The question of whether Hong Kong is a country and the relationship between China, Hong Kong, and the United Kingdom can be confusing to foreigners, so students from China and Hong Kong explained the differences they share including Chinese characters, and Cantonese and Mandarin languages.
A Colony of the United Kingdom
According to “The History of Modern China,” the First Opium War was fought between the United Kingdom and the Qing Dynasty of China from 1839 to 1842. The Qing Dynasty was defeated and as a result, Hong Kong Island was ceded to the United Kingdom. Since then, Hong Kong had become a colony of the United Kingdom until 1997, excluding the Japanese occupation during World War II.
One country, two systems
According to “Modern History of Hong Kong,” in 1997, British Hong Kong was returned to China. The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China was established. The autonomous government of Hong Kong was founded. While socialism is implemented across China, the capitalist system in Hong Kong remained the same.
Nowadays, Hong Kong remains an autonomous state. Although Hong Kong is part of China’s territory, Hong Kong and China have different governments, laws and even different passports.
Cantonese and Mandarin
The official languages of Hong Kong are Chinese and English, according to the Hong Kong Basic Law. The most common language used in Hong Kong is Cantonese Chinese, which is spoken differently from Mandarin, according to BYUH students from Hong Kong.
Students from mainland China said they can’t understand Cantonese most of the time. Kiki Yao, a senior majoring in hospitality and tourism management from China, said, “The pronunciation of few words are similar. So when Hong Kongers say some simple phrases such as ‘Let’s eat,’ I can understand. But for longer sentences and conversation, I can’t.”
In Hong Kong, students in primary school are required to study the Mandarin language. However, most students from Hong Kong who were interviewed said they could understand Mandarin, but they seldom used it throughout the day or in their conversations with friends.
Monkey Yau, a Hong Konger sophomore majoring in TESOL education, explained, “We’re really out of practice. When talking to people from China, sometimes there are even words we don’t know how to say in Mandarin and we need to use English.”
Traditional and Simplified Chinese Characters
Traditional Chinese characters are currently used in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and some overseas Chinese communities. They can also be found in Honolulu Chinatown. Simplified Chinese characters are mainly used in mainland China, Singapore and Malaysia.
Due to the continuous wars in China during the 19th and 20th centuries, Chinese citizens from poor classes didn’t get the chance to receive an education. In 1949 when the People’s Republic of China was founded by the Communist Party of China, the percentage of literate population in China was higher than 80 percent, according to guancha.cn.
In the 1950s, the Chinese character Simplification Scheme was enforced in China to decrease the difficulty of studying characters for Chinese people. Simplified Chinese characters were therefore created, according to gov.cn.
The policy of simplifying traditional Chinese characters didn’t affect Hong Kong because it was under the United Kingdom’s administration at that time. The use of traditional characters in Hong Kong still remains today, while simplified characters have already become the official characters of China, according to the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Standard Spoken and Written Chinese Language.
Students from China said they can read most traditional characters. Yao explained, “Afterall, traditional and simplified characters still look similar. I think the only traditional characters that I really can’t read is less than 10 percent, those are some uncommon ones.”
Jojo Chan, a freshman majoring in TESOL from Hong Kong, said she sometimes wrote simplified characters to increase her writing speed. “I used simplified characters in exams. Exams are all about speed. I used simplified characters for writing homework.