The bustling city of Hong Kong was just a collection of fishing villages when claimed by Britain in 1842 following the First Opium War with China. This failed attempt by the Ching Dynasty to stop the British trading in opium led to Hong Kong being ceded to Britain under the Treaty of Nanking that year. The Kowloon Peninsula was handed over in 1860 and a 99-year lease on the New Territories, comprising the area north of Kowloon up to the Shenzhen River plus 235 outlying islands, was granted in 1898.
Under the unique principle of 'One Country, Two Systems', Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty on 1 July 1997 as a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China. This arrangement allows Hong Kong to enjoy a high degree of autonomy, retaining its capitalist system, independent judiciary and rule of law, free trade and freedom of speech.
Hong Kong's magnificent harbour has been the key to its development as a trading port and entrepôt for China, progressing through an industrial era to become a leading financial and services centre in Asia. The unique blend of eastern and western influences, matched by diverse attractions and stunning countryside, has also made Hong Kong Asia's prime tourist destination.
Cantonese is the Chinese dialect spoken by over 88% of the people in Hong Kong. However, English is widely used in the Government and by the legal, professional and business sectors as well as tourist areas. Most taxi drivers and salespeople are able to communicate in English.
Since reunification with China in 1997, Mandarin, more commonly known as Putonghua – the official dialect of China, has gained in prominence and most locals can at least comprehend it to a certain degree.
Chinese (Cantonese is widely spoken) and English are the official languages of Hong Kong. All official signs are bilingual (using traditional characters). Most shops and restaurants also have English signage, though don't expect this from the more local or rural establishments.
Renowned as the culinary capital of Asia, Hong Kong boasts more than 11,000 restaurants, many of them clustered in defined food districts. Apart from enjoying the best Cantonese and regional Chinese food, visitors can sample a full choice of authentic Asian cuisines and Western fare. Local must-try dishes are dim sum and fresh seafood, with some of the top examples found in Best of the Best award-winning restaurants.
For sheer variety of products and brands in all price ranges, Hong Kong is a unique shopping experience. From glitzy malls to funky street markets, and trendy boutiques to traditional Chinese product stores and themed shopping districts, you can find everything from the latest designer fashions and electronic gadgets to best-value antiques and collectibles.
Whether you are a vacationer, nature lover or cultural explorer, Hong Kong can cater for your every desire. Discover the myriad things to see and do in one of the most diverse and exciting destinations in the world.
For more information, visit the Hong Kong Tourism Board web site .