Westernisation in Hong Kong

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After the First Opium War in 1842, China ceded Hong Kong Island to Britain under the Nanking Treaty.[1] Subsequently in 1898, China leased the lands surrounding Hong Kong Island which includes the New Territories, the Kowloon peninsula and outlying islands to Britain rent free for 99 years under the Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory following China's defeat in the First Sino Japanese War.[2] These unequal treaties has granted Britain the power to colonise the whole of Hong Kong. Even though Hong Kong was eventually handed back to China at the handover in 1997, the British culture has remained evident in Hong Kong's way of life in various aspects after more than 150 years of British rule.[3] In several major aspects such as the education system, language and food culture, the British culture has been so ingrained during the colonial rule that it has become an integral part of Hong Kong culture.

The suburbs that are highlighted in red denotes popular expat residential areas. Expats generally reside in outlying islands and the Hong Kong Island.

Due to the colonial history of Hong Kong, it has become an extremely popular destination for expatriate workers. According to statistics, 4.6% of the 7 million population in Hong Kong are expat workers.[4] Besides from its colonial history, Hong Kong also attracts a large number of expat workers from overseas since it is one of the major financial centres in the world with attractive employment options, low tax rates, well developed public transport network and its bilingualism.[5] Although expats now have the options of other financial centres in Asia such as Shanghai, Beijing and Singapore, many still prefer to work in Hong Kong as salaries in average are relatively higher than that of other major financial centres while taxes remain low.[5] As a result, Hong Kong has been westernised continuously even after the 1997 handover.

Westernised Education System in Hong Kong[edit]

The education system in Hong Kong is mainly based on the UK education model under the British colonial rule.[6] Following the introduction of the comprehensive education system in the UK in the 1960s, Hong Kong also adopted this new education system.[7] Under the British comprehensive education model, students in Hong Kong attend 3 years of secondary middle school, 2 years of secondary school studies for the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination (equivalent of the UK's GCSE), 2 years of secondary school studies for the Hong Kong Advanced Level Examination (equivalent of the UK's GCS Advanced Level Exam) and 3 years of tertiary education.[8] Throughout the colonisation period, emphasis has been placed on a high level of Chinese English bilingualism in education which means the English language has been a compulsory and assessable subject that is a part of the core curriculum for all primary and secondary schools.[9][10] Before the 1997 handover, over 80% of the secondary schools in Hong Kong chose English as the medium of instruction with most textbooks and assessments in English.[10]

Immediately after the 1997 handover, the Hong Kong Education Department has issued a Guidance to encourage secondary schools into switching their medium of instruction to Chinese allowing only schools that can meet the requirements set out in the Guidance to continue using English as a medium of instruction.[8] Ever since the implementation of this policy, English as a medium of instruction (EMI) schools have been considered as academically stronger schools whereas the Chinese as a medium of instruction (CMI) schools are perceived to be for lower achieving students.[8]

In May 2005, the Education and Manpower Bureau has announced a shift from the original British education system to the new academic structure where students now attend 6 years of secondary school and 4 years of tertiary education.[8] Under the new academic structure, both the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination and the Hong Kong Advanced Level Examination have been replaced by the new Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination (HKDSE) which now resembles the education structure in the United States or China.[6] In spite of the change in the academic structure, English Language remains as a compulsory subject in the Hong Kong education curriculum.[8]

Commonly Used Languages in Hong Kong[edit]

Street signs and most names of stores in Hong Kong are written in both Chinese and English.

For over a century of British rule, English was the language used for all official matters by the Hong Kong government until the enactment of the Official Languages Ordinance in 1974 by the government.[9] The Ordinance states that both Chinese and English languages are the official languages of the Hong Kong government which possess equal status.[10] Similarly, the Hong Kong Basic Law that has been in effect upon the 1997 handover also recognises both Chinese and English Languages as the government's official language with Cantonese as the official spoken Chinese language and Traditional Chinese as the official written Chinese by practice.[9] In general, English remains the preferred language in legal, commercial, academic and other professional settings as yet.[11] Due to the equal status of both languages in Hong Kong, most of the government or commercial websites, legislations, documents, most signs such as street signs, signs for public transport or even commercial signs are written in both Chinese and English.

