Hong Kong, a city long steeped in culture
Editor's Note

Hong Kong means many things to many different people. 

To mark the 25th anniversary of the city's return to the motherland, this part of the China Daily series features 25 architectural and cultural icons that are representatives of the city's dynamism and prowess.

Hong Kong, which bridges the Chinese mainland with the world, has exported its cultural charms to the four corners of the globe, and its influence far exceeds all that can be included on this list.

1. Cantopop

It was in the 1970s when local Cantonese cultural industries became profitable, and Cantopop - a genre of pop music written in traditional Chinese and sung in Cantonese - finally came to the fore.

Hong Kong's Cantopop stars such as Anita Mui Yim-fong, Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing, and Alan Tam Wing-lun quickly became household names when Hong Kong's entertainment industry took off during the 1980s. In 1990, Cantopop soared to new heights when the "Four Heavenly Kings" - Jacky Cheung Hok-yau, Andy Lau Tak-wah, Aaron Kwok Fu-shing, and Leon Lai Ming - dominated the singing industry, and new talents such as Beyond, Grasshopper, and Faye Wong continually sprang up.

Almost two decades after her untimely death, pop icon and movie star Anita Mui Yim-fong continues to enjoy cult status in Hong Kong. (Photo/China Daily)

To this day, Cantopop is still widely accepted and recognized in the countries and regions of Asia, having an influence on current pop culture and remaining in the memories of many.

2. Hong Kong films

Once hailed as the Oriental Hollywood, Hong Kong's motion picture industry used to be the world's third largest, after India's and the United States', and the second-largest movie exporter globally from the 1980s to the early 90s.
Three Hong Kong brothers set up film company Shaw Brothers in 1958, laying the foundations for the city to become a film-making hub. In 1970, two Shaw Brothers executives left to form the Golden Harvest studio and soon succeeded with a 1971 deal with movie star Bruce Lee for the martial arts film The Big Boss. Soon, Bruce Lee led Hong Kong films out of Asia when he became the shining light of Chinese kung fu.
Hong Kong's film industry boomed in the 1980s and 1990s, with various types of films appearing, including Jackie Chan's martial arts films, Stephen Chow Sing-chi's comedies, and John Woo Yu-sen's action crime films. The Hong Kong film industry still plays a prominent role on the world stage today.

[Photo provided to China Daily]

3. Kung fu superstars

Martial arts films remain one of the most famous genres in the history of Hong Kong's movie industry. Regarded as the most influential martial artist of all time and a pop culture icon of the 20th century, Bruce Lee was noted for his four feature martial arts films and one posthumously released unfinished movie in the 1970s. He tried to bridge the gap between East and West when he was making his way in Hollywood. He was also the founder of Jeet Kune Do (the intercepting fist), which combines combat skills Wing Chun, tai chi, boxing, and street fighting.
Jackie Chan, who was seen as the successor to Bruce Lee for many years, was unknown to the public until he established his own comedic kung fu genre in the 1978 film Snake in the Eagle's Shadow. He has performed in more than 150 films, and changed the way Asians are portrayed in American films. Hong Kong's film industry has also seen the rise of kung fu stars such as Donnie Yen Ji-dan.

4. Comics of Hong Kong

In the golden era of the 1980s, Hong Kong sold five million comics a year. Old Master Q, the oldest Asian comic series in publication, was created in 1962 and is still in publication today. McDull - the only comic character with a sculpture in the Avenue of Stars - has gone from comics to television to seven feature films. Fung Wan, a local comic released in 1989, was adapted for films, video games, and Taiwanese television series. Hong Kong's comics have enjoyed such widespread recognition that animator Raman Hui Shing-ngai was invited to participate in the design of Hollywood animation star Shrek.

5. Jin Yong's martial arts novels

Louis Cha Leung-yung, better known by his pen name Jin Yong, began creating his martial arts fantasy in 1955, and by 1972 he had written 15 popular novels, including The Legend of the Condor Heroes, Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre, and The Deer and the Cauldron. He created numerous distinctive characters, earning him a reputation as one of the greatest martial arts writers.
The renowned novelist passed away at the age of 94 in 2018. He was among the best-selling Chinese authors, with over 100 million copies of his works sold worldwide.

