Culture of Hong Kong: A Classic Melting Pot

After the lease period, the then British colony of Hong Kong was handed back to the Chinese in 1997. The general populace of Hong Kong follows the Han Cantonese culture that originated in the South Western part of China. However, it is heavily British-influenced as the region was a British colony for a greater part of the century. Surprisingly, the culture of mainland China is also starting to creep in at present. Understanding the following aspects is likely to make you appreciate the unique culture of Hong Kong. 

People of Hong Kong

People of Hong Kong
People making hand gestures at the gateway camp (Source)
The Hong Kongers, as the locals like to call themselves, are a diverse lot with citizens being able to trace their roots back to Shanghai and the Guangzhou province of China that is the birthplace of the Cantonese language and heritage. The Indian, Malaysia, British and East European Jewish immigrants have played a major role in shaping the Hong Kong ethnicity.

Local Language 

Languages of Hong Kong
Recognized Languages of Hong Kong
Cantonese happens to the primary spoken language. Since the region was reverted to the Chinese, the government of Hong Kong has accepted bilingual and trilingual policies. Cantonese and English are noticed on the signboards. Although Mandarin has been recognized as one of the main spoken languages across Hong Kong today, English and Cantonese serve as the current official languages. 

Regional Customs and Traditions

The Hong Konger are respectful of others and believe in following a few age-old traditions that have prevailed for generations. You should be mindful of the following them while touring Hong Kong
  • The norm is never to be rude or embarrass others in public even if you are absolutely infuriated at the moment. 
  • Family is the most important thing that is cherished by Hong Kongers with each member showing solidarity. There are stories of those who have even given up their lives to uphold the family honour. This feeling has abated somehow but life continues to centre around the family even today.
  • The residents of Hong Kong are spiritual. Individuals make rice and fruit offerings to the deity at their homes and workplaces apart from temples and worship halls. 
  • You would also find them burning incense periodically, as it is believed to cleanse the soul and purify the surroundings.
  • The people of Hong Kong also practice a strange ritual by burning paper in the form of printed pictures, photographs or even money to communicate with the people who have passed on to the spiritual world.

The Cuisine of Hong Kong

Cuisine of Hong Kong
Hong Kong Food
Traveling through Hong Kong is a gastronomic adventure that you cannot miss whether you are on the island or the New Territories. Cantonese cuisine is at its best here and you would not be able to forget the heavenly dim sums or the succulent roasts served in the streets of Hong Kong. Do not miss the traditional egg tarts, to satiate your sweet tooth. Some of the other must-try dishes that are worth sampling include the following:
  • Fish Balls
  • Dim Sums
  • Clay pot Rice
  • Hong Kong Style French Toast
  • Roast Duck / Goose
  • Sweet and Sour Pork
  • Ginger Milk Pudding
  • Congee
Be sure to visit the tiny makeshift eateries or hit the streets to sample the hot and spicy classic dishes. The starred restaurants also include a variety of dishes but most of them are watered down versions adapted to suit the Western palate.

Regional Architecture

Architecture of Hong Kong
The Architecture of Hong Kong
Hong Kong is a land of surprises and extreme diversity. The culture of Hong Kong is undoubtedly an amalgamation of modern and classical architecture. The skyline of Hong Kong is something residents are proud of and justifiably so. Take some time out to visit the following buildings that showcase an extraordinary flair in their designs regardless of the era of its construction.
  • The 1881 Heritage building that includes a shopping mall, a heritage hotel and an exhibition hall is a spectacular example of Victorian Architecture. It has been renovated multiple times with the best features being preserved carefully.
  • The Blue House is an interesting mix of Chinese and Western Architecture with the vivid blue colour being the only available shade during the 1920s.
  • The Center is an ultra-modern skyscraper standing tall at a height of 350 meters. It is constructed entirely of steel and is popular for the nightly light show that takes part over the Victoria Harbor.
  • The Cheung Kong Centre is yet another modernist building that literally glitters at night thanks to the extraordinary feat of adding reflected materials to the structure.
  • A relic of the Tang Dynasty, the Chi Lin Nunnery was constructed in 1934 and renovated extensively in 1990. It is an amazing work of ancient Chinese architecture using an interlocking system without any kind of nails or screws.

Folk Dance and Music of Hong Kong

Lion Dance
Folk Dance in Hong Kong
The musical scene of Hong Kong is typically like its province i.e. an eclectic mix of pop music and traditional genres. Western classical music is also quite popular across Hong Kong although Cantopop has been the vogue. The Cantonese Opera is extremely popular in Hong Kong as well.
  • The Cantonese Naamyam is a form of an hour-long narrative singing by blind performers. Although it was mostly enjoyed by past generations, it is still a vibrant form of entertainment.
  • The Mandarin Pop music arrived in Hong Kong as the communists took hold of mainland China in 1949. However, it retains its popularity, as Mandarin is recognized as one of the three primary spoken languages in the culture of Hong Kong. 
  • The young generation is hooked to English pop sung by the locals. Hong Kongers love listening to imported English pop music as well. 
  • The traditional lion and dragon folk dance is performed across Hong Kong on the occasion of Chinese New Year.
  • “The Hong Kong Dance Company” also stages Chinese dance performances regularly throughout the year. 

Art and Craft

Art in Hong Kong
Street Art in Hong Kong
Since the region is closer to mainland China, the culture of Hong Kong includes a vast number of Chinese artefacts. These objects are imported from China and are locally sold, some of which include artwork on porcelain, wood, and bamboo. Here are a few tips for going around the city's artistry:
  • Feel free to collect exquisite embroidered work or carpets along with scissor cut figures from the local shops.
  • Remember to look for antique jade carvings that can be traced to the Ming Dynasty.
  • Make sure to collect stone carvings and ink slabs at the Guangdong province.
  • There is a good market for blue and white porcelain pottery.
  • You could also purchase miniature paintings on shells, barks, wood and feathers if you're looking for unique souvenirs. 

