Located on the southeast coast of China at the mouth of the
Pearl River delta 80 miles (130 kilometers) southeast of Canton, Hong Kong is centered
around one of the world's largest natural deepwater harbors. The congested metropolis is
actually several cities that are part of a territory covering about 420 square miles
(1,100 square kilometers)--Hong Kong Island, the Kowloon peninsula, and the New
Territories. The New Territories in turn are made up of the larger peninsula from which
Kowloon extends and more than 230 surrounding islands. Tall mountains rise from the sea
and create a topography of rugged beauty and dramatic vistas.
heart of the metropolis is the capital on Hong Kong Island, Victoria, which climbs almost
vertical streets halfway up Victoria Peak. Rising to a height of 1,825 feet (556 meters),
the top of the peak has most of the territory's few detached houses and mansions. The
island shelters the harbor from the South China Sea. Major government buildings and the
headquarters of banks and powerful hongs, or commercial trading houses, are located at the
foot of the peak on Central Hong Kong Island--on land largely reclaimed from the harbor.
The major commercial center is the city of Kowloon, directly across the harbor. Most
industrial property is in skyscraper "new towns" in the New Territories to the
north. Except for the huge island of Lantau, most of the remaining islands are small and
sparsely populated. A few have bedroom communities with inhabitants who take ferries to
work on Hong Kong or Kowloon. A large floating population of boat dwellers docks in the
territory's typhoon shelters.
Steep terrain has forced about 90
percent of Hong Kong's population to congregate in just 15 percent of the land area,
creating the highest population density in the world. With no place to expand but upward,
Hong Kong has some of the world's tallest buildings outside New York City. Much of the
territory, however, is uninhabited government parkland, and some of it is still wild. It
has many snakes, and the bird population on Hong Kong Island includes a large community of
escaped domestic parakeets and their offspring.
Hong Kong's tropical latitude
produces high temperatures most of the year and a short, mild winter. Spring is extremely
wet, often causing dangerous landslides and floods. Autumn is extremely dry. Hill fires
have burned entire communities of crowded squatter huts put up by refugees. The most
significant weather event is the typhoon season of late summer.
There are over 100,000 Filipina working in Hong
Most are OCW
Oversea Contract Workers
The major spurt in
Hong Kong's population growth was in the latter part of the 1970s, when it swelled from
about 4 million to 5 million. This was the result of an influx both from China and from
Vietnam following the fall of Saigon in 1975. With little room left and diminishing public
resources, the government severely restricted immigration in 1980.
By 1990 there were more than 56,000 Vietnamese in Hong Kong; only about 12,000 were
considered refugees awaiting resettlement in a third country. A program of forced
repatriation to Vietnam began in 1991.
Ninety-eight percent of Hong
Kong's population is Chinese--mostly Cantonese. Former Shanghai businessmen, boat people,
fishermen, and New Territories farmers represent other Chinese ethnic groups. Britons make
up a narrow majority of the non-Chinese, followed by Indians and Americans. Both the
Cantonese dialect of Chinese and English are official languages, with English favored in
commerce. Buddhism and Taoism are the most popular religions in Hong Kong, which has more
than 600 Buddhist and Taoist temples. Nearly 800 Roman Catholic and Protestant churches
serve a Christian population estimated at more than half a million. Hong Kong also has
about 50,000 Muslims, most of whom are Chinese, as well as smaller Hindu, Sikh, and Jewish
Hong Kong's international
significance accelerated in the second half of the 20th century--not only from the
explosive growth of its industry but also from the reemergence of China as a participant
in world trade and politics. It is strategically positioned at the center of the most
rapidly growing area of the world--the Pacific rim. A philosophy of free trade and minimal
taxes and regulations attracted investment from around the world. Its location in respect
to the trading day made it the center of world trading while London and New York City
sleep. It is also the gateway for trade with the most populous nation on Earth. China
depends on the territory to provide the bulk of its foreign exchange and investment.
Hong Kong has no substantial
natural resources, and 90 percent of what it needs is imported. Much of its income is from
services it provides as a transshipment and warehousing gateway between China and
Southeast Asia and the rest of the world. Manufacturing is led by the textile industry,
followed by toys and electronics. Hong Kong exports more watches, clocks, and radios than
any nation in the world. China and the United States are its major customers.
