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Culture of Hong Kong

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Culture of Hong Kong

The culture of Hong Kong can best be described as a foundation that began with China, and became more influenced by British colonialism. After the 1997 transfer of sovereignty to the People's Republic of China, Hong Kong continues to develop an identity of its own.[1]


  • Cultural identity 1
  • Social 2
  • Languages 3
  • Religion and beliefs 4
  • Holidays 5
  • Creative and performing arts 6
  • Cantonese opera 7
  • Pop culture 8
  • Cuisine 9
  • Shopping 10
  • Cinema 11
  • Mass media and publishing 12
  • Comics 13
  • Animation 14
  • Sports 15
  • Martial arts 16
  • Leisure 17
  • Gambling 18
    • Hong Kong Jockey Club 18.1
  • Hong Kong death tradition 19
  • Cultural gallery 20
  • See also 21
  • References 22
  • Further reading 23

Cultural identity

One-hundred-fifty years of rule as a separate British colony, as well as political separation from the rest of mainland China have resulted in a unique local identity. Elements of Traditional Chinese culture combining British western influences have shaped Hong Kong in every facet of the city spanning from law, politics, education, language, food, and the way of thought. It is for this reason that many people in Hong Kong are proud of their culture and generally refer themselves as "Hong Kongers" or "Hong Kong Chinese", to distinguish themselves from the Chinese in mainland China (which developed independently).


Happy Valley apartment blocks

Structurally, one of the first laws to define people's relationships was the Hong Kong Matrimonial Ordinance passed in 1972. The law set the precedence of banning concubinage and same sex marriages with a strict declaration for heterosexual relationships with one partner only.[2]

Other economic changes include families in need of assistance due to both parents working. In particular, foreign domestic helpers have become an integral part of the household since the late 1980s.

Traditional Chinese values such as "family solidarity", "courtesy" and "saving face" carry significant weight in the minds of the people. Hong Kong's mainstream culture derives from, or is heavily influenced by, the Cantonese from the neighbouring province of Guangdong, China. There are also substantial communities of Hakka, Fukien, Teochew and Shanghainese people.


Cantonese is the most widely spoken language in Hong Kong. Since the 1997 handover, the government has adopted the "biliterate and trilingual" (兩文三語 liǎng-wén sān-yǔ) policy. Under the principle, Chinese and English must both be acknowledged as official languages, with Cantonese being acknowledged as the de facto official Chinese language in Hong Kong, while also accepting the use of Mandarin.[3]

Religion and beliefs

People honouring gods in a dajiao celebration, the Cheung Chau Bun Festival.

Religion in Hong Kong is variegated, although most of the Hong Kong people of Chinese descent practice the Chinese folk religion[4]—which comprehends also Confucian doctrines and Taoist ritual traditions—or Buddhism, mostly of the Chinese variety.

According to official statistics for the year 2010, about 50% of the utter population belongs to organised religions, specifically there are: 1.5 million Hong Kong Buddhists, 1 million Taoists, 480,000 Protestants, 353,000 Catholics, 220,000 Muslims, 40,000 Hindus, 10,000 Sikhs, and other smaller communities.[5] A significant amount of the adherents of non-indigenous Chinese religions, in some cases the majority, are Hong Kong people of non-Chinese descent.

The other half of the population mostly takes part in Chinese folk religions, which comprehend the worship of local gods and ancestors, in many cases not declaring this practice as a religious affiliation in surveys. The traditional Chinese religiosity, including Chinese Buddhism, was generally discouraged during the British rule over Hong Kong, which favoured Christianity.[4] With the end of the British rule and the handover of the sovereignty of the city-state to China, there has been a renewal of Buddhist and Chinese folk religions.[4]


There are some distinctive holidays that are celebrated in Hong Kong as a part of eastern culture, and not generally in western countries, except among certain overseas Chinese communities. The most well known is Chinese New Year, which occurs approximately a month after Gregorian New Year, variably in late January or early February. Other events include the Dragon Boat Festival, where Zongzi is made by millions at home as part of the tradition. Dragon boats also compete for regional awards. Mid-Autumn Festival is another highly celebrated event, involving the massive purchase of Mooncakes from Chinese bakery shops.

