Hong Kong was returned to China by Britain in 1997. Now it’s Chinese. Looking from the UK, that’s pretty much how things appear. It’s only as you get closer that you find it’s not so simple as that.
Sort of sovereign
In light of the current protests against extraditing Hong Kongers to Mainland China, I was reminded of my surprise – on crossing the land border – at the extent to which Hong Kong still feels like a separate state.
I first visited Hong Kong in the 2000s. At the time, I regarded it as my first visit to China. After all, it’s officially Chinese territory. On top of that, it’s quite clearly a Chinese city in ethnic and cultural terms.
When I took the boat to Kowloon, I was even surer I was in China. The district felt a little less Western, a little less British than Hong Kong Island. What’s more, Kowloon is on the mainland – in purely geographical terms.
Where does the mainland start?
I made my second visit to Hong Kong in January 2019. That time, I crossed the border between Hong Kong and what everyone calls ‘The Mainland’. I visited the Chinese city of Shenzhen – and this was no EU-style border.
The majority of Hong Kong’s land is actually a peninsula of the mainland, not islands. Along its 30km land border with ‘The Mainland’, there are several border crossings.
Whereas borders between sovereign states within the European Union can be crossed without even realizing it, you know all about moving from Hong Kong into Mainland China.
Passports and visas please!
You must pass Hong Kong border guards. Then you’re driven across no man’s land. Finally, you must pass Chinese border guards. All that can come as a shock to someone who thought it was all one country.
And officially it is. One country, two systems, and all that. Just don’t forget your passport.
Read more about my visit to Shenzhen in my blog: When Baldrick met a QR Code in China