What should everyone know about Hong Kong

Hong Kong

More than just a city

The former British crown colony of Hong Kong is located on the southern Chinese coast, roughly at the geographic height of Mexico City or Hawaii. Hong Kong is often seen as just a big city, but it is much more than that.

In 1842 the Chinese government had to cede the island of "Hong Kong Island" to the British Kingdom after the opium war was lost. In 1860, after another lost war, the "Kowloon" peninsula, which lies opposite "Hong Kong Island", was ceded.

Another 38 years later, the British Kingdom of China leased a large part of the surrounding area, the so-called "New Territories", as well as over 230 largely uninhabited islands: the "Outlying Islands". These almost 1,100 square kilometers make up the area of ​​Hong Kong to this day.

Despite or because of this small area, which makes up less than a third of Mallorca, everything in Hong Kong is oversized. More than seven million people live in the city-state.

Since the coast on which Hong Kong lies is very rugged and mountainous, not all areas are suitable for residential construction. The settlements are distributed along the flatter coastlines and in the lowlands of the valleys.

In order to be able to provide this enormous number of people with enough living space, the building will be built accordingly high. The entire settlement area consists almost exclusively of high-rise buildings.

One way out of the constant lack of space: landfills on the coast. For example, the city's new airport, which went into operation in 1998, is built on a completely raised artificial island.

Green oases between satellite cities

Hong Kong is mountainous. So mountainous that many areas are neither suitable for housing nor for agriculture. The "Tai Mo Shan", the highest mountain, rises to a height of 957 meters.

What hardly anyone outside Hong Kong knows: Almost 40 percent of the area is designated nature reserve. Hundreds of kilometers of hiking trails run through 23 country parks. Ever since the lung disease SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) struck the city in 2003, the city's residents have increasingly been fleeing to the green surroundings.

Out of necessity a true enthusiasm for hiking and a great closeness to nature arose. The natural areas mainly consist of lovely chains of hills with grass, criss-crossed by individual forests with subtropical vegetation. Orchid lovers will get their money's worth here, over 70 species have already been counted.

But as in almost all densely populated areas of the world, nature in Hong Kong has to put more and more back in its place. Lantau Island to the west of Hong Kong Island is a good example of this. It is about twice as big as the main island, but much less populated: Here you can experience almost untouched nature in many places.

But since 1998 the new artificially raised large airport in the north of the island was put into operation and in 2005 the "Hong Kong Disneyland" was opened on Lantau, the tranquility is over. Since then, monotonous satellite cities have also been pulled up here.

The economy: higher, bigger, more

The port has always been the gateway to the world for Hong Kong, and it has remained so to this day. Even the British saw the island's greatest advantage in the very well protected natural harbor.

Whereas it used to be the trade in opium that made Hong Kong rich in the early days of British rule, today it is goods of all kinds. The container port of Hong Kong regularly competes with that of Singapore for the title of the busiest port in Asia.

In the middle of the 19th century, a second economic pillar established itself in Hong Kong: the banking system. In 1865, the "Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation Ltd." the first bank founded.

Hong Kong has now become one of the largest financial centers in the world. Hundreds of banks cavort in the Central District, trying to outdo each other by building even more spectacular skyscrapers. The low taxes and tariffs as well as the excellent infrastructure mean that trade and finance continue to flourish.

The production of cheap mass-produced goods, which Hong Kong made famous around the world after the Second World War, has declined sharply. Even under British rule, the production facilities were relocated to neighboring China. Today, the majority of cheap products are manufactured in the huge industrial city of Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong.

One country, two systems

Many Hong Kong Chinese feared that their freedom would be severely restricted if China were to take command of the city in 1997. But as early as 1984, the Chinese head of state Deng Xiaoping had promised Hong Kong economic, domestic, social and cultural sovereignty for another 50 years under the motto "one country, two systems".

And this maxim is still valid today. In 2003, the Chinese government tried to pass an extensive package of security and emergency laws, but had to put this plan back on record after days of mass demonstrations on the streets of the city.

The supposedly dramatic decline in the number of tourists was also far more mild than expected. Although the Japanese visitors were almost completely absent in the first time after the return, the opening of the city to Chinese tourists quickly compensated for this decline.

Well over 20 million tourists now visit the city every year. For comparison: the Mediterranean island of Mallorca, which is more than three times larger, is visited by around twelve million holidaymakers every year. And Hong Kong is doing a lot to increase those numbers. "Hong Kong Disneyland", which is located on a huge artificially raised area, has guests from China in particular.

For lack of space

Hong Kong has always been a popular destination for refugees and immigrants. Those who longed for political freedom or economic success in the past went to Hong Kong.

The high number of immigrants therefore also determined housing policy at the latest after the Second World War. Huge satellite towns had to be built to accommodate the masses of refugees from Mao Zedong and other Asian despots. High-rise buildings with 50 to 60 floors are the norm.

And yet the living space remains scarce. Even well-paid ordinary people can rarely afford more than a 40 to 50 square meter apartment.

Despite government housing programs, many Hong Kong residents still live in corrugated iron huts or on houseboats. These floating settlements, known as "boat squatters", give the city a certain flair, but their residents mostly live in very poor and unsanitary conditions.

The roots are Chinese

The British ruled Hong Kong for 155 years and yet they left little cultural substance. Most of Hong Kong's residents have Chinese roots. Despite the western appearance of the city, its culture and traditions live on everywhere.

For example, a star architect like Sir Norman Foster has to build his skyscraper entirely according to Feng Shui criteria. And if a skyscraper under construction is certified as having bad Feng Shui, some floors are quickly torn down again.

Traditional Chinese medicine dominates health care, Chinese theater and Chinese opera dominate culture. The whole of everyday life is geared towards the correct interpretation of the Chinese zodiac signs and the Chinese numerical philosophy.

For example, without batting an eyelid, millions of dollars are leafed through for the correct combination of numbers on the license plate - if one can afford it.