Creative and performing arts

For participation or viewing, Hong Kong has available different kinds of performing arts, including drama, dance, music and theatre. Hong Kong is also home to the first full-time comedy club in Asia, The TakeOut Comedy Club Hong Kong.[6]

The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts is a teaching and performing institution with venues and campuses in Wanchai and Pokfulam

The Hong Kong Arts Centre, across the road in Wanchai, offers a variety of performance venues and galleries, and is supportive of other arts organisations.

Also, amid the city's intense economic activity are creative oases such as the Cattle Depot Artist Village and the Fo Tan artistic community.

Oi! arts center, in the historic Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, aims to promote visual arts in Hong Kong by providing a platform for art exhibitions, forums and other art-related activities.

Along with many government supported theatre companies. Hong Kong has also recently had a boom independent art groups.[7]

In 2014, Hong Kong had its first outdoor Shakespeare festival. Shakespeare in the Port performed at Cyberport.[8]

Cantonese opera

A Cantonese opera costume

Cantonese opera is one of the major categories in Chinese opera, originating in southern China's Cantonese culture. The art carries a national identity that goes as far back as the first wave of immigrants to arrive from Shanghai in the 1950s. Sunbeam Theatre is one of the places that hold the tradition. Like all versions of Chinese opera, it is a Chinese art form involving music, singing, martial arts, acrobatics, and acting.

Pop culture

Hong Kong Coliseum also is a Cantopop concert venue

Music: Cantopop had dominated and become synonymous with local music culture since its birth in Hong Kong, but the gradual demise of Cantopop gives rise to other forms of pop culture, mainly Korean, mainland, Japanese and western music. Still, Cantopop enjoys popularity. However, the global influence of Mandarin has influenced the style. Mandopop from Taiwan is fast gaining ground. Most artists are essentially multilingual, singing in both Cantonese and Mandarin. Hong Kong English pop, Japanese, Korean and western music are too popular among Hong Kongers.

Television dramas: Locally produced television dramas by the two free-to-air networks of TVB and ATV were highly popular and had contributed to a unique cultural identity among the Hong Kong population and serve as a cultural resource for the Cantonese-speaking community worldwide. However, the gradual demise of ATV and eventually, TVB, because of their poor quality TV shows and dramas made rise from other Asian nations, namely South Korea, Japan and Taiwanese TV shows dominate the latest TV trends in Hong Kong.

Celebrity: Hong Kong can be described as "gossip mad". The personal lives of singers, actors and celebrities in general are popular conversation topics and tabloid material. Hong Kong's thirst for gossip is not limited to local celebrities, but extends to celebrities from Taiwan, Japan and Korea. Many gossip magazines are also in circulation, and one of the most notable (or notorious) sections is the "HD Reality" section. Introduced after the implementation of HD broadcasting, the highly popular section shows HD photos of celebrities and analyses their attractiveness or unattractiveness.


Aberdeen Harbour, where one can catch a sampan to the Jumbo Floating Restaurant

Food holds an important place in Hong Kong culture. From dim sum, hot pot (da been lo), fast food, to the most rare of delicacies, Hong Kong carries the reputable label of "Gourmet Paradise" and "World's Fair of Food".

Hong Kong cuisine, which is influenced by western and eastern countries, is very diverse. Hong Kong also has its own style. An example would be Dai pai dong, Chinese style casual outdoor dining restaurant. Cha chaan teng came from bing sutt ("ice chamber"). Various set meals are served throughout the day for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner. Meals include Hong Kong-style French toast, Hong Kong invented drinks, yuanyang, and lemon iced tea.

