Welcome to a Continental ‘Capsule’! These are short guides to various cities or locations that condense the comprehensive information you’ve come to expect from our Country Profiles, Travel Guides, and Currency Spotlights into one manageable resource. This time, we’re off to Hong Kong! Located on the southern coast of China, this city is one of the most unique metropolises on earth. Formerly a British territory, Hong Kong was transferred to China in 1997 and became the country’s first “special administrative region”.
Get to Know: Hong Kong
- Population (2014): 7,234,800 (100th)
- Total Area: 1,104 km² (179th)
- Official Languages: Chinese, English
- Currency: Hong Kong dollar ($ or HK$) (HKD)
- Coins: 10¢, 20¢, 50¢, $1, $2, $5, $10
- Banknotes: $10, $20, $50, $100, $150 (limited), $500, $1000
- Hong Kong GDP (nominal): US$289.628 billion (38th)
- Monetary Authority: Hong Kong Monetary Authority
History and Culture
Hong Kong was integrated into imperial China in the year 214 BC by Qin Shi Huang (the first emperor). Later under the Tang dynasty and subsequent rulers, the city flourished as an important trading centre thanks to its strategic coastal position. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive in 1513, though they later came into conflict with the Chinese and were expelled for a time.
Hong Kong was lost to the British in 1841 following China’s defeat in the First Opium War. The territory (consisting of Hong Kong Island) was later officially ceded to Britain to appease the European power in 1842. Kowloon Peninsula and the New Territories were also added to the holdings over the years. After Britain signed a 99-year lease in 1898, the port flourished thanks to its open nature, though society was segregated between the British and Chinese.
After Japanese occupation during World War II, the British resumed control of the land until 1997. After much debate (as the lease ticked down) about what the transfer of sovereignty would mean for Hong Kong, the UK officially ceded control of the territory to the People’s Republic of China. Hong Kong maintains a large degree of autonomy from the mainland, though there are remaining questions about where exactly the authority lies.
Hong Kong retains a very ‘east meets west’ vibe due to the years of British rule and European trade. Cantonese is the majority language spoken in the city, and is a dialect of Yue Chinese. Hong Kong also has many foods and customs unique from the mainland. Finally, Hong Kong cinema has became famous across the world, especially when it comes to martial arts. Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li all had their breakthroughs in the city’s film industry.
What to do in Hong Kong?
As one of two special administrative regions in China (the other being Macau), the city is definitely worth a trip along with a visit to the mainland. A diverse culture, remnants of British colonization, some of the best selection of food in Asia, cosmopolitan thrills such as shopping and performances, a hugely impressive skyline, and massive commercial importance make Hong Kong a true working, living, and breathing city. Here are a few examples of what to do in Hong Kong.
- Ascend Victoria Peak: It’s 552 metres high and offers staggering views over the city and harbour. Take the classic Peak Tram up to the top and wander around between the woods, lodges, viewing areas and more.
- See the Tian Tan Buddha: This massive statue of a seated Buddha is worth a gander. Climb a 260-step staircase and you can get a closer look at both the statue and surrounding area.
- Drink Tea: There are tons of places to sample some of the best tea in the world. Check out the lobby of the Peninsula Hotel or the Lin Heung Tea House, among others
- Rent a Junk Boat: Boats can be chartered to take you around the coastlines or harbour of Hong Kong. Many of these trips are well known for turning into quite a party. It’s definitely a fun way to spend a night if you can afford it.
- Visit the Temple Street Night Market: The eclectic atmosphere and food stalls make this worth the trip alone. Try your hand at bartering or check out one of the many open-air performances.
- Eat Food and Have a Drink: This is an obvious one. You’ll find a lot of places to eat here, with a wide variety of cuisine. From the flavours of nearby countries, to western food, to pubs and other more local bars – there’s a seemingly endless amount of options for both restaurants and nightlife.
Currency and Economy
Despite Hong Kong’s small size and unique status, the Hong Kong dollar is the 13th most traded currency in the world. The HKD is pegged to the USD on a range of HK$7.75-7.85 to US$1. In order for a bank to issue HKD, they must have the equivalent USD in reserve. This has resulted in Hong Kong accumulating a staggering amount of US dollars of about $281.7 billion.
There are two series of banknotes currently in circulation, one from 2003 and the other from 2010. Each series is divided into three different sets, which are issued by different banks (the ones authorized to issue the dollar) and feature designs pertaining to these banks. They are HSBC (The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited), Standard Chartered Hong Kong, and the Bank of China (Hong Kong). The other designs vary between Hong Kong in different eras, various festivals, landmarks, technology, and more. Previous coins featured Queen Elizabeth II but these are being removed and replaced (though they remain legal tender) by coins featuring the bauhinia flower.
Hong Kong is one of the preeminent financial centres in the world, and is well known for low taxes and a high amount of economic freedom. No public debt, large FX reserves, low corruption, a strong banking system, and connections with the mainland have all helped to make Hong Kong an economic powerhouse. The Hong Kong Stock Exchange is the 6th largest in the world, just behind Shanghai but ahead of Euronext (Amsterdam, Brussels, Lisbon, and Paris). Besides finance, the economy is also dependent a high amount of international trade, with the city home to the 4th largest container port in the world.
Hong Kong is a great way to get a taste of China with a unique spin. With a diverse history and culture to delve into, all the sights and sounds you would expect from a major international city, and a strong economic and banking system – Hong Kong will continue to be at the forefront of people’s travel lists and business dealings.
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