6. Cantonese Opera

Cantonese opera, a dominant form of telling stories through song, has taken in the operatic styles of many other popular operas, such as Kun tunes of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and the Xiqin and Han Opera of the early Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), as well as the operas from Jiangsu, Henan, Hunan, and Anhui provinces.
Originating in southern China's Guangdong province, it thrived in Hong Kong at the end of the 19th century. At that time, Cantonese opera artists left Guangzhou for Hong Kong and performed at theatres or bamboo sheds. Cantonese opera was chosen for the first batch of the national list of intangible cultural heritage of China in 2006 and inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009. In recent decades, Cantonese opera has enjoyed a revival as new venues and audiences increase. In 2019, Hong Kong opened Xiqu Centre, which takes its design cues from traditional Chinese lanterns, at the West Kowloon Cultural District.

7. Old Cantonese feature films

Old Cantonese feature films, the "predecessor" of Hong Kong films, refer to films produced from the 1940s to the early 1970s in Hong Kong, which were mostly in black and white, with plots based on folklore and ordinary people's daily lives.
People who did not have a TV at home would go to the herbal tea shops at that time, as the shops often hung a TV on the wall broadcasting the movies to attract customers. The films were so popular that studios completed all the shooting procedures from filming to post-production in a short time, sometimes only seven days. In the 1950s and 1960s, about 300 films were produced every year.
In the late 1960s, the number of old movies declined drastically as more European and American films emerged. Today, they remain cherished memories for the older generation.

8. Hong Kong afternoon tea

It is believed that afternoon tea culture was invented by a British duchess in 1840 who requested tea and light snacks every day at around 4 pm to assuage her hunger. In the 1930s, the concept was introduced to Hong Kong by luxury hotel The Peninsula Hong Kong.

Photo taken on April 23, 2022 shows the night view at the Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong, south China. This year marks the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong's return to the motherland. (Xinhua/Li Gang)

Over the next few decades, the city cultivated an obsession with the culture. To cater to local people's tastes, some Hong Kong cafes made localized adjustments to dishes and created a Hong Kong-style afternoon tea culture.

9. Hong Kong-style Western cuisine

Western foods were assimilated into Hong Kong cuisine after World War II. The local restaurants, called cha chaan teng by locals, developed a Hong Kong-style Western cuisine - nicknamed Western soy sauce - which included typical Cantonese ingredients, like ox tripe, soy sauce, noodles, and rice. Over the years, Hong Kong restaurants created various mixed-style food, including the famous "pantyhose milk tea", a kind of milk tea that substituted British fresh milk with condensed milk, and Hong Kong French toast, the Western toast special in its sweet and sour taste.

10. Hong Kong street snacks

Strolling down Hong Kong lanes to find street snacks can be one of the most worthwhile food experiences in the city. Hawkers or vendors at food stalls can be found throughout the city, especially in Mong Kok, Causeway Bay, Yuen Long, Tsuen Wan, and Kwun Tong. They sell a variety of snacks, local and international, ranging from local siu mai and Guangdong's red-bean pudding to Thai prawn cutlets.
Curry fish balls are probably Hong Kong's most iconic street snack - which can be found at almost every stall. Springy in texture, they are crispy outside and fluffy inside, and can be enjoyed on wooden skewers or in a bowl drizzled with plenty of chili oil. Another famous street food is Three Fried Stuffed Treasures, which is served as a set of three fried foods chosen by customers from a selection, which may include bitter melon, eggplant, tofu, long chili, fish balls, or Chinese red sausage.

11. Poon choi

It is widely accepted that poon choi dates back some 800 years to when the Song Dynasty (960-1279) was overturned by Mongol troops. Locals gathered the best food available to make a splendid stew to feed the Emperor, who escaped to what is now Guangdong province. However, there wasn't a container large enough to hold all the food, so the locals made a huge wooden washbasin to place it in.


[Photo provided to China Daily]

Hong Kong's poon choi culture is well preserved in the New Territories. It is traditional for the walled villages of the New Territories to hold basin feasts on occasions such as worship, weddings, and ceremonies. Poon choi, often seen at Chinese New Year family gatherings, brings clan members together and serves the social function of affirming their identities.

