Before I became involved with my CE trip to China, I have to admit I didn’t have any clue where Hong Kong was. I knew it was part of Asia, but that was honestly about it. (I’ve mentioned before how absurd it is that I’m allowed to be a teacher with my highest level world history class being a 10th grade world culture survey course.)
Hong Kong is on the southern part of the Chinese mainland. You can see it in the lower right part of this map:
Knowing so little about Chinese history, I didn’t understand why Hong Kong was separate from China when they seemed to be part of the same country. The short version is this: After many years of trading with Hong Kong, in 1856-58, the British tried to take over Hong Kong because they wanted to trade opium more freely. In 1898, the British signed a 99-year lease for Hong Kong, which included 232 islands in the South China Sea.
The British government was renting the land from China, but because so many European people wound up living in Hong Kong, the area is commonly seen as more Westernized than mainland China, which didn’t let many Westerners in until the 1980s and 1990s.
I got most of my information about Hong Kong’s history in Culture Shock! Hong Kong, by Betty Wei and Elizabeth Li. The library surprisingly only had the 1995 version, so it was printed while Hong Kong was still a British colony. The book was reprinted in 2008, so I would like to read that version and see what’s different now that China/Hong Kong is back in control. If you visit the Wikipedia page on the history of Hong Kong, you can scroll down to a section that shows what has changed and what has remained unchanged after 1997.
Tomorrow marks the 12th anniversary of the return of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China. The 99-year lease ended on June 30, 1997, and the handover ceremony took place the next day.
According to most of the encyclopedias I checked, it seems that Hong Kong mostly takes care of its laws and governance, except for its army. So even though China is technically in charge, most decisions happen right in Hong Kong under a policy called “one country, two systems.”
This leads me to an interesting fact that Mr. Chan pointed out to me — in Hong Kong, three banks are authorized to print Hong Kong dollars, the currency of Hong Kong (which is different from the Chinese yuan).
So you might have two bills that are worth the same amount of money, but allegedly they could look completely different! I’m interested to see what this looks like in person — I worry that I might get confused…
Although this is admittedly a highly simplified view of a complex region, I always appreciate any corrections or feedback on points I may have gotten muddled.