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Hong Kong Travel Guide

Hong Kong, Hong Kong Travel GuideHong Kong Island, originally named Victoria in honor of the British queen, covers 30 square miles. With 150 years of British colonial influence woven into 5,000 years of Chinese culture, Hong Kong is a city of contrasts. From the ancient Chinese culture found in its Chinese temples, to a more modern taste found in its karaoke bars, Hong Kong truly enchants its visitors with everything from food, art, architecture, to the traditional festivals. Hong Kong Island is a mosaic of thrilling experiences, memorable adventures, and pure serenity. The city of Hong Kong, the international powerhouse, is the southern gateway to modern China and the mainland's window on the world.

British control of Hong Kong began in 1842, when China was forced to cede Hong Kong Island to Britain after the First Opium War. In 1984 Britain and China signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which stipulated that Hong Kong return to Chinese rule in 1997 as the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China. In this Joint Declaration and a Chinese law called the Basic Law, China has promised that, under its "one country, two systems" formula, China's socialist economic system will not be imposed on Hong Kong and that Hong Kong will enjoy a high degree of autonomy in all matters except foreign and defense affairs for the next 50 years.

In 1997, Tung Chee-hwa became the first chief executive of Hong Kong. As a result, little has changed for the people of Hong Kong since the former British colony reverted to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997. Most obviously China's national flag and the SAR bauhinia flower flag have replaced the Union Jack on top of government buildings. Colonial red post boxes have been painted green, but road names and buildings named after British governors and monarchs remain.

Hong Kong's position as one of the world's most important economic centers is based on several factors. It is located midway between Japan and Singapore, and it lies astride 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's economy has always been based upon commerce, trade, and shipping, and today it vies with Singapore as the world's largest container port. Industry and tourism are also important, and agriculture continues to provide a significant share of the territory's food and flower supplies, although Hong Kong must import the majority of its food. Farming is a declining sector, because of the shortage of suitable farmland. Hong Kong's fishing fleet is significant and contributes about two-thirds of the live and fresh marine fish consumed each year.

Hong Kong Geographical Features

Hong Kong consists of a mainland portion located on the country's southeastern coast and about 235 islands. Hong Kong is bordered on the north by Guangdong Province and on the east, west, and south by the South China Sea. The total land area of Hong Kong is small, comprising only 1,092 sq km (422 sq mi). The surrounding territorial waters cover 1,830 sq km (707 sq mi). Hong Kong Lantau Island, Hong Kong Travel GuideHong Kong's mainland portion consists of the urban area of Kowloon and a portion of the New Territories, a large area that became part of Hong Kong in 1898. Lantau Island (also called Tai Yue Island), ceded to Hong Kong as part of the New Territories but often considered separate from that region, is the largest island. Located about 10 km (6 mi) east of Lantau Island and across Victoria Harbor from Kowloon is Hong Kong Island. The city of Hong Kong faces the harbor on the northern part of the island. The city is the site of the SAR government offices and the chief business district, known as Central. Kowloon forms a peninsula of the Mainland China coast, across Victoria Harbor from Hong Kong Island. Kowloon is an important transportation, manufacturing, and tourist area, as well as a densely populated residential and commercial zone. It has a total area of 11.9 sq km (4.6 sq mi). Population, including New Kowloon (1991) is 2,030,683. New Territories of Hong Kong that lie mostly on the Mainland China coast north of Kowloon and south of Guangdong Province.

The New Territories were leased by China to the United Kingdom in 1898; it was returned to China on July 1, 1997, along with the rest of Hong Kong. In 1991, the New Territories had a population of 2,374,818 accounting for nearly 42 percent of Hong Kong's population. The overall population density is about 2,500 persons per sq km (about 6,500 per sq mi), although the people are unevenly distributed, with most living in a number of new towns on the mainland.

There is a large container port at Kwai Chung and a new container terminal is planned for Lantau Island; it will connect to a river port terminal for the transshipment of containers to Guangzhou. A substantial road and highway network connects the major new towns of the New Territories, and the main rail line to Guangzhou links Lo Wu, Fanling, Tai Po, and Sha Tin to Kowloon. A light rail line connects Tuen Mun and Yuen Long in the western part of the New Territories. An international airport opened on Chek Lap Kok, an islet near Lantau, in July 1998. An express highway and railway link the new airport with the New Territories and Kowloon.

Farmers lived in the area that is now the New Territories before Britain leased the region from China in 1898 to create a buffer zone between Victoria Harbor and China proper. Britain sought the land less out of fear of China, than from concern over the rapid expansion of other colonial power, ala Germany, France, Japan, and Russia. In addition to providing more space for an adequate military defense, the New Territories added a substantial rural population. The region also provided land for food and timber production, and a much-needed catch area for fresh water supplies. In the 1980s the impending expiration of Britain's lease on the New Territories necessitated negotiations between Britain and China, and the Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed in 1984. In it, Britain agreed to return Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty on July 1, 1997.