English Loanwords in Cantonese[edit]

In fact, Hong Kong has been so greatly westernised that the Cantonese language has borrowed a lot of words from English during the colonisation period and these loanwords have since been integrated as a part of the Hong Kong style Cantonese language. A large number of commonly used Cantonese words are actually phonetic borrowings from the English language which apply the Cantonese phonetic system to represent the most similar pronunciation of those English words.[12]


  • 巴士 (baa1 si2) — bus
  • 的士 (dik1 si2) — taxi
  • 孖展 (maa1 zin2) — margin
  • 拍乸 (paat1 naa4) — partner
  • 新地 (san1 dei2) — sundae
  • 啤酒 (be1 zau2) — beer
  • 多士 (do1 si6/2) — toast
  • 士多啤梨 (si6 do1 be1 lei2) — strawberry

– Source:[13]

Chinese Pidgin English[edit]

Chinese Pidgin English is a language created in the early 17th century by locals in Guangzhou region to facilitate trades between the Chinese and British after the British has established treaty ports in the region after the First Opium War.[14] The Chinese Pidgin English is recorded in the Chinese Almanac (Tung Shing) for readers to learn.[14]

Westernised Hong Kong cuisine[edit]

The epitome of westernised Hong Kong cuisine would be Hong Kong style Cafes (Cha Chaan Teng). The Cha Chaan Teng culture was developed in the 1950s to cater to the increasingly westernised population with fusion dishes that combine western cuisine and Hong Kong cuisine.[15]

Famous westernised food and drink items[edit]

  • Milk tea — an imitation of the traditional British afternoon tea, usually made with Ceylon black tea mixed with evaporated milk.
  • Hong Kong style French toast — similar to the original French toast but usually filled with peanut butter or kaya jam and served with butter and syrup.
  • Sandwiches — similar to the common British sandwich varieties.
  • Egg tart — similar to the British afternoon tea snack custard tart.

– Source:[16]


  1. ^ "Hong Kong profile - Timeline". BBC News. 2016-09-23. Retrieved 2016-10-04.
  2. ^ "Hong Kong Journal". 2008-02-17. Retrieved 2016-10-04.
  3. ^ Tsang, Steve (2004). A Modern History of Hong Kong: 1841-1997. London & New York: I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd. ISBN 9781845114190.
  4. ^ "Expats in Hong Kong - Statistics and Trends [Infographic]". Retrieved 2016-10-04.
  5. ^ a b "Booming Hong Kong lures record number of expat workers". Retrieved 2016-10-04.
  6. ^ a b "The Hong Kong Education System and school system explained". www.itseducation.asia. Retrieved 2016-10-04.
  7. ^ Leung, Beatrice; Chan, Shun-hing (2003). Changing Church and State Relations in Hong Kong, 1950-2000. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. ISBN 1402034059.
  8. ^ a b c d e Cheng, Yin Cheong (2009). "Hong Kong educational reforms in the last decade: reform syndrome and new developments". International Journal of Educational Management. 23 (1).
  9. ^ a b c Johnson, Robert Keith; Swain, Merrill (1997). Immersion Education: International Perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 173. ISBN 0521583853.
  10. ^ a b c So, Daniel W. C. (1996). "Hong Kong Language Policy". In Dickson, Peter; Cumming, Alister (eds.). National Profiles of Language Education in 25 Countries. Berkshire: National Foundation for Educational Research. pp. 41–46.
  11. ^ "GovHK: Hong Kong – the Facts". www.gov.hk. Retrieved 2016-10-04.
  12. ^ Bauer, Robert S.; Benedict, Paul K. (1997). Modern Cantonese Phonology. Berlin; New York: Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 3110148935.
  13. ^ Wong, Cathy S.P.; Bauer, Robert; Lam, Zoe Wai Man (August 2007). "The Integration of English Loanwords in Hong Kong Cantonese" (PDF). The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Retrieved 2016-10-04.
  14. ^ a b "Substrate influence on a language: Case study on Chinese Pidgin English - Language Contact". sites.google.com. Retrieved 2016-10-04.
  15. ^ "Cha chaan teng cheat sheet: What to order at the most popular eateries in Hong Kong | CNN Travel". Retrieved 2016-10-04.
  16. ^ "Hong Kong food | CNN Travel". Retrieved 2016-10-04.