12. Hong Kong trams

Hong Kong tramcars - known to locals as "ding-ding" - have witnessed the development of Hong Kong over the last century. Trams were one of the earliest forms of public transport in the metropolis, and began to operate in 1904. At that time, there were 26 single-deck tramcars running between the east and the west along the northern coast of Hong Kong Island. More than 100 years later, the city has a fleet of 165 tramcars, including the world's largest double-deck tram fleet, carrying an average of 200,000 passengers every day. The tramcars continue to run on electricity to this day, and are regarded as one of the cheapest and most environmentally friendly ways to travel around the city.

13. Red vans

Among Hong Kong's best-known forms of public transport, the red minibus occupies a special place, as its routes and fares are not subject to any regulations. The drivers can change routes and prices anytime they want and passengers can ask them to stop and drop them off anywhere as long as it's legal. Based on these characteristics, some people consider red minibuses to be special big taxis. By December 2021, there were 977 licensed red minibuses, carrying about 219,000 passengers every day.
Back in the 1980s, sign-making for red minibuses was a lucrative business. The signs, usually hand-written onto plastic boards, featured inks of different colors, with red words indicating the destination and blue words indicating which places would be passed through en route, and were placed behind the windshield at the front of the minibus. Nowadays, many residents buy souvenirs modeled on the old minibus signs, such as key chains and fridge magnets.

14. Star Ferry

The Star Ferry service carries passengers across Victoria Harbour and is a vital and cheap way to commute between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon and a must-experience trip for visitors.
Its origins trace back to 1880 when a cook started the Kowloon Ferry Company, offering to ferry passengers across Victoria Harbour on his steamboat, the Morning Star. By 1890, the company boasted four ferries. Over the next 10 years, a businessman bought the company and renamed it Star Ferry, as it is known today.
The ferry ride is known for being one of the world's best value-for-money sightseeing trips, named by the National Geographic Traveler as "one of 50 places of a lifetime".

15. Peak Tram

Opened in 1888, the Peak Tram was the first funicular railway in Asia and is one of the oldest funicular railways globally.
The trip to Victoria Peak on Hong Kong Island takes about 8-10 minutes, and visitors can enjoy beautiful views of Victoria Harbour and the skyscrapers of Hong Kong.
The tram rises to 396 meters (about 1,300 feet) above sea level, and the journey is so steep that the buildings passing by seem to lean at a gradient of up to 25.7 degrees.

16. Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance

Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance has been held for more than 100 years. According to a local folklore, on a stormy night in 1880, villagers of Tai Hang killed a serpent. A few days later, a plague broke out and killed many people. A village was told by Buddha in their dreams that a fire dragon dance could dispel the plague. On the eve of the lunar month, villagers paraded with the fire dragon around the village. The plague was then dispelled and the villagers were saved.
Since then, the Tai Hang residents have been performing the Fire Dragon Dance every year, with hundreds of people parading with a 67-meter-long dragon lined with burning incense sticks, enshrouding the neighborhood in a warm glow. Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance was inscribed onto the third national list of intangible cultural heritage in 2011.

17. Tin Hau Festival

Tin Hau is the Goddess of the Sea and patron saint of fishing folk in Chinese culture. In the early days, many communities around Hong Kong made a living from the sea, and fishing folk would have a statue of Tin Hau aboard their vessels for blessings and protection.
To express their thanks to Tin Hau, people named her birthday - the 23rd day of the third lunar month - as the Tin Hau Festival. They hold various events like Cantonese opera performances and parades along waterways to celebrate her birthday. Tin Hau Festival in Hong Kong was inscribed onto the fifth national list of intangible cultural heritage in 2021.

18. Cheung Chau Da Jiu Festival

Although held on the same day as the Buddha's birthday each year, the festival is not a Buddhist festival but a Taoist one, celebrating the Taoist gods who dispelled plague and pirates.
Nowadays, the festival is a grand cultural spectacle with activities running for four days, including eating vegetarian foods, a parade with children's floats, and lion dances.
On the evening of the third day, the Cheung Chau Bun Festival is held, in which professional climbers compete to grab as many of the 9,000 buns hanging from a 14-meter-tall bamboo tower as they can, for good luck. The climber who gathers the most buns wins the game.

