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The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, more commonly known simply as Hong Kong, is an autonomous territory of China, based on Hong Kong Island. It is situated south of the Guangdong Province, and east of Macau, and on the eastern side of the Pearl River Estuary.

The territory known as Hong Kong consists of Hong Kong Island, the Kowloon Peninsula, the New Territories, and more than two hundred smaller islands, the largest of which is Lantau Island. Hong Kong, without the New Territories, became a British colony after the First Opium War in 1842, when China was forced to cede its claim to the region. In 1860, after the Second Opium War, Britain was given a 99-year lease of the New Territories in 1898. During World War II, Japan invaded and occupied the islands until 1945, when Britain again took control of the colony. In 1997, when the 99-year lease of the New Territories had expired, the entire region became an autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China.

Prior to the region being handed over the China, tens of thousands of its citizens left for the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand during the 1980s. The concerns of the Hong Kong people were intensified in 1989, when the Chinese military killed pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. In an attempt to soothe the concerns of the people of Hong Kong, the Chinese government introduced a Bill of Rights in 1990, and allowed Hong Kong to elect eighteen of the sixty members of the Chinese Legislative Council. China also agreed to allow Hong Kong to handle its own internal administrative, legislative, and judicial matters.

Under a “one country, two systems” agreement, Hong Kong is given a degree of autonomy over its internal affairs, maintaining its own political and economic system, while China has jurisdiction in foreign affairs and defense. However, Hong Kong has developed and maintains separate relationships with foreign governments and international organizations, such as the World Trade Organization. Hong Kong has its own monetary system, separate from China, and the region has developed into a global financial center.

Relationships between Hong Kong and mainland China have been tense, however. The people of Hong Kong were not trusting of the promises made by the Chinese government, which had frequently been accused of reneging on promises made, and of interfering in Hong Kong’s internal affairs. Hong Kong has elected pro-democracy candidates to its political offices, including representatives to the Chinese Legislative Council. Calls for democracy on the part of Hong Kong have been continuous, although its pro-democracy parties have been often divided over matters of political strategy.

One of the most densely populated areas in the world, Hong Kong has the most skyscrapers, particularly in the area surrounding Victoria Harbour. Of concern to many of the people of Hong Kong are the mainland Chinese migrants who have come into the city over the past decade, as they are placing a strain on Hong Kong’s public services. Meanwhile, tourism has increased the cost of living for Hong Kong residents and businesses, and Hong Kong real estate rates have gone up considerably, so that wealthy mainland Chinese are buying up property that local residents can no longer afford.

While the overall economy of Hong Kong is high, it has the highest income gap in the Asia-Pacific region, and the income gap has increased considerably since the transfer of sovereignty to China, with about 20% of earners receiving 60% of the income.

Religious freedom is protected in Hong Kong, by law and in practice. Nevertheless, most of the Hong Kong population does not have a religious affiliation. Once heavily Christian, fewer than 12% of the population identifies as Christian today, while a larger number adhere to either Buddhism, Confucianism, or Taoism. Most, however, identify as agnostics or atheists.

The literacy rate in Hong Kong approaches 96%, and nearly 25% of its population has achieved a bachelor’s degree or higher. The official languages of Hong Kong are Chinese and English, while Cantonese is spoken by the majority of the population. Mandarin is also common, particularly among those who have recently emigrated to Hong Kong from mainland China.

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