, 1,054 km2 (407 sq mi) is land and 50 km2 (19 sq mi) is inland water. Hong Kong claims territorial waters to a distance of 3 nautical miles (5.6 km). Its land area makes Hong Kong the 179th largest inhabited territory in the world.
As much of Hong Kong’s terrain is hilly to mountainous with steep slopes, less than 25% of the territory’s landmass is developed, and about 40% of the remaining land area is reserved as country parks and nature reserves. Most of the territory’s urban development exists on Kowloon peninsula, along the northern edge of Hong Kong Island, and in scattered settlements throughout the New Territories. The highest elevation in the territory is at Tai Mo Shan, 957 metres (3,140 ft) above sea level.Hong Kong’s long and irregular coast provides it with many bays, rivers and beaches.
Despite Hong Kong’s reputation of being intensely urbanised, the territory has tried to promote a green environment, and recent growing public concern has prompted the severe restriction of further land reclamation from Victoria Harbour. Awareness of the environment is growing as Hong Kong suffers from increasing pollution compounded by its geography and tall buildings. Approximately 80% of the city’s smog originates from other parts of the Pearl River Delta.
Though it is situated just south of the Tropic of Cancer, Hong Kong has a humid subtropical climate (Köppen Cwa). Summer is hot and humid with occasional showers and thunderstorms, and warm air coming from the southwest. Summer is when typhoons are most likely, sometimes resulting in flooding or landslides. Winters are mild and usually start sunny, becoming cloudier towards February; the occasional cold front brings strong, cooling winds from the north. The most temperate seasons are spring, which can be changeable, and autumn, which is generally sunny and dry.Hong Kong averages 1,948 hours of sunshine per year, while the highest and lowest ever recorded temperatures at the Hong Kong Observatory are 36.1 °C (97.0 °F) and 0.0 °C (32.0 °F), respectively.
As one of the world’s leading international financial centres, Hong Kong has a major capitalist service economy characterised by low taxation and free trade, and the currency, Hong Kong dollar, is the ninth most traded currency in the world. Hong Kong was once described by Milton Friedman as the world’s greatest experiment in laissez-faire capitalism. It maintains a highly developed capitalist economy, ranked the freest in the world by the Index of Economic Freedom for 15 consecutive years. It is an important centre for international finance and trade, with one of the greatest concentrations of corporate headquarters in the Asia-Pacific region, and is known as one of the Four Asian Tigers for its high growth rates and rapid development from the 1960s to the 1990s. Between 1961 and 1997 Hong Kong’s gross domestic product grew 180 times while per-capita GDP increased 87 times over.
The Hong Kong Stock Exchange is the seventh largest in the world, with a market capitalisation of US$2.3 trillion as of December 2009. In that year, Hong Kong raised 22 percent of worldwide initial public offering (IPO) capital, making it the largest centre of IPOs in the world.Hong Kong’s currency is the Hong Kong dollar, which has been pegged to the U.S. dollar since 1983.
The Hong Kong Government has traditionally played a mostly passive role in the economy, with little by way of industrial policy and almost no import or export controls. Market forces and the private sector were allowed to determine practical development. Under the official policy of “positive non-interventionism“, Hong Kong is often cited as an example of laissez-faire capitalism. Following the Second World War, Hong Kong industrialised rapidly as a manufacturing centre driven by exports, and then underwent a rapid transition to a service-based economy in the 1980s.
Hong Kong matured to become a financial centre in the 1990s, but was greatly affected by the Asian financial crisis in 1998, and again in 2003 by the SARS outbreak. A revival of external and domestic demand has led to a strong recovery, as cost decreases strengthened the competitiveness of Hong Kong exports and a long deflationary period ended. Government intervention, initiated by the later colonial governments and continued since 1997, has steadily increased, with the introduction of export credit guarantees, a compulsory pension scheme, a minimum wage, anti-discrimination laws, and a state mortgage backer.
The territory has little arable land and few natural resources, so it imports most of its food and raw materials. Hong Kong is the world’s eleventh largest trading entity with the total value of imports and exports exceeding its gross domestic product. It is the world’s largest re-export centre. Much of Hong Kong’s exports consist of re-exports, which are products made outside of the territory, especially in mainland China, and distributed via Hong Kong. Even before the transfer of sovereignty, Hong Kong had established extensive trade and investment ties with the mainland, which now enable it to serve as a point of entry for investment flowing into the mainland. At the end of 2007, there were 3.46 million people employed full-time, with the unemployment rate averaging 4.1% for the fourth straight year of decline. Hong Kong’s economy is dominated by the service sector, which accounts for over 90% of its GDP, while industry constitutes 9%. Inflation was at 2.5% in 2007. Hong Kong’s largest export markets are mainland China, the United States, and Japan.