There are many special foods and drinks in Hong Kong. Hong Kong-style Chinese pastries are carried by most bakeries in Hong Kong, like egg tarts, pineapple buns, wife cake, jin deui and cream bun. Even pastel de nata, a Portuguese egg tart, is being sold in KFC, the fast-food chain restaurant.[9]


Westernised stores such as U2 are numerous

Hong Kong, nicknamed "shopping paradise", is well known for its shopping district with multiple department stores. Many imported goods transported to Hong Kong have lower tax duties than the international standard, making most items affordable for the general public.[10] Hong Kong is identified by its materialistic culture and high levels of consumerism. Shops from the lowest end to the most upscale pack the streets in close proximity. Some popular shopping destinations include Mongkok, Tsim Sha Tsui, and Causeway Bay.


The cinema industry has been one of the most successful worldwide, especially during the second half of the 20th century. It remains prominent despite a severe slump starting in the mid-1990s. Martial artists and stars such as Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee are known globally, especially in Chinese settlements overseas. Many have transitioned over to Hollywood, including Chow Yun-fat and John Woo. Hong Kong cinema has received international recognition for directors such as Wong Kar-wai.

Mass media and publishing

Newsstand at Star Ferry Pier

Hong Kong has two main broadcast television stations, ATV and TVB. The latter, launched in 1967, was the territory's first free-to-air commercial station, and is currently the predominant TV station in the territory. Paid cable and satellite television have also been widespread. The production of Hong Kong's soap drama, comedy series and variety shows have reached mass audiences throughout the Chinese-speaking world. Many international and pan-Asian broadcasters are based in Hong Kong, including News Corporation's STAR TV. Hong Kong's terrestrial commercial TV networks, TVB and ATV, can also be seen in neighbouring Guangdong province and Macau (via cable).

Magazine and newspaper publishers distribute and print in numerous languages like Chinese and English. The printed media, especially tabloids but also broadsheet newspapers, lean heavily on sensationalism and celebrity gossips. While the practice is criticised, it continues to sell papers. The media is relatively free from government interference compared to that of mainland China, and newspapers are often politicised; some show scepticism toward the Chinese government in Beijing.[11]


Manhua cover of Tin Ha

Manhua are Hong Kong based comic books that have provided an avenue of expression long before the arrival of television. While readership has fluctuated throughout different decades, the art is one of the most consistent in terms of providing highly affordable entertainment. Manhuas are regularly available at news stands in most street corners. Characteristics of Old Master Q, Chinese hero and many others have undoubtedly showcased Chinese artwork and stories. Japanese manga have also been translated and fused into local manhua libraries.


While Hong Kong has had an endless supply from Japanese anime and US Disney animations, China has been trying hard to revitalise the industry. Hong Kong has made contributions in recent years with productions like A Chinese Ghost Story: The Tsui Hark Animation and DragonBlade. Most notably, companies like Imagi Animation Studios located directly in the territory are now pushing 3D-CG animations into the market. Most anime are broadcast early on weekend mornings.


With limited land resource available, Hong Kong continues to offer recreational and competitive sports. Locally sports in Hong Kong is described as "Club Life". Internationally, Hong Kong has participated in Olympic Games, and numerous other Asian Games events. Major multipurpose venues like Hong Kong Coliseum are found. Others include regular citizen facilities like Macpherson Stadium.

Martial arts

Martial arts in Hong Kong is accepted as a form of entertainment or exercise. T'ai chi is one of the most popular, especially among the elderly. Groups of people practise the motions in every park at dawn. Many forms of martial arts were also passed down from different generations of Chinese ancestry. Styles like praying mantis, snake fist and Crane are some of the more recognised. The atmosphere is also distinct as people practise outdoor in peaks next to ultra modern high rise buildings.


When not at work, Hongkongers devote much time to leisure. Mahjong is a popular social activity, and family and friends may play for hours at festivals and on public holidays in homes and mahjong parlours. The sight of elderly men playing Chinese chess in public parks, surrounded by watching crowds, is common. Other board games such as Chinese checkers are also enjoyed by people of all ages. Among teenagers, shopping, eating out, karaoke and video games are common, with Japan being a major source of digital entertainmment for cultural and proximity reasons; there are also popular local inventions such as Little Fighter Online.

