Identification. Hong Kong means "fragrant harbor." Once administered by the United Kingdom, it has been known since 1997 as the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People's Republic of China (PRC). Many residents do not identify with either Britain or China. The generation born and raised in Hong Kong from 1949 to 1979 (when China was isolated) has a much more local identity than do their parents.
Location and Geography. The total area is 425 square miles (1,097 square kilometers). Hong Kong Island is only ten square miles. Only 15 percent of the area is built up, while 67 percent consists of grassland, scrub, and woods. Forty percent of the territory is designated as recreational parks, largely hills and mountains.
Demography. The population was 6,805,600 in 1998. At the end of World War II, the population was only about 600,000; it swelled with refugees when the Communist Party won the civil war in China in 1949. Both fertility and infant mortality are low, and life expectancy is the seventh highest in the world. Hong Kong is one of the world's most crowded cities. The proportion of the population born in Hong Kong is about 60 percent, but among those under age 15, the proportion is about 88 percent.
Linguistic Affiliation. Cantonese is spoken in 89 percent of households. Other languages include Fukienese (2 percent), Hakka (1 percent), Mandarin or Putonghua (1 percent), Chiu Chau (1 percent), Shanghainese (less than 1 percent), and Sze Yap. English is spoken as the primary language at home by 3 percent of the population. Thirty-eight percent of the population claims the ability to speak English, and 25 percent claims to speak Mandarin (or Putonghua), the national language of China. In the colonial period, English was used in business and the courts. Chinese was added as a second official language in 1974 in response to anti-colonial riots. This Chinese was Cantonese, not Mandarin (or Putonghua) which is the official in the mainland, Taiwan, and Singapore. The Cantonese spoken in Hong Kong is similar to that used in Guangzhou (Canton), but the accent and some vocabulary are slightly different.
National Identity. Hong Kong sees itself as a modern city and is proud of its state-of-the-art airport and subway system. It has its own style of life, currency (the Hong Kong dollar), and economic and legal systems. Hong Kong is still governed by common law, and judges wear robes and wigs as they do in Britain. Other continuing legacies of British rule include the rule of law, open government, civil and press freedoms, and high professional standards.