Since Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997, there have been a plethora of changes in the country. However, in other ways, the country has remained much the same as it was under British rule. To this day, Hong Kong remains a special administrative region of China, which means that it is afforded special economic and political freedoms that the rest of the country is not afforded. Today, Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated places in the world, and has a GDP that is the 44th largest in the world. This is no mean feat for a country that is the size of a large city; it remains one of the largest centers for international business in the world, despite recent protests that occurred throughout the city.
- Historical and Cultural Background
One of the things that makes Hong Kong so unique is its former status as a British colony. Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997, which means that for the last 150 years, the British have had control over the city. There are still cultural and business structures that existed when the British were in control of the city. The British rule marked a number of changes in the city, and the city government was designed with a British system in mind, rather than a Chinese system.
The turmoil in China often affected Hong Kong’s political and cultural climate. After the Cultural Revolution, China re-instituted an open door policy with Hong Kong; this was a strategic political maneuver because Deng Xiaoping desperately needed to restore some kind of economic security in China (Song, Wong and Chon 2003). Hong Kong was a trusted trading partner with the western world, and the financial structure of the city far surpassed anything that China had in place at the time (Song, Wong and Chon, 2003). All the trade in the region between China and the rest of the world went through Hong Kong at this time; it just further solidified Hong Kong’s importance in the international business market in the years prior to the turnover in 1997 (Song, Wong and Chon 2003).
Politically, not much has changed in Hong Kong since the turnover; the political system and the ways in which the city is governed has not changed with the handover between Britain and the People’s Republic of China (Song, Wong and Chon 2003). Hong Kong continues to be the hub of China; although Beijing and Shanghai are both incredibly international cities today, Hong Kong continues to be the preferred business center for much of the international community (Song, Wong and Chon 2003). Song et al. (2003) suggest that this may be because there is the perception of lower levels of corruption in government in Hong Kong than mainland China; this may be in part to a 1980s-era program designed to stamp corruption out of the city of Hong Kong (Song, Wong and Chon 2003). Although the measure was productive in the 1980s, levels of corruption in Hong Kong have certainly changed since then (Song, Wong and Chon 2003).
Mong Kok is a neighborhood and cultural center in the southern part of the peninsula, north of Tsim Sha Tsui. It is a relatively poor area, there are pockets of wealth; on the weekends, the streets of the Mong Kok neighborhoods are closed to a massive night market. The night market is not a specialty market; it sells a little bit of everything, and this is what makes it so appealing to tourists in the area. Not only is it a place to buy anything, tourists can experience the bartering culture of Asia in the markets and easily slip out of the crowds into one of the globally-recognized chain stores that line the streets.
- Shopping in Hong Kong culture: Mong Kok
There is an incredible shopping culture in Hong Kong. It is impossible to go a few yards in most of the city without walking into a mall-- the millions and millions of Hong Kong residents love to shop. It is partially a cultural phenomenon-- the nature of the city has always been a place of wealth and business, and the culture of consumerism and materialism is a unique blend of east and west (Li et al., 2001). The fact that the city is a financial center means that there is a sizable population that has money to spend on luxury items; as a result, there are many western high-end stores in the city (Li et al., 2001).
Mong Kok itself is a relatively small area of the city, but it is unique in the sense that it is a true mix of eastern and western culture. The night market of Mong Kok is the traditional Chinese-style open air market-- hawkers with their goods, negotiating prices. However, along the streets, there are huge western-style flagship stores: Nike, Adidas, and a number of other huge multi-national brands have stores in Mong Kong.
- Economic Contexts
Hong Kong has a varied economy, and the tourist economy changes the shopping culture in the city significantly. One of the reasons why is the lack of duties, sales, and import tax on all the goods in the city; this makes it easier and cheaper for a traveler to buy something in Hong Kong than in surrounding markets (Censtatd.gov.hk, 2014). Companies are also attracted by these types of policies, because the taxes for companies are significantly lower as well-- businesses can operate at a very low income tax level (Censtatd.gov.hk, 2014).
One of the other reasons prices for goods in Hong Kong are so low is because they are located physically so close to the mainland. Mong Kok is also much easier for the mainland Chinese to access than other markets on Hong Kong Island (Mong Kok is located on the peninsula). Right over the border in Shenzhen lie all the factories that are used for production in southeast Asia; this means that transporting goods is very cheap, especially when combined with the low income, duties, and import taxes that Hong Kong charges (Censtatd.gov.hk, 2014).
Another thing to note about Hong Kong and the shopping culture is the fact that the Chinese culture has a number of independent festivals that require shopping, but they have also adopted many of the western holidays, like Christmas, which require shopping. Chinese New Year and Christmas often fall very close together, with the Western New Year in between; these are very common consumer-driven holidays, even in the west; when combined, they create a significant culture of consumerism in the city for most of the winter months (Censtatd.gov.hk, 2014). Mong Kok is a central destination during these shopping holidays, particularly Chinese New Year; many of the vendors specialize in selling the kinds of gifts that are commonly given at these times, like mooncakes.
- Social Contexts
In recent years, there has been an increase in tourism from the mainland to Hong Kong during these winter months; during this time, travel from the mainland increases, and the number of Chinese foreigners in the city also increases. This is quite an important source of shopping revenue for the city of Hong Kong, but it causes significant social strife at times as well (Choi et al., 2008). Zhuang and Lam (1999) write, “the importance of China outbound market to Hong Kong has drawn scholars’ interests in understanding what motivates Mainland Chinese to travel overseas. A model based on push and pull factors is adopted as a conceptual framework for the study, and the results indicate that the importance of push and pull factors in motivating Chinese travelers can be different from that found in other studies. The study also suggests that there is a significant relationship between travel motivations and social demographic factors” (Zhuang and Lam, 1999). The cultural friction between the mainland Chinese and the residents of Hong Kong has come to a head in recent years, as the number of Chinese tourists to Hong Kong increases, and the cultural differences become more apparent and more problematic to deal with (Zhuang and Lam, 1999). Shopping in Mong Kok at the night market on weekends is something of a tradition. Families go to do the shopping, but adolescents also go to hang out with their friends; on Friday and Saturday nights, Mong Kok is one of the most crowded places on the planet per capita.
- Local Tourism Policies
The same policies that make Hong Kong excellent for businesses are the policies that make Hong Kong excellent for tourists. Hong Kong is a port city, which means it exists essentially to move goods-- and move goods it does. There are hundreds of markets in Hong Kong, and they all cater specifically to a certain type of person. If a tourist is in need of jewelry, there is a jewelry market; if there is a need for electronics, there is an electronics market as well. These markets all exist in the same general locale within the city as well, making it easier for a shopper to see a large range of objects of the type that he or she is looking for (Zhuang and Lam, 1999). Mong Kok is central to all these markets, and unless there is a very special need that the individual has, most goods can be found within one or two MTR stops from the Mong Kok station.
There are a number of unique opportunities that have been provided to Hong Kong as a result of its place in the international market and its connection with China. The Chinese connection is both a blessing and a curse for the residents of Hong Kong, because