Despite the strength of the
manufacturing base, the service sector of the economy is larger than the industrial sector
and provides three quarters of the jobs. Hong Kong is the shopping, dining, fashion, and
entertainment mecca of Asia. It is the movie capital of the world, with more feature films
and videos produced in the territory than anywhere else.
Hong Kong is one of the world's
busiest shipping centers and continually attempts to upgrade its port facilities with
expanded airport and container port facilities. About 12,000 oceangoing vessels call at
the port each year. These and hundreds of Chinese sampans, sailing junks, ferryboats,
hydrofoils, and pleasure craft create a bustling and exciting atmosphere.
Government and History
Kong is a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China under the
principle "one country, two systems." Under the Basic Law, the constitution
adopted for Hong Kong in 1990, the former British colony enjoys a capitalist economy, a
free port, a separate customs territory, and its own currency and finances. A chief
executive heads the Executive Council, which is responsible for enforcing laws passed by
the 60-member Legislative Council. China manages Hong Kong's foreign and military policy
but has promised not to impose socialism before 2047.
There is archaeological evidence of settlement as early as the 3rd century BC. A few rural Chinese villages in the New Territories have
been inhabited since the 11th century AD. Before the
British flag was placed on Hong Kong Island in 1841 by merchant-adventurers expelled from
Canton, the island harbored only a few Chinese pirates, vagabonds, and stonecutters.
Chinese were forced to cede the island to the British in 1842 following their defeat in
the First Opium War. According to one legend, the Chinese named the settlement Heung
Keung, or "Fragrant Harbor," because of the scent of Indian opium that came from
the British clipper ships waiting to make their run up the Pearl River to Canton with
their cargo of the addictive drug. Beginning with the Taiping Rebellion in 1850, Hong Kong
grew rapidly. Civil wars and economic and social changes in China drove various waves of
refugees into the territory. At the end of the Second Opium War in 1860, the British
forced the Chinese to cede part of the Kowloon peninsula. In 1899 the British took a
99-year lease on the New Territories. China always considered the agreements to be
events of the 1930s and 1940s played havoc with the population of Hong Kong. Nearly
880,000 people lived there in 1931. Chinese refugees nearly doubled that number after
Japan occupied Canton in 1938, at the outbreak of World War II. Three years later, in
1941, Japan occupied Hong Kong and arranged mass deportations because of food shortages.
Japanese occupation and Allied bombing decimated Hong Kong's population, which dropped to
about 600,000 by the end of the war. The population once again rebounded after the British
resumed control of the territory following the conclusion of World War II.
Communist victory in mainland China in 1949 drove hundreds of thousands of refugees into
Hong Kong, and it became a base for Western "China watchers." Many Chinese lost
their lives trying to swim over the border through shark-infested Mirs Bay. By the
mid-1950s the colony had some 2.2 million people.
Kong did not have enough housing or jobs for so many people. A public housing program,
introduced after a fire left 53,000 squatters homeless in 1953, expanded to accommodate
about half the population before the end of the century. The economy, previously dependent
on the port, diversified with the construction of textile and other factories. Labor
unrest in 1967 erupted into riots instigated by proponents of the Cultural Revolution in
the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, the new Chinese government moved to negotiate a peaceful
solution to the "unequal treaties" problem and to arrange a return of the
territory to China's jurisdiction at the expiration of Britain's 99-year lease of the New
Territories. Under the Sino-British Agreement ratified on May 27, 1985, Britain agreed to
return sovereignty in Hong Kong to China on July 1, 1997. China agreed to maintain the
same form of government and personal freedoms, but the violent suppression of the
democracy movement in Beijing in June 1989 ended the perception that China would exert
only minimal authority after the 1997 transfer of power. Thousands of educated
professionals were emigrating at a rate of 1,000 a week in 1990, mostly to the United
States, Canada, and Australia. In an effort to keep key jobholders in place, Britain
offered full passports to 50,000 Hong Kong families to provide them legal refuge in 1997
if they need it. China, however, announced it would not recognize the British passports.
The British government also took measures to strengthen laws concerning democratic
processes and basic human rights in the country, leading to the ratification of a new
constitution, called the Basic Law, in 1990. In 1991 Hong Kong held its first direct
elections for the Legislative Council in 150 years of British rule. Pro-democracy forces
won most of the contested seats.
December 1996 a selection committee approved by the Chinese government chose the shipping
magnate Tung Chee-hwa to become Hong Kong's first chief executive when the British
governor stepped down in July 1997.
(2003 estimate), 7,304,000.