Climate

Hong Kong's climate is subtropical and monsoon. The average daily temperature range is 26C to 31C (78F to 87F) in July and 13C to 17C (55F to 63F) in February. Rainfall averages 2,159 mm (85 in.) a year. Summers, which last from May to September, are long, hot, and humid. Typhoons regularly cross Hong Kong in summer and autumn. These powerful storms bring violent winds and extremely heavy rains that occasionally cause flooding and landslides. The winter, lasting from December to March, is cool and drier. The heavy rainfall washes away many nutrients from the soil, making it generally thin, poor, and unsuitable for intensive agriculture. Moreover, there is little available land for farm cultivation. Most of the original forest vegetation was long ago cut or burned and replaced with grasses or planted with tree species such as pine and eucalyptus. Wooded hills now account for about one-fifth of the land area, whereas grasslands, badlands, and swamps make up more than one-half.

Hong Kong People

At the time of the 2001 census, Hong Kong had a population of 7,210,505, a population density of 6,603 persons per sq km (17,102 per sq mi). The population is unevenly distributed, however, with the greatest concentrations of people in Kowloon and across the harbor on Hong Kong Island. Some districts, such as Mong Kok in Kowloon, have population densities of about 40,000 persons per sq km (about 100,000 per sq mi), among the highest urban densities in the world. Although birth and death rates are comparatively low in Hong Kong, migration from other parts of China creates a high population growth rate, and migrants now make up about 40 percent of the population. The major religions practiced in Hong Kong are Buddhist, Roman Catholic, Confucian, Taoist, Christian, Muslim, and Hindu.

Hong Kong History

The first permanent settlement in Hong Kong today probably occurred about 2,000 years ago during the Han dynasty (206 BC-ad 220). Little growth took place until the 19th century, owing to China's imperial policy of inward development, with a focus away from developing the resources of coastal areas. Also, despite Hong Kong's proximity to the port city of Guangzhou, all foreign trade with China was controlled through a small Chinese merchant guild in Guangzhou known as the Co-hong, and contact with foreigners was highly restricted. Hong Kong grew slowly during the 19th century, although gaining the New Territories added a substantial rural population. By 1900 there were perhaps as many as 100,000 people. The territory began to grow more rapidly in the 20th century as employment in Hong Kong's developing light industries attracted Chinese immigrants.

Instability in China associated with the Republican Revolution of 1911 and World War I (1914-1918) also stimulated Chinese to move to Hong Kong. This wave of population growth was halted during World War II (1939-1945) when Japanese forces invaded and occupied Hong Kong for almost four years. After the war Hong Kong had a population of about 600,000 people. A new wave of immigrant growth occurred when Chinese immigration resumed after World War II and a growing civil war in China further prompted migrants to move to Hong Kong. By 1947 the population had reached about 1.8 million. Hong Kong's greatest growth and development occurred after the Communist takeover of China in 1949, when the commercial and shipping functions of Guangzhou and Shanghai shifted to Hong Kong. In addition, new industrial investments based on low-cost labor led to rapid expansion of industrial employment. Although officially cut off from easy ties with China during the early decades of the Communist regime, trade and travel between Hong Kong and China in fact flourished. Hong Kong served as China's window to the world during the Chinese administration of Mao Zedong. After Mao's death in 1976, Hong Kong's role as a banker to China, and as its supplier of information, technology, and capital, intensified. Hong Kong's greatest growth and development occurred after the Communist takeover of China in 1949.

In the 1980s the impending 1997 expiration of Britain's lease of the New Territories necessitated negotiations between Britain and China. Britain agreed to return all of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty at the end of the lease and the Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed in 1984. Despite the change in Hong Kong's political status on July 1, 1997, the region has continued to strive to maintain its economic role and the confidence of the world community in its banking, trading, and shipping.

Hong Kong in Transition

The British, who wished to expand their trading opportunities along China's coast, became interested in Hong Kong in the early 19th century. They also desired a location to serve as a naval re-supply point, which is similar to the role Singapore was playing at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. The trade of opium, a highly profitable product for British merchants and eventually an illegal import into China, led to the Opium Wars and Britain's acquisition of Hong Kong. In 1839 the Chinese Special Commissioner imprisoned some British merchants in Guangzhou and confiscated opium warehouses. The merchants were released, but the British foreign secretary, Lord Palmerston, dispatched naval forces and war ensued. The British had a superior naval force and won easily, occupying Hong Kong Island in 1841. One year later, China and Britain signed the Treaty of Nanjing (Nanking), which ceded Hong Kong Island and adjacent small islands in perpetuity to Britain. Treaty disputes and other incidents led to the Second Opium War in 1856, also won by Britain. The conflict ended with the ratification of the Treaty of Tianjin in 1860. Among other provisions, this treaty ceded 10 sq km (4 sq mi) of the Kowloon Peninsula to Britain, thereby allowing the British to establish firm control over the excellent natural harbor between Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsula. In 1898 China leased the New Territories to Britain for 99 years, adding more than 900 sq km (350 sq mi) of land and considerable territorial waters to Hong Kong.