As of 2010, Hong Kong is the eighth most expensive city for expatriates, falling from fifth position in the previous year. In 2011, Hong Kong was ranked second in the Ease of Doing Business Index, behind Singapore. General principle No. 5 of the Basic Law of the SAR suggests that the CPC expects that it shall have brought the economic system of the Mainland and Hong Kong into harmony by 2047, by which time the Chinese economy is predicted to have been the largest by any measure of GDP for decades.
Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, at 6,480 people per square km.
The territory’s population is 7.03 million. In 2009, Hong Kong had a birth rate of 11.7 per 1,000 population and a fertility rate of 1,032 children per 1,000 women. Residents from mainland China do not have the right of abode in Hong Kong, nor are they allowed to enter the territory freely. However, the influx of immigrants from mainland China, approximating 45,000 per year, is a significant contributor to its population growth – a daily quota of 150 Mainland Chinese with family ties in Hong Kong are granted a “one way permit”. Life expectancy in Hong Kong is 79.16 years for males and 84.79 years for females as of 2009, making it one of the highest life expectancies in the world.
About 95% of the people of Hong Kong are of Chinese descent, the majority of whom are Taishanese, Chiu Chow, other Cantonese people, and Hakka. Hong Kong’s Han majority originate mainly from the Guangzhou and Taishan regions in Guangdong province. The remaining 5% of the population is composed of non-ethnic Chinese. There is a South Asian population of Indians, Pakistanis and Nepalese; some Vietnamese refugees have become permanent residents of Hong Kong. There are also Europeans (mostly British), Americans, Canadians, Japanese, and Koreans working in the city’s commercial and financial sector.[note 6] In 2008, there were an estimate of 252,500 foreign domestic helpers from Indonesia and the Philippines working in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong’s de facto official language is Cantonese, a Chinese language originating from Guangdong province to the north of Hong Kong. English is also an official language, and according to a 1996 by-census is spoken by 3.1 percent of the population as an everyday language and by 34.9 percent of the population as a second language. Signs displaying both Chinese and English are common throughout the territory. Since the 1997 handover, an increase in immigrants from mainland China and greater integration with the mainland economy have brought an increasing number of Mandarin speakers to Hong Kong.
The majority of residents of Hong Kong would claim no religious affiliation, professing a form of agnosticism or atheism.According to the U.S Department of State only 43 percent of the population practices some form of religion.Some figures put it higher, according to a Gallup poll, 64% of Hong Kong do not believe in any religion, and possibly 80% of Hong Kong claim no religion.According to another gallup poll, Hong Kong is the seventh country which considers religion as an important part of their daily lives, with only 22%.In Hong Kong teaching evolution won out in curriculum dispute about whether to teach other explanations, and that creationism and intelligent design will form no part of the senior secondary biology curriculum.
Hong Kong enjoys a high degree of religious freedom, guaranteed by the Basic Law. Hong Kong’s main religions are Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism, a local religious scholar in contact with major denominations estimates there are approximately 1.5 million Buddhists and Taoists. A Christian community of around 600,000 forms about 8% of the total population; it is nearly equally divided between Catholics and Protestants, although smaller Christian communities exist, including the Latter-Day Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Anglican and Roman Catholic churches each freely appoint their own bishops, unlike in mainland China. There are also Sikh, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Bahá’í communities. The practice of Falun Gong is tolerated.
Statistically Hong Kong’s income gap is the greatest in Asia Pacific. According to a report by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme in 2008, Hong Kong’s Gini coefficient, at 0.53, was the highest in Asia and “relatively high by international standards”. However, the government has stressed that income disparity does not equate to worsening of the poverty situation, and that the Gini coefficient is not strictly comparable between regions. The government has named economic restructuring, changes in household sizes, and the increase of high-income jobs as factors that have skewed the Gini coefficient.
Hong Kong is frequently described as a place where “East meets West”, reflecting the culture’s mix of the territory’s Chinese roots with influences from its time as a British colony. Hong Kong balances a modernised way of life with traditional Chinese practices. Concepts like feng shui are taken very seriously, with expensive construction projects often hiring expert consultants, and are often believed to make or break a business.Other objects like Ba gua mirrors are still regularly used to deflect evil spirits, and buildings often lack any floor number that has a 4 in it,due to its similarity to the word for “die” in Cantonese. The fusion of east and west also characterises Hong Kong’s cuisine, where dim sum, hot pot, and fast food restaurants coexist with haute cuisine.
Hong Kong is a recognised global centre of trade, and calls itself an “entertainment hub”. Its martial arts film genre gained a high level of popularity in the late 1960s and 1970s. Several Hollywood performers, notable actors and martial artists have originated from Hong Kong cinema, notably Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Chow Yun-fat, Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Cheung and Jet Li. A number of Hong Kong film-makers have achieved widespread fame in Hollywood, such as John Woo, Wong Kar-wai, and Stephen Chow. Homegrown films such as Chungking Express, Infernal Affairs, Shaolin Soccer, Rumble in the Bronx, In the Mood for Love and Echoes of the Rainbow have gained international recognition. Hong Kong is the centre for Cantopop music, which draws its influence from other forms of Chinese music and Western genres, and has a multinational fanbase.
