Hong Kong - Encyclopedia Information
There is strong historical evidence that the region known as Hong Kong has been inhabited by humans since the Stone Age. Until it was occupied by the British, the area was a neglected portion of the Qing Empire (1644–1911 C.E.); its population was made up of farmers, fishermen, and pirates. In 1841 the British took control of Hong Kong after the Opium Wars.
A series of conflicts between Hong Kong and Britain followed Britain’s assumption of control over Hong Kong, during which the British had backing from French, Russian, and American interests. The British and the French forces combined to invade China in 1859, and the Chinese were forced to agree to the Convention of Beijing, under which the Kowloon Peninsula and nearby Stonecutters Island were ceded to the British. In 1898 the British signed a 99-year lease on a part of Hong Kong called the New Territories.
A civil war in China during the 1920s and the Japanese invasion in the 1930s led Chinese capitalists to flee from the mainland to the safer haven of the colony. During this period Hong Kong started moving away from trade to manufacturing.
However in the 1950s, in the wake of a U.S. embargo on Chinese goods during the Korean War, Hong Kong was compelled to increase its manufacturing capacity and develop service industries, such as banking and insurance. When the Communists came to power in China in 1949 and during the Cultural Revolution there in the 1960s, Hong Kong’s existence was threatened once more by mainland China’s desire to bring Hong Kong under its control.
In 1984 the British decided to withdraw from the entire colony at the end of the lease period in 1997 rather than maintain a fragmented colony comprising Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. In 1997 the Chinese government designated Hong Kong a Specially Administered Area. During the ensuing period Hong Kong underwent many hardships as a result of economic crises in Asia in the late 1990s. In the early years of the 21st century, it experienced near-zero growth as well as rising unemployment and falling property values.
China’s official policy toward Hong Kong is that of “one country, two systems.” In other words, Hong Kong is part of China, but Communist-ruled China has agreed to allow Hong Kong to continue as a capitalist center. As a result the European Commission has described Hong Kong as one of the freest societies in Asia, regardless of the lack of full democracy.
Most experts believe that as long as Hong Kong continues to make money (and avoids any kind of dissent) this special status is relatively secure. However recent interference in Hong Kong’s affairs by Chinese authorities shows that there is no autonomy in the real sense of the term.
GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
Hong Kong is made up of a peninsula jutting out from the southeastern part of China and hundreds of islands scattered off the coast. On the peninsula are Gewloon and the New Territories. The New Territories is the area of land in Hong Kong, north of the Kowloon peninsula, south of Shenzhen and the Shum Chun River and Hong Kong’s outlying islands (including Lanoau Island, Lamma Island, Zheng Zhau, and Beng Zhau). They were leased from Qing China to Britain in 1898 for 99 years under the provisions of the Second Convention of Peking.
The other portion of the country includes Hong Kong Island and other remote islands. Hong Kong Island is located slightly south of the Tropic of Cancer. There are approximately 234 outlying islands. Lantau Island is the biggest of Hong Kong’s islands, but the island of Hong Kong is the most famous and most populated.
The ocean around Hong Kong is quite deep.
With its wide harbors protected by mountains located to the north as well as to the south, the area is ideally suited to function as a transit corridor for ships. Its geographical location between the Taiwan Straits, the South China Sea, and the Pacific Ocean make it a strategic channel for maritime traffic between the Asian continent and the rest of the world.
Hong Kong stands on a volcanic terrain, with its landscape dominated by hills and mountains.
Hong Kong’s backbone is a crest running from the northeast to the southwest. Both the Gewloon Peninsula and the northwestern New Territories are mainly flat. Three percent of Hong Kong’s total land area is under cultivation, and this lies mostly in the New Territories’ large alluvial plains.
Although Hong Kong rests on volcanic plains, there is only minor seismic activity, occasionally causing tremors. No major earthquakes occurred during the 20th century; the last one, which had a magnitude of 5.75 on the Richter scale, was back in 1874, but it caused only minor damage.
Hong Kong has a subtropical climate. Hong Kong’s location falls within the tropics, but its seasonal changes are far greater than most places at similar latitudes. Monsoons and seasonal alternation of winds regulate and modify the climatic system of the country.
Hong Kong’s position as one of the world’s most valuable economic centers is due to several factors. It is located midway between Japan and Singapore and lies on the main shipping and air routes of the western Pacific. It also has long served as a major port of entry and trade for China, which uses Hong Kong as a primary link to the world economy.
Hong Kong has a congenial atmosphere for the pursuit of trade and commercial activities. Hong Kong’s economy has always hinged on commerce, trade, and shipping, Hong Kong vies with Singapore as the world’s largest container port. Industry and tourism also enjoy considerable importance. Agriculture provides a large portion of Hong Kong’s food and flower supplies, but Hong Kong must still import the majority of its foodstuff.
CULTURE AND LIFESTYLE
Hong Kong enjoys a stimulating, highly dynamic, cosmopolitan lifestyle. It also has a tranquil side to it with lush green countryside and remote beaches accessible only from the sea. Approximately 40 percent of Hong Kong has been set aside as Country Park and is shielded from development. Botanists and zoologists are still uncovering hitherto undiscovered species of flora and fauna here.
Hong Kong’s embrace of both oriental and occidental culture is evident in its art centers, museums, and libraries. The annual arts festival and cultural events held throughout the year feature top performers from all over the world. Hong Kong’s image as a metropolis belies a unique heritage, a fine blend of ancient Chinese traditions and British colonial influence.
