China HongKong City:
When the curtain fell on the final act of imperial pageantry in "Honkers", with HMS Britannia sailing into the harbour and the last flourish of the Governor's ostrich-feather hat, the prophets foretold doom. They have been confounded, Hong Kong is still alive and thriving. This Asian tiger may have had some of the stuffing knocked out of it since 1997, but it is still a roaring destination. Once the theatre for a unique confrontation (or collusion) between East and West, Hong Kong now presents a similar struggle between two entirely different visions of Chinese identity. It is at once utterly Chinese and effortlessly cosmopolitan, with white, Indian and many other resident populations contradicting Beijing's visions of Chinese exclusivity at every turn. Many Hong Kongers, especially younger ones, speak good English, and almost all of them look towards Pacific horizons rather than north of the Chinese border for their values and aspirations. The mainland, as China is called, is still a foreign country for locals. Residence requirements for mainland Chinese are stricter now than they ever were under English colonial rule, and Hong Kong courts hand down draconian punishments for offending mainlanders. Hong Kong is a vision of what the rest of China could be if it opened up fully to the world, but Hong Kong prefers to focus on its own affairs rather than lead the way for China. The rule of law has suffered since the handover, but mostly through insidious erosion rather than direct assault: Beijing is content by and large to govern with a light touch, keeping itself at a distance from Hong Kong affairs, so as to sustain international confidence in the territory. Many of the worst precedents for future erosion of liberties have been set by Hong Kong's government itself, in its struggle to keep the feared rush of poor mainland fortune-seekers at bay.
In the meantime, the citizens' way of life remains unchanged; and it would be hard to imagine a less Communist place than acquisitive, thrusting, mad, dog-eat-dog Hong Kong. Cartelisation, connections and rumours of official corruption may tarnish its reputation for totally free capitalism, but Hong Kong still scores top in a global assessment of levels of economic freedom for residents.
The relentless drive of the place makes it one of the most exciting cities in Asia, even Tokyo seems sleepy in comparison. It is also the ideal hub from which to visit the rest of Pacific Asia, bang in the centre of the region and a few hours flight away from almost everywhere else. For Swiss standards of cleanliness and tedium, visitors should go to Singapore, but for breathing the air of freedom in all its rancid diversity, they can stand by the Fragrant Harbour and inhale, not forgetting to stay upwind.
The mainstays of Hong Kong's economy are light manufacturing, shipping and financial services, as well as the property sector (of huge interest to locals, but little to outsiders). Property, through eminent houses such as Sun Hung Kai Properties and Kerry Properties, provides much of the investment funding to support Hong Kong's broader economy, although the sector itself has been static or contracting since the late 1990s. Hong Kong has developed into a major international financial centre. Banking, insurance and other financial services are provided to local and mainland firms as well as the many international conglomerates with offices there. The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation is the strongest bank to originate locally, with an international presence; the Bank of East Asia is another notable bank. Jardine Fleming Bank, now in American hands, typified the financial legacy of the major English trading houses. Investment banking houses, such as Goldman Sachs and BNP Prime Peregrine, are also highly active locally. A large number of financial brokerage houses, many of them now going online, serve the insatiable appetite of the Hong Kong punter for short-term speculative investing, as well as a broader range of investment services.
Manufacturing is concentrated in textiles, consumer electronics and other consumer goods (Hong Kong is the world's largest producer of children's toys). The shipping industry is assisted by Hong Kong's natural deep-water harbour, probably the best in the region; maritime entrepôt trade is declining in importance, but is still very significant. Tourism has slackened since 1997. Hong Kong also provides films, advertising and other media services for Chinese and other markets across the Pacific Rim and elsewhere.
Hong Kong firms are often family-owned, the creations of commercial clans who came here from China and set up their businesses. The most admired businessman in the territory, who typifies the Hong Kong deal-making ethic, is Li Ka-shing, with a vast spread of interests in everything from the Panama Canal to the internet. It is symptomatic of Hong Kong's recent development that his son Richard, the creator of Pacific Century CyberWorks, is now creating Hong Kong's new web economy, with his purchase of the territory's former telecommunications monopoly Cable and Wireless HongKong Telecom. Hong Kong is now struggling to put the after-effects of the Asian economic crash behind it by repositioning itself as a wired city for the new millennium, a centre for internet-based telecommunications and web-related businesses and services, with the Pacific Century CyberPort development pioneering the initiative. It remains to be seen whether a Silicon Valley culture will take root in the old Hong Kong of property dynasties and sweatshop barons.
