- Since 1997 Hong Kong has been a Special Administrative Region of China, retaining rights such as freedom of speech guaranteed in its Basic Law
- The West Kowloon Cultural District is a flagship cultural infrastructure project which will be completed over the next ten years
- A number of historic government buildings have been turned into cultural or creative centres through public-private partnerships
City data: Key facts
Geographical area: 1,104 sq. km
Total population: 7,265,500
Working age population: 4,551,500
Number of households: 2,470,000
Education level - with degree level or higher: 29.8 %
Average income per capita per year (ppp): 56,609
Median gross weekly earnings (ppp): 596
GDP (ppp) (million): US$ 416,799
Creative industries employment: 5.7 %
Having become a British concession at the middle of the nineteenth century, Hong Kong quickly developed as a free port. In 1997, when Britain’s 99-year lease on the New Territories ran out, Hong Kong was handed over to China. Under the terms of the handover, the previous capitalist system and way of life of Hong Kong shall remain unchanged for fifty years. Under the principle of ‘One Country, Two Systems’, Hong Kong shall retain the rights enshrined in its Basic Law, including freedom of speech, of the press and the right of private ownership of property, etc.
Today Hong Kong has a population of over 7 million, of whom over 90% are of Chinese descent. Despite a low birth rate, its population is growing, primarily due to immigration from the Mainland China. There are also significant communities of Indonesian and Filipino migrant workers. Around 12% of Hong Kong residents are mainland immigrants.
Based upon business, trade and finance, Hong Kong’s economy has benefitted from its status as a ‘super connector’ between the East and West, supported by its lack of corruption, low taxation and rule of law. However, the economy has faced challenges in recent years: these include the global financial crisis in 2008, rising property prices, competition from Chinese cities, etc.
Due to its history, Hong Kong is considered the most cosmopolitan and outward-looking city in China, with a distinct identity grounded in Chinese tradition but enriched by western cultural influences. With a vibrant culture sector, it helps preserve the history of Chinese art forms – for example, Chinese opera (Xiqu). Traditionally most of the city’s investment has been in finance and property, but there is a growing recognition of the importance of creativity and the creative industries. One sign of this is that middle-class parents are now increasingly willing to consider the idea of their children pursuing careers in the cultural sector. Between 2005 and 2014, the creative and cultural industries grew significantly faster than the Hong Kong economy as a whole, both in terms of employment and value added.
Cultural policy in Hong Kong is the responsibility of the Home Affairs Bureau, with the Leisure and Cultural Services Department acting as its executive arm for the delivery of programmes. The Culture and Heritage Commission Policy Recommendation Report of 2003, endorsed by the government, mapped out an approach relying upon principles like people-oriented approach, pluralism, partnership, and freedom of expression. It also recommended that the role of government should be gradually changed from “administrator” to “facilitator”.
A flagship cultural infrastructure project is the West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD), which will be completed in stages over the next ten years. It is planned as an integrated arts and culture district which will foster the growth of the creative industries and promote Hong Kong internationally. It will include fifteen performing arts venues and an Exhibition Centre that will be focused around the arts. It will also be the site for M+, a new museum focusing on 20th and 21st century visual culture, whose permanent home is planned to open in 2019.
In 2008 the government launched the ‘Revitalising Historic Buildings Through Partnership Scheme,’ which restores and re-purposes government-owned buildings through public-private partnerships. Many of these buildings have been turned into cultural landmarks or hubs for design and creative industries. For example, a twentieth-century-built former hospital complex has become the Jao Tsung-I Academy, a cultural centre offering a full range of activities including lectures, courses, workshops and educational activities. Its facilities are used for conferences and community events. The former headquarters of the Marine Police have become 1881 Heritage comprising a heritage hotel, shopping mall and heritage attraction. And the former Police Married Quarters have become PMQ, a hub for the design and creative industries which includes studios, shops and offices and houses nearly 100 businesses.
The Hong Kong Arts Development Council conducts annual surveys of the arts scene in the city. In 2013-14 it found that there were 142 performing arts programmes, exhibitions and art film screenings available to residents per week. Performing arts productions had increased by 8.3% over the previous year, with the greatest increase being in variety and pop shows, followed by Xiqu. Key independent cultural venues in the city include the Hong Kong Fringe Club, the Hong Kong Arts Centre and the Asia Society Hong Kong Centre.
The city is vibrant as a market for visual art – possibly the largest in Asia, one of the largest in the world – due to its history as a trading centre and its lack of taxes on art. A large number of private auctions and international art fairs take place in the city. One of the most significant is Art Basel Hong Kong, which represents over 3000 artists.
Hong Kong has a unique status as a Special Administrative Region of China and a ‘super-connector’ between East and West. As a centre of international finance and business, it faces economic and political challenges based on its new position. But a growing recognition of the importance of creativity and creative industries offers new opportunities to the city.