Festivals of Hong Kong

Midsummer Lantern Festival, Hong Kong
Mid Autumn Lantern Festival, Victoria Park
There is never a dull moment for a visitor in Hong Kong. The yearlong calendar of the region is chock-a-block with exciting cultural, sports and culinary events. The International festivals lend contemporary details to the island nation while the folk events celebrate its tradition bringing the long-forgotten rituals and rites to the forefront. You would certainly miss much of the culture of Hong Kong if you fail to make it to the following events:-
  • Chinese New Year- Usher in the Chinese New Year with fun and fanfare by witnessing the dragon boats, with the entire city set up in red lanterns.
  • Clockenflap- Experience the music scene of Hong Kong by checking out this spectacular music fest.
  • Hong Kong Pride Parade- Although Hong Kong legalised homosexuality in 1991, same-sex couples have not been given official recognition nor full-fledged protection against gender bigotry. The HK Pride Parade is a yearly march for love and equality from Victoria Park to Tamar Park. 
  • Lantern Festival- The Spring Lantern Festival marks the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations with thousands of colourful lanterns crowding the sky.
  • Freespace Fest- This is one of the most loved outdoor festivals of arts and music in Hong Kong. You can enjoy the music and listen to the book readings by entering the area for free.
  • Lunar New Year Fair- You will indeed be elated to visit this pre-celebration event held prior to the Chinese New Year. The flower markets and the dry fruit sellers doing brisk business as the locals usher into the New Year is a common sight. 
  • Le French May- An annual event hosted by the French Embassy in Hong Kong, Le French May aims to locally popularize the French culture here. 
  • Ghost Festival- This is a unique festival that has the local population paying tributes to the dead. It is a tradition that can be traced back to the Buddhist and Taoist origins of the city.
  • Hong Kong Arts Festival- You are definitely in for a treat if you happen to be lover of performing arts. Excellent dramas and Chinese operas along with Ballet performances take place on the arena with the best artists across the globe are some of the typical sightings at the Hong Kong Arts Festival. 
  • Cheung Chau Bun Festival- This is a Taoist ritual that differently celebrates the birth of Lord Buddha. It attracts both the rural population and tourists who are pleased to taste the Kwon Kam Kee buns, a staple of the festival.

Religion

Chuk Lam Sim Monastery, Hong Kong
Chuk Lam Sim Monastery, Hong Kong
The people of Hong Kong believe in praying to the omnipotent Lord despite being a part of the Chinese Republic. Although there is no bar to practice other faiths, Buddhism and Taoism are the major religions prevalent in the culture of Hong Kong. You would thus find Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Judaism having equal importance here as well.

British Occupation of Hong Kong

British Occupancy of Hong Kong
British Occupancy of Hong Kong
With the beginning of the Opium War, Hong Kong was under the occupation of the British from 1841. The then colonized region was known as British Hong Kong. However, it was also occupied by the Japanese for a brief period of 1941 to 1945, after which the British regained occupancy. Land extension soon followed, and the New Territories were taken over by the British by signing a 99-year lease with China. The lease ended in 1997 and Hong Kong was handed back to China.

Kung Fu

Kung Fu Action
Kung Fu in Hong Kong
The Martial Art of Kung Fu is a highly popular part of the culture of Hong Kong. Residents take it up for exercise or even entertainment. Weekly Kung Fu lessons are held at street corners, in case tourists wish to learn some moves for free. Visitors are also guided to “Shaolin Wushu Culture Center” for discovering the spiritual essence of Kung Fu in Hong Kong. 

Gambling in Hong Kong

Gambling in Hong Kong
Gambling in Hong Kong
Gambling is legal in Hong Kong with certain social games such as Mahjong and tile games including a throw of dice being permitted in several clubs and establishments. They are approved as long as it is not used to make profits. It is the “Hong Kong Jockey Club” that has a monopoly over all sorts of betting games including lottery games, football betting and horse racing.

Cantonese Opera

Cantonese Opera
Cantonese Opera Performance
The Cantonese Opera is the most popular form of entertainment among the present culture of Hong Kong. You would be spellbound by the riveting performances held at select venues across Hong Kong. The Artform is a skilful combination of Chinese legends, music and theatre. Interested individuals ensure to obtain the required training before participation as well.

The “Chinese University of Hong Kong” also offers a course in Cantonese Opera to the students. However, the English version of this opera is fast emerging and has been well accepted by the younger crowds as well as the tourists who obtain a glimpse into the rich tradition of China and Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Etiquettes

Hong Kong Etiquettes
A gathering at the Gateway Camp Verse
The etiquette of the people of Hong Kong is not to be too brash or overpowering. On the contrary, the Hong Kongers tend to follow an unwritten rule when it comes to the social norms.
  • Getting drunk or embarrassing others publicly is a strict no-no.
  • It is not acceptable to unwrap a gift immediately after receiving it.
  • It is customary to keep your eyes lowered and wait to be introduced first.
  • It is important to use the family name for addressing a person instead of the first name.
  • While you may stand near the person you are speaking to, you should never make any kind of physical contact. Patting someone or holding hands is considered taboo with public displays of affection is frowned upon.
  • Making small talk and needless conversation is not considered polite and Hong Kong residents do not say ‘thank you’ or ‘please’ at every pretext.
  • Speaking loudly in public or holding the door open for a woman is not acceptable
  • It would be best to try and blend in with the crowd when you are in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong is a beautiful place with many exciting things to do and see. Taking some time to learn about the culture of Hong Kong as it is sure to give you some essence of belonging!

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