Suits are advisable for business; locals may wear short-sleeve shirts and preppy gear to work, but outsiders seeking to do business are not advised to emulate them. Hong Kongers are also not casual about business punctuality; appointments should be fixed in advance and kept to. The culture of business cards is as prevalent in Hong Kong as in Japan and, if possible, cards should be printed up with Chinese translations on the reverse. Most top hotels provide business centres for visiting business people, with typing, duplication, translation and other services. Normal office hours are 0900-1300 and 1400-1700 Monday to Friday, and 0900-1300 Saturday. Some Chinese offices open earlier than 0900 and close later than 1700. Although business lunches (especially dim sum) and after-hours drinking are a prevalent part of the Hong Kong business scene, there is not the same emphasis on drinking parties and bonding evenings as in Japan. Hong Kongers are too busy focusing on the bottom line to worry about company camaraderie. Ex-pat workers drink together hugely, but this is not a formal part of local business culture - just an unavoidable one.
Hong Kong came under British administration as a direct result of the Opium Wars of the last century. When peace terms were drawn up in 1841 at the Treaty of Nanking, the Emperor of China agreed that Britain should have an insular trading base, but the name of the island was left blank until ratification in the following year, by which time Hong Kong was already a thriving British-run harbour. The Kowloon peninsula was ceded under the Convention of Peking in 1860, and in 1898 the New Territories were leased from China for 99 years. The British controlled Hong Kong from then - apart from a 4-year period during World War II when the territory was occupied by the Japanese - until the territory was handed back to the Chinese in July 1997. The terms under which the reversion took place were settled at an agreement signed by the British and Chinese Governments in December 1984. As well as confirming the terms of previous agreements, the 1984 agreement contained guarantees on the subsequent future of Hong Kong, specifically that the territory would enjoy a high degree of autonomy, especially in the economic field where its existing system would be largely left intact. The slogan 'one country, two systems' was coined by the Chinese to describe the future regime and its relationship with mainland China. Only in the fields of foreign affairs and defence would the new Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong be subject to the diktat of Peking. The main point of contention in the period leading up to handover was political representation. Under the colonial regime, democratic representation had been kept to a minimum: executive powers were firmly retained by the Governor; only the Legislative Council ('LegCo'), of whom a small proportion were elected from a highly limited and carefully manufactured franchise, provided any semblance of democratic representation. The system has survived, more or less intact, since the departure of the British. The last colonial governor, the former British Conservative politician Chris Patten (now a European Commissioner), had a difficult, occasionally stormy relationship with the Chinese although the transition ultimately passed off smoothly in July 1997. Beijing selected the shipping tycoon Tung Chee Hwa to the new post of chief executive with powers analogous to those of the former Governor. A pro-Beijing political party created shortly before the handover, the Democratic Party for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB), gained a majority of the seats in the first (and so far only) election held under Chinese rule in May 1998. The DAB's Rita Fan is now leader of the LegCo. The transition passed off quietly and smoothly for the first two years. However, Tung Chee Hwa has faced growing opposition to a range of executive politicies from both the LegCo (which comes up for re-election in September 2001) and the public.
Government: Hong Kong is now a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China (PRC). Under the Basic Law which is the governing instrument of the region, executive power is held by a Chief Executive, who is appointed by a 400-strong Selection Committee. The Chief Executive is answerable to the State Council of the PRC (see the China section for details of the State Council) and serves a five-year term. The Chief Executive appoints a 15-member Executive Council to assist in the administration of the Region. Hong Kong's legislature is the 60-member Legislative Council: 20 members are directly elected in geographical constituencies; 30 members are elected by 'functional constituencies' (mostly professional bodies and business interests) and the remaining ten by an Election Committee composed of 800 'representatives of the community'.
Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) (Chek Lap Kok)
Tel: 28 24 71 11 or 21 81 00 00 (enquiry hotline). Fax: 28 24 07 17.
Web site: www.hkairport.com
Hong Kong's new airport is 45km (28 miles) from central Hong Kong. It opened on 6 July 1998 (replacing the existing Kai Tak airport) and can handle 35 million passengers, planned ultimately to increase to 87 million.