Hong Kong’s cuisine is a fusion of Eastern and Western flavors. Its cultural blend, proximity to mainland China, and its emphasis on quality have made Hong Kong a gourmet’s paradise. A diversity of Asian culinary arts can easily be found in Hong Kong. These include spices from Thailand, rich aromatic flavors from India, and the delicacies of Japan and Korea, among others.
In Hong Kong society, affluent families have traditionally sought brides who are able to manage household finances efficiently and above all produce sons who will inherit the family wealth. In contrast poor families have traditionally sought simple homely brides who could work hard in the fields and produce sons who would grow up to become helping hands.
In earlier days marriages were arranged, and it is still common for the parents to dominate the bride-seeking process. Traditionally all communication regarding marriage is carried out through formal letters. Therefore letters play an important role at various stages of traditional marriages even today.
Three letters are involved in the process.
1. Request Letter: Confirms the formal arrangements of an impending marriage. It is sent by the groom’s family to that of the bride. It is customarily presented with the initial gifts for the bride’s family.
2. Gift Letter: Accompanies the formal gifts for the bride’s family. In reality this is a checklist that records the description and quantity of the gifts.
3. Wedding Letter: This letter is presented to the bride’s family on the day of the wedding. It confirms the act of absorbing the bride into the groom’s family.
The Chinese definition of the word etiquette includes both customs and gifts. The following steps comprise the Six Etiquettes: 1. Request for Marrying the Bride—After the groom’s family has selected a girl whom the groom wants to marry, the family hires a spokeswoman to communicate its wishes to the prospective bride’s family. (In the old days, elderly women were hired as spokeswomen for the grooms.) This spokeswoman persuades the potential bride’s family to accept the offer from the groom’s family. Both sides will negotiate the terms. If they can come to an agreement, they proceed to the next phase.
2. Request for Bride and Groom’s Birth Dates—In the second phase the groom’s family will request the bride’s “letters” through the spokeswoman. After obtaining the letters of the groom and bride, an astrologer will be hired to determine whether the two are compatible. If all is fine with the bride’s birth date, the groom’s family will proceed to the next step. Otherwise communication between the two families will cease, and the groom’s family may look elsewhere.
3. Initial Gifts for the Bride’s Family—If the potential bride’s birth date is acceptable the groom’s family will request the spokeswoman to send some initial gifts, accompanied by the gift letter.
4. Formal Gifts for the Bride’s Family—The groom’s family will select a good day and send the bride’s family the bridal gifts: cash, cakes, food, and items of sacrifice for worshiping the ancestors. This act confirms the marriage pact between the two families.
5. Selecting the Wedding Date—The astrologer will select a good day according to the birth dates of the bride, the groom, and their family members.
After the groom’s family has agreed to the good day as the wedding day, a man who is known to have experienced good fortune all through his life will be employed to set up and decorate the conjugal bed and move it to the appropriately designated place.
Next, a lucky woman (one who has a healthy husband and many sons) will decorate the bed more and place a few tokens of good fortune (such as food and fruits) on it. After the nuptial bed is decorated, it is to be left untouched until the time the marriage is consummated.
The bride’s gifts for the groom will reach the groom’s house a couple of days before the wedding day or, if she lives very far off, she will bring gifts (carried by her maids) to give to the groom when she arrives at his home on the wedding day. The bride’s gifts usually consist of gems and jewelry, kitchen utensils, bed linens, and clothes.
6. Combing of the Hair—The night before the wedding both the bride and the groom have to find a lucky person (a woman for the bride and a man for the groom) to comb their hair in their respective homes. The bride and the groom each bathe, change into fresh new lingerie, and burn incense in their rooms. It is customary for the bride to sit next to a window from which the Moon is visible. Her hair has to be combed ceremonially four times, and each step has a special meaning: The first round symbolizes from beginning till the end.
The second round symbolizes harmony from the present to old age.
The third round symbolizes many sons and grandsons.
The fourth combing symbolizes wealth and a long-lasting marriage.
The whole ritual also symbolizes the attainment of adulthood by the couple. If either has been married before, then the combing event is skipped.
On the day of the wedding, both the bride and the groom’s homes will be decorated predominantly in red. The groom’s family sends a procession of servants, musicians, and a litter (palanquin), which is carried by four servants to the bride’s family to bring the bride to the wedding ceremony.
When the groom’s procession arrives at the woman’s home, the groom’s spokeswoman enters the bride’s house and carries the bride on her back until she reaches the carriage. By no means should the bride’s feet touch the ground before she arrives at the groom’s house. In some regions it is customary among the bride’s relatives to throw handfuls of rice into the air, so that the chickens nearby will eat the rice instead of pecking at the bride. In many cases a red umbrella is used to shield the bride; the opening of the umbrella symbolizes her bringing many children to the groom’s family. The parents and relatives bid her farewell as she sits in the carriage to depart to her new home.
After the bride reaches the groom’s house, the two of them will take part in the marriage ceremony, which will be witnessed by their elatives and friends.
The bride and groom will worship the heavens and the Earth, as well as the groom’s ancestors, and then they will serve tea to all senior members in the family.
Thereafter the elders will give them red packages (lai see) containing monetary gifts and wish them health, wealth, and happiness. If they can afford it the groom’s family will also throw a huge feast for their friends and relatives. The groom’s spokeswoman will oversee the whole process and repeatedly toast the couple.
When the ceremonies are over the couple drinks and toasts each other; the spokeswoman offers sweets and fruit to the couple, thereby wishing them a long and happy married life with lots of children.
After the meal the newlyweds proceed to the bridal chamber. As soon as the couple is left alone the groom takes off the red veil that covers the bride’s face.