It’s a bit tricky to apply a label to Hong Kong that fully conveys its geographic, cartographic, and political status. It’s not a country, though it demonstrates aspects of countryhood. It has its own currency, judiciary, and immigration office, for example. (A Hong Kong visa is entirely separate from a mainland China visa.) It’s not a city; though it certainly has wildly built-up urban areas, it also contains small villages that are clearly separate from each other. It’s not really a “metropolitan area,” at least not as Americans would think of that term, because some of the rural areas are reallyrural—they’re not suburbs, but yet those rural areas aren’t very far at all from the densest of the city.
Politically, it’s both part of China and not. The “one country, two systems” model allows for the separation of the currency, judiciary, and all that, but HK does not conduct its own diplomacy nor does it have its own military. Hence Hong Kong, like Macao—an easy one-hour ferry ride from HK across the Pearl River Delta—is a “Special Administrative Region.” You see the abbreviation HKSAR all over the place here.
So HK is a former British crown colony that was handed back to China (what Hong Kongers calls “the mainland”) in 1997with a promise that Beijing wouldn’t mess with HK for fifty years. The recent (evidently successful, for now) protests about plans to introduce more explicitly pro-China curriculum into HK schools indicate that Beijing is acting early (or prematurely, depending on your point of view). And that, combined with some larger cultural differences between HK and mainland China, leads to some serious tension that we’re only now really starting to get a handle on. (And which will no doubt be the subject of some future posts here.)