Positioned at the mouth of the Pearl River Delta on the coast of southern China, Hong Kong’s geographical position as a gateway between the East and West has made it an attractive centre for international trade. As a reflection of this, the heart of Asia’s world city has always been the bustling and beautiful Victoria Harbour. Hong Kong’s 1,104-square-kilometer area comprises Hong Kong Island, which lies to the south of the harbour, the Kowloon Peninsula, which forms its northern shores, the New Territories to the north of Kowloon, which stretch all the way to Mainland China, and more than 200 outlying islands, including Lantau Island, where Hong Kong International Airport is located.
Situated on the southeast coast of China, Hong Kong’s strategic location on the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea has made it one of the world’s most thriving and cosmopolitan cities.
Hong Kong as we know it today was born when China’s Qing dynasty government was defeated in the First Opium War in 1842, when it ceded Hong Kong Island to Britain. Within 60 years, Kowloon, the New Territories and 235 Outlying Islands were also leased to Britain. However, the history of the more than 1100 square kilometres that Hong Kong now occupies predates the events of the Qing dynasty by more than a thousand years. And, as you explore the city’s colourful heritage, you’ll discover stories of powerful clans, marauding pirates and European traders. From its earliest days as a British colony, Hong Kong served as a centre of international trade. In the turbulent years of the early 20th century, the city’s population was bolstered by refugees, mostly from China.
The arrival of immigrants in large numbers helped launch a new role for Hong Kong as a major manufacturing hub. It also brought economically stimulating energy and industry to the city’s character. In recent decades, as the economy of Mainland China has undergone a process of opening up, Hong Kong has transformed yet again – this time into a service-based economy as well as an important gateway to the world’s largest market.Under the principle of ‘One Country, Two Systems’, Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China on 1 July 1997. This arrangement allows the city to enjoy a high degree of autonomy, including retaining its capitalist system, independent judiciary and rule of law, free trade and freedom of speech.A look at the city’s history could give a strong impression that change is the only constant here. However, despite all its reinventions, Hong Kong’s spirit has never changed. In fact, the same energy and dynamism that turned a group of sleepy fishing villages into a crossroads of international trade is now taking Asia’s world city into the 21st century. Experience that spirit and Hong Kong’s story yourself by exploring the city’s rich culture and heritage.
Language & Culture
Hong Kong can mostly thank its colonial history and international harbour for the rich blend of cultures that give it its unique character. While the majority of the city’s population are Chinese speakers, simply walking the streets will expose you to a medley of Asian and European languages.
Cantonese, a minority dialect of Mainland China, is spoken by 88 per cent of people in Hong Kong. Nonetheless, other Chinese dialects, such as Hakka, Taishanese and Teochiu are also present, as is Mandarin of course – China’s official dialect, which has become more widely spoken in Hong Kong since the reunification in 1997.
From Hong Kong’s establishment as a colonial port, through its period as a manufacturing hub, and up until its current role as an international financial centre, the city’s population has always looked outwards. As a result, English is widely spoken. Today, it is the language of preference in the government, business and tourism sectors. All official signs and public transport announcements, as well as most menus, are bilingual. As a visitor, you can expect to encounter minimal problems communicating in English as most taxi drivers, salespeople, tourism industry employees and police have reached competent levels of the language. In fact, many locals even pepper their Chinese speech with English words and phrases.
The comfort with which these languages and dialects co-exist reflects the high level of cultural tolerance in Hong Kong, where multiple denominations of Christian churches share space with Chinese joss houses; Buddhist, Taoist and Sikh temples; mosques and synagogues. Moreover, the presence of enduring and ancient cultures in a society that has had to constantly adapt to change has created a unique contemporary culture that is a true mixture of tradition and innovation. Hong Kong is where you’ll see elderly men playing ancient Chinese board games on digital tablets, where Christmas is celebrated with as much fervour as Chinese New Year, and where state-of-the-art skyscrapers are designed in consultation with feng shui masters.
Hong Kong has a sub-tropical climate with distinct seasons. The only predictable weather events that could have a significant impact on your travel plans are typhoons.
Typhoon season begins in May and ends in November. When a typhoon is approaching, warnings are broadcast on television and radio. There are various degrees of warning signals issued by the Hong Kong Observatory, but when the no. 8 signal is in place, most businesses and shops close down and flights may be cancelled. There is a separate warning system for heavy rain.
You can find detailed information about current and seasonal weather on the Hong Kong Observatory website. While you’re in Hong Kong, you can also dial 1878 200 and press ‘3’ for English to check the latest situation.
What to expect from Hong Kong’s seasons