In the past, Hong Kong had some of the most up-to-date arcade games available outside of Japan. Negative associations were drawn between triads and video game arcades. Nowadays, soaring popularity of home video game consoles have somewhat diminished arcade culture.

Outdoor activities such as hiking, barbecues and watersports are also popular due to the local geography.

Chess is run by the Hong Kong Chess Federation.


Mahjong table setup

Gambling is popular in Chinese culture and Hong Kong is no different. Gambling is legal only at three established and licensed institutions approved and supervised by the government of Hong Kong: horse racing (in Happy Valley and Sha Tin), the Mark Six lottery, and recently, football (soccer) betting.

Games such as mahjong and many types of card games can be played for pleasure or with money at stake, with many mahjong parlours available. However, mahjong parlours are slowly decreasing as licences are no longer obtainable and as a result many old mahjong parlours have been forced to close. Movies such as the 1980s God of Gamblers have given a rather glamorous image to gambling in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Jockey Club

The Hong Kong Jockey Club provides a major avenue for horse racing and gambling to locals, mostly the middle-aged. The club was established in 1844 by the British colonial government, with the first racecourse being built in Happy Valley. The club closed for a few years during World War II due to the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong. In 1975, lottery Mark Six was introduced. And in 2002, the Club offered wagerings for football world championship games including the English FA Premier League and the World Cup.

Hong Kong death tradition

The art of asking the dead has long been a tradition in Hong Kong. It is often common for those who are currently in the living to ask people who are in the dead about their lives. People bring about paper garments such as clothing, money and paper food to burn to those who have already deceased, in the belief that they will be able to receive them and have a better and more comfortable afterlife.

This tradition had started since the Spring-Autumn Warring Period in China, since 476 years BCE. This is a common ancient and traditional practice in China and Hong Kong. However the number of shops supporting this has since been on the decline as people are starting to believe less in luck and fortune nowadays.

When one performs the asking water practice, one pays a small fee to have someone place several drops of water on a table. The table then serves as the altar and portal into which the non-living beings go, and as such living people have a way in which Chinese believe they can approach the dead. Paper food, clothing and money is often torn into tiny bits, then burned and dissolved into the water, as though to give the money to those who have already deceased. However, this practice is very ancient and is no longer common in Hong Kong. Before, in the olden days when people were much more conservative, it was much more common to see people have "asking water" habits as people then were more religious and spiritual.

Another interpretation suggests that "Holy water" means money as the slang for money in Cantonese is "Holy water". Asking water is a symbolic meaning for the care which one places on one's ancestors and those who have deceased.

Cultural gallery

See also


  1. ^ Lilley, Rozanna. [1998] (1998) Staging Hong Kong: Gender and Performance in Transition. University of Hawaii. ISBN 0-8248-2164-5
  2. ^ Chou, Wah-Shan. Zhou, Huashan. [2000] (2000). Tongzhi: Politics of Same-Sex Eroticism in Chinese Societies. Haorth Press ISBN 1-56023-153-X
  3. ^ "Living in Hong Kong – Before You Arrive". Retrieved 8 September 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c Shun-hing Chan. Rethinking Folk Religion in Hong Kong: Social Capital, Civic Community and the State. Hong Kong Baptist University.
  5. ^ Hong Kong Government. 2010 Yearbook – Religion. Retrieved 23 September 2012.
  6. ^ South China Morning Post"Stand and Deliver",
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ DeWolf, Christopher, Ozawa, Izzy, Lam, Tiffany, Lau, Virginia, & Li, Zoe. (2010). 40 Hong Kong foods we can't live without. From
  10. ^
  11. ^ On Hong Kong Shelves, Illicit Dirt on China’s Elite 18 May 2013 New York Times

Further reading

  • Chan, Ka-yan and Jennifer Kwok. "Endangered Hong Kong Cultures and Dialects" (Archive). Varsity. School of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, November 2010. Issue 117. p. 40-43.
  • Cheung, Kwok-hung Stephen (張國雄). "Traditional folksongs in an urban setting: a study of Hakka Shange in Tai Po, Hong Kong" (Archive). University of Hong Kong, 2004. - Information
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