The Hong Kong government supports cultural institutions such as the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, the Hong Kong Museum of Art, the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, and the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. The government’s Leisure and Cultural Services Department subsidises and sponsors international performers brought to Hong Kong. Many international cultural activities are organised by the government, consulates, and privately.
Hong Kong has two licensed terrestrial broadcasters – ATV and TVB. There are three local and a number of foreign suppliers of cable and satellite services. The production of Hong Kong’s soap dramas, comedy series, and variety shows reach audiences throughout the Chinese-speaking world. Magazine and newspaper publishers in Hong Kong distribute and print in both Chinese and English, with a focus on sensationalism and celebrity gossip. The media in Hong Kong is relatively free from official interference compared to mainland China, although the Far Eastern Economic Review points to signs of self-censorship by journals whose owners have close ties to or business interests in the People’s Republic of China and states that even Western media outlets are not immune to growing Chinese economic power.
Hong Kong offers wide recreational and competitive sport opportunities despite its limited land area. It sends delegates to international competitions such as the Olympic Games and Asian Games, and played host to the equestrian events during the 2008 Summer Olympics. There are major multipurpose venues like Hong Kong Coliseum and MacPherson Stadium. Hong Kong’s steep terrain and extensive trail network with expansive views attracts hikers, and its rugged coastline provides many beaches for swimming.
According to Emporis, there are 7,650 skyscrapers in Hong Kong, which puts the city at the top of world rankings. It has more buildings higher than 35m (or 100m, or 150m) than any other city. The high density and tall skyline of Hong Kong’s urban area is due to a lack of available sprawl space, with the average distance from the harbour front to the steep hills of Hong Kong Island at 1.3 km (0.81 mi), much of it reclaimed land. This lack of space causes demand for dense, high-rise offices and housing. Thirty-six of the world’s 100 tallest residential buildings are in Hong Kong.More people in Hong Kong live or work above the 14th floor than anywhere else on Earth, making it the world’s most vertical city.
As a result of the lack of space and demand for construction, few older buildings remain, and the city is becoming a centre for modern architecture. The International Commerce Centre (ICC), at 484 m (1,588 ft) high, is the tallest building in Hong Kong and the third tallest in the world, by height to roof measurement. The tallest building prior to the ICC is Two International Finance Centre, at 415 m (1,362 ft) high. Other recognisable skyline features include the HSBC Headquarters Building, the triangular-topped Central Plaza with its pyramid-shaped spire, The Center with its night-time multi-coloured neon light show, and I. M. Pei‘s Bank of China Tower with its sharp, angular façade. According to the Emporis website, the city skyline has the biggest visual impact of all world cities. The oldest remaining historic structures including the Tsim Sha Tsui Clock Tower, the Central Police Station, and the remains of Kowloon Walled City were constructed during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
There are many development plans in place, including the construction of new government buildings, waterfront redevelopment in Central, and a series of projects in West Kowloon. More high-rise development is set to take place on the other side of Victoria Harbour in Kowloon, as the 1998 closure of the nearby Kai Tak Airport lifted strict height restrictions.
Hong Kong’s transportation network is highly developed. Over 90% of daily travels (11 million) are on public transport,the highest such percentage in the world. Payment can be made using the Octopus card, a stored value system introduced by the Mass Transit Railway (MTR), which is widely accepted on railways, buses and ferries, and accepted like cash at other outlets.
The city’s main railway company (MTR) was merged with the urban mass transit operator (KCRC) in 2007, creating a comprehensive rail network for the whole territory (also called MTR). This MTR rapid transit system has 152 stations, which serve 3.4 million people a day. Hong Kong Tramways, which has served the territory since 1904, covers the northern parts of Hong Kong Island.Hong Kong’s bus service is franchised and run by private operators. Five privately owned companies provide franchised bus service across the territory, together operating more than 700 routes. The two largest, Kowloon Motor Bus provides 402 routes in Kowloon and New Territories; Citybus operates 154 routes on Hong Kong Island; both run cross-harbour services. Double-decker buses were introduced to Hong Kong in 1949, and are now almost exclusively used; single-decker buses remain in use for routes with lower demand or roads with lower load capacity. Public light buses serve most parts of Hong Kong, particularly areas where standard bus lines cannot reach or do not reach as frequently, quickly, or directly.
Hong Kong International Airport is a leading air passenger gateway and logistics hub in Asia and one of the world’s busiest airports in terms of international passenger and cargo movement, serving more than 47 million passengers and handling 3.74 million tonnes (4.12 million tons) of cargo in 2007. It replaced the overcrowded Kai Tak Airport in Kowloon in 1998, and has been rated as the world’s best airport in a number of surveys. Over 85 airlines operate at the two-terminal airport and it is the primary hub of Cathay Pacific, Dragonair, Air Hong Kong, Hong Kong Airlines, and Hong Kong Express. (Wikipedia)