Major airlines: Cathay Pacific (tel: 27 47 12 34; web site: www.cathaypacific.com) is the territory's flag carrier, and operates direct flights to most major destinations in the West and Australasia. Other major airlines include Air China, Air New Zealand, American Airlines, British Airways, Emirates, Garuda Indonesia, Gulf Air, Lauda Air, Malaysian Airlines, Olympic Airways, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways and United Airlines.
Note: The Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok is one of 10 Airport Core Programme (ACP) projects, one of the largest infrastructural projects ever undertaken in the world. It includes the 2.2km (1.4-mile) Tsing Ma Bridge, the world's largest suspension bridge, linking Hong Kong to Lantau. About three quarters of the 12,480 sq kilometres (7800 sq miles) of the airport site was constructed from land reclaimed from the sea, with the rest formed from the excavation of the existing islands of Chek Lap Kok and Lam Chau. The new airport terminal building, designed by the British architect Sir Norman Foster, is Hong Kong's largest single building and its wing-like roof and glass walls have been hailed as a landmark in modern architecture; although the roof has also been known to leak during typhoons.
Approximate flight times to Hong Kong: From London is 12 hours 30 minutes; from New York is 18 hours 35 minutes; from Los Angeles is 14 hours 50 minutes; from Toronto is 15 hours 15 minutes; and from Sydney is 8 hours 50 minutes.
Airport facilities: Hong Kong International Airport has a suite of facilities appropriate to its size and importance. There are 124 immigration desks for arriving passengers and 96 for departing passengers, operated by Hong Kong's Immigration Department, as well as 76 customs desks. Twelve baggage carousels give an estimated baggage reclaim time of as low as ten minutes. The Hong Kong SkyMart shopping centre (opening hours 0600-2430) has 144 shops and 25 food and beverage outlets. Three information centres (opening hours 0600-2400) provide extensive services, including hotel reservation and touch-screen passenger information kiosks. Bureaux de change are open daily 0600-2330. The passenger terminal building offers special needs facilities for passengers with disabilities.
Business facilities: There is a business centre (tel: 28 83 38 63) in the airport, which is operated by Cable and Wireless and provides internet services, fax and telegram facilities and a small conference room accommodating four or five people.
Arrival/departure tax: HK$50 departure tax.
Transport to the city: Rail, bus and taxi links from Hong Kong International Airport to central Hong Kong leave from the Ground Transportation Centre. The easiest connection is via the Airport Express, an all-seater high-speed train, which runs daily 0550-0100 and leaves every ten minutes, taking passengers from the airport to central Hong Kong in just 23 minutes via stops at Kowloon and Tsing Yi Station. A single adult ticket costs HK$70 (concessions available). The Airport Express is operated by the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) (tel: 28 81 88 88), which also connects districts through Kowloon and Hong Kong Island with the airport. Airport Express passengers can also take advantage of free shuttle buses linking its Hong Kong and Kowloon stations with major hotels, and there is a free check-in service at both stations for up to a day before departure.
By bus, the quickest way to central Hong Kong is by the Airbus, which leaves every 15 minutes (journey time - 60 minutes) at a cost of approximately HK$40 for services to Central. About 30 franchised routes serve the airport, including night buses (the N11, N12, N22 and N31 routes). Taxis to Hong Kong are readily available. Red taxis serve Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, green taxis serve the New Territories, and blue taxis serve Lantau Island (journey time to Hong Kong - 45 minutes). Fares to Central are typically HK$40. Limousine hire is available from desks in the Arrivals hall. Ferry links operate daily every 30 minutes (0600-1000) between the airport and Tuen Mun in the New Territories for HK$15 (journey time - nine minutes).
It may seem a laughable idea, but culture does exist in Hong Kong. The city's reputation as a brashly philistine capitalist paradise has not exactly enlarged its footprint on the international cultural scene, but it should be remembered that this is Greater China's film and media powerhouse, and one area where Chinese arts and culture have flourished without political and ideological intereference. For instance, the traditional Chinese opera at the China Club never had to struggle with all the Maoist impositions that afflicted it in the mainland. (It is very hard to get an entrée here, but it is worth trying, just to admire the display of modern Chinese art.) Cityline (tel: 23 17 66 66; web site: www.cityline.com.hk) can provide tickets.
Music: Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra (tel: 27 21 20 30) are the town ensemble, and their frequent showings at corporate galas at least bankroll a full all-year programme. They are backed up by the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra (tel: 28 53 26 22). Visiting orchestras of all standards tour through Hong Kong frequently. The Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra is resident at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, 10 Salisbury Road (tel: 27 34 20 09), from September to July. Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, 1 Gloucester Road (tel: 25 84 85 00), also hosts frequent concerts.
Theatre: Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, 1 Gloucester Road (tel: 25 84 85 00), the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, 10 Salisbury Road (tel: 27 34 20 09), and the Hong Kong Arts Centre (tel: 25 82 02 00), are shrines of high culture. The Fringe Club, Star Alliance Theatre (tel: 25 21 72 51) gets many of the more wacky acts.
Dance: Hong Kong's classical ballet troupe is the Hong Kong Ballet (tel: 25 73 73 98), and preferred venues include the Hong Kong Cultural Centre and the Ko Shan Theatre. The Hong Kong Dance Company (tel: 29 67 82 53) has a traditional Chinese repertoire, while the City Contemporary Dance Company (tel: 23 26 85 97) is the more modern dance ensemble.
Film: Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee are still the much imitated icons of the local film industry, but production has diversified recently into more reflective fare. Meanwhile, John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat propelled the Cantonese ganster genre into A Better Tomorrow (1986). The UA and Golden Harvest cinema chains are Hong Kong's major commercial screening venues. Their principal multiplexes include UA Pacific Place, 1 Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Admiralty (tel: 28 69 03 22), UA Times Square, Times Square, Causeway Bay (tel: 25 06 28 22), Golden Gatewayb Multiplex, The Gateway, 25 Canton Road, Tsimshatsui (tel: 29 56 34 28). Arts films are mostly screened at the Lim Por Yen Film Theatre in the Hong Kong Arts Centre, Upper Basement, 2 Harbour Road, Wan Chai (tel: 25 82 02 00).
Cultural events: The Hong Kong Arts Festival (tel: 28 24 35 55; web site: www.hk.artsfestival.org), usually based out of Hong Kong City Hall, is the official annual catch-all jamboree of events, with international acts and events of all varieties, held February to March. Nipping in to the cultural calendar a little earlier is the City Festival, focusing on local acts, sponsored by the Fringe Club but now rivalling its respectable brother in variety and content and arguably excelling it in entertainment value. The Festival of Asian Arts in October/November gathers the traditional arts of the region, sometimes dovetailing with the Hong Kong Folk Festival in November. The Hong Kong Youth Arts Festival runs October to December.
Hong Kong has not left a deep impression on global literature: perhaps for too long in its history it lacked the allure of neighbouring Shanghai, and the recent economic dynamism has yet to find a literary expression. There is a rich tradition of Cantonese literature, but this also has not made much of an impact in translation. Some of the best works on Hong Kong are histories or travel writing rather than pure fiction. Probably the best of the histories is Frank Welsh's A Borrowed Place: A History of Hong Kong (1997). Jan Morris Hong Kong - Epilogue to an Empire (1997) is a typically lyrical summary of the territory's character in the twilight of colonialism, recently updated to cover the latest developments. Mark Roberti's The Fall of Hong Kong: China's Triumph and Britain's Betrayal (1996) is an understandably angry survey of events before, during and after the 1997 handover.
As for novels, Paul Theroux's Kowloon Tong (1997) focuses on cultural interaction and colonial legacies in the plight of a Hong Kong English trading family on the eve of the handover. Timothy Mo's An Insular Possession (1986) is concerned with Macau more than Hong Kong, but nonetheless manages to be a subtle and polished work, describing the European enclave of a bygone era. Otherwise, Hong Kong is a staple of genre fiction. John Le Carre's The Honourable Schoolboy (1977) is one of the better spy fictions to deal with the territory. Anyone looking for the blockbuster view of Hong Kong should read James Clavell's Noble House and Tai-Pan (1966). And lest we forget, The World of Suzie Wong (1957), by Richard Mason, conjures up more romance than you'll find in any of the filipina pole-dancing bars in Wan Chai. The success of the film it inspired is probably testament enough to the fact that Hong Kong has been best captured on celluloid: Jackie Chan makes as good a swashbuckling cultural hero for the place as anyone.