19. Yu Lan Festival

Yu Lan Festival is a large-scale folk activity in Hong Kong for 1.2 million Chi Chow natives. Nicknamed the Hungry Ghost Festival, it spans from the beginning to the end of the seventh lunar month every year, and has been held for more than 100 years.
The main objective of the festival is to distract restless spirits from creating trouble by holding traditional worship ceremonies for wandering ghosts in the netherworld. Highlights include burning paper offerings, performing Chiu Chow operas, burning effigies of the Ghost King, and distributing auspicious rice. The festival was inscribed onto the third national list of intangible cultural heritage in 2011.

20. Traditional 'villain hitting' ritual

Usually around March, in the run-up to Jingzhe, the third of the 24 solar terms in the traditional Chinese calendar, many professional old ladies are paid to perform a ritual called "villain hitting" or "petty person beating" under the Canal Road flyover between Hong Kong's Causeway Bay and Wan Chai, one of the busiest districts in the city. It is a widely-practiced ritual in Hong Kong and Guangdong province.
The ritual, done to curse one's enemy, usually requires human-shaped papers or images of the targeted enemy, with or without their personal information. The old ladies beat the images with shoes or other implements, while muttering curses. In 2009, Time magazine named the ritual the "Best Way to Get It Off Your Chest" item in its "Best of Asia" feature.

21. Bauhinia flower

A native species of Hong Kong, the bauhinia was chosen to represent the city in 1965. After Hong Kong returned to the motherland on July 1, 1997, it was used in the SAR's emblem and flag.
The flower, blooming in winter, is distinguished by intense, pinkish-purple petals. It can be seen everywhere, and is found on coins and in various Hong Kong government departments' insignia. The city also built a six-meter statue shaped like a bauhinia and placed it in the square in Wan Chai that marks the SAR's handover ceremony. The square is also named after the flower. Flag raising ceremonies are held at the Golden Bauhinia Square on important occasions, such as on July 1 every year.

22. Horse racing

Hong Kong's favorite sport, horse racing, has over 150 years of history in the city. The sport is so popular in the city that even former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping promised that "horses will keep racing" after China resumed its exercise of sovereignty over the city in 1997.
The British brought horse racing to Hong Kong in the 1840s and opened its first racecourse - Happy Valley Racecourse - in 1845. The Hong Kong Jockey Club, a non-profit organization to manage the territory's racing, was established in 1884 and turned this event into a professional sport in 1971. A second racecourse was opened in 1978 in Sha Tin, which was later used for the equestrian competitions during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

23. Neon signs

First introduced to Hong Kong in the 1920s, neon signs cascaded from the upper levels of tenement buildings, showing advertising. In the post-war period, they mushroomed in the city to promote various restaurants, hotels, nightclubs, jewelry items, pawn shops and other businesses. By 1970, neon lights covered the city's major streets, reflecting the city's prosperity and becoming one of its symbols.
In recent years, many neon signs have been replaced by more energy-efficient LEDs. But many artists, including film directors Wong Kar-wai and Ridley Scott, recorded Hong Kong's cityscape in their work to keep the neon lights shining.

24. Hong Kong-style retro makeup

When Hong Kong movies hit Asia in the 1990s, the beauty of Hong Kong actresses captured many people's hearts. Actresses such as Joey Wong Cho-Yee, Rosamund Kwan Chi-lam, and ChingmyYau Suk-ching quickly rose to fame and their iconic makeup was also impressive.
Hong Kong-style makeup cleverly outlined the actresses' facial features. Wearing their makeup, their eyebrows were often wild, creating a sense of heroism. The lipstick color was eye-catching, often rust red and maple leaf red. Fluffy, slightly curly dark hairstyles fluttered audiences' hearts every minute.
Lately, such makeup has made a comeback, with thousands of beauty bloggers on the Chinese mainland filming video tutorials to teach girls how to highlight their beauty with such makeup.

25. Craftsmanship of the Hong Kong cheongsam

Cheongsam, which means "long robe", refers to a traditional Chinese robe with a stand-up collar and right-fastening design. After World War II, many tailors moved from Shanghai to Hong Kong and enriched the craftsmanship of the Hong Kong cheongsam by taking up Western sewing skills.

Source: China Daily
Editor: Lyu Yun