From food to weather to language to government, there are many, many differences between Hong Kong and mainland China. We’ve compiled a list of nine of the most major points that differentiates one from the other to help you get to the bottom of these drastically different, incredibly unique cultures.
Cantonese vs. Mandarin
Based on the Beijing dialect of the language, Standard Mandarin has been the official language of China since 1955 and is spoken by more than 70% of the Chinese population. All mainland Chinese schools teach in Mandarin, though outside of school, many Chinese people speak a regional dialect or language in their homes.
The official languages of Hong Kong, however, are “Chinese” and English. Chinese, in this case meaning Cantonese, a southern Chinese language that is mutually unintelligible in its spoken form from Mandarin and the other Chinese languages. That being said, the script used in Hong Kong is (usually) legible to mainland Chinese people, as long as they have been familiarized with traditional Chinese script that is used in Cantonese. The next point will clear up this very confusing fact for you.
Traditional vs. Simplified Chinese Characters
Those from Southern China, including those from Hong Kong, use Cantonese but write with Traditional characters. In mainland China, people speak Mandarin and write with Simplified Chinese characters. Among many other differences, the appearance of the characters is different and, as the name indicates, the characters are simpler in Simplified Chinese, therefore easier to write and memorize.
Two Very Different Histories
China suffered many turbulent years after the fall of the last imperial dynasty, the Qing dynasty, in 1912. Between the Chinese Civil War, the Sino-Japanese War, and even after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, millions of people died also as a result of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, both of which were failed attempts of reforming the country into a productive, socialist society. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the country started seeing some normalcy with economic reforms that helped to decrease poverty and ultimately to positively reshape the country.
Hong Kong, on the other hand, was spared from the horrors that China was facing because of its British colonization, with the exception of the Japanese occupation from 1941-1945. Many Chinese people fled to Hong Kong from mainland China in search of safety and as a result, Hong Kong’s economy skyrocketed. In 1997, when the city was once again ruled by the Chinese, it became semi-autonomous, allowing for a capitalist economy and independent legal system.
Hong Kong Umbrella Revolution | ©Studio Incendo/Flickr
Possibly the most significant difference between Hong Kong and the rest of the China is that mainland China is Communist while Hong Kong has a limited Democracy. Hong Kong has its own legal and judicial systems, loosely based on the British common law model, complete with its own government head.
However, when it comes to land regulations and family matters, the Chinese customary law is used. Despite the separation in systems, the mainland Chinese government does force itself into Hong Kong politics, causing protests and demonstrations in the region.
Additionally, there are different currencies and exchange rates that should be taken into consideration. Hong Kong uses the Hong Kong Dollar (HKD) while Mainland China uses the Chinese Yuan (RMB).
The Presence of English
A high standard of English is expected to be taught in Hong Kong schools and once students reach university age, it is not uncommon for them to study abroad in English speaking countries. Pretty much everything in the city is bilingual, ie. signs and menus, government documents and services throughout Hong Kong are written in English, so foreigners have an easier time getting by here than in the rest of China, where English is not commonplace or common knowledge.
The Internet and Social Media
In mainland China, the government regulates the Internet with their own separate Internet world with what is known as the “Great Firewall”. The country has its own social media apps and blogging sites, and if you do decide you want to access any of the blocked foreign sites, such as Facebook or Google, you have to use a VPN (virtual private network).
In contrast, Hong Kong has no “Great Firewall” nor is there a need for a VPN. Because of this, Chinese apps are less common here and the western websites and apps are all widely used.
The Cultural Beliefs
Although Hong Kong is often considered westernized in many aspects, locals tend to be quite superstitious. From praying for good luck at the Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees, to the belief in feng shui – a belief in the relation between spacial arrangement and orientation to energetic flow – to regularly attending temple, people from Hong Kong hold their traditions close, and their practices and beliefs closer.
In mainland China, intellectuals rejected traditional customs, superstitions, societal beliefs, and Confucian ideas. Many were even banned completely during the Cultural Revolution, as it was believed that this helped them to become more modernized. Although attitudes have relaxed about these traditional customs and ideas, Hong Kong still remains the more superstitious society.
Of course, because of mainland China’s massive size, different parts of the country have different climates.
Northeastern China, specifically Harbin, is quite chilly all year round, especially during the winter months. Harbin is even referred to as the “Ice City” because of its long, harsh winters and short, cool summers.
If you travel a bit more south to the Beijing area, the weather is far more temperate.
The Sichuan region is has a subtropical monsoon climate, meaning that it sees mild winters but very hot and humid summers.
When it comes to Hong Kong, unless you are traveling during December or January, you will be dripping sweat. Additionally, Hong Kong’s air quality is generally cleaner than mainland China’s.
The Presence of Foreigners
Known as “Asia’s World City”, Hong Kong sees tourists all year round from all over the world. On the mainland, however, it is more common to see tourist groups of other mainlanders. International tourists make up only a small percentage of the total.
Portuguese egg tart | ©yosoynuts/Flickr
Mainland China is known for its incredibly delicious, unique and cheap local street food stalls, whereas Hong Kong’s food options are far less affordable. Restaurants are more luxurious and very pricey, unless you are buying yourself bread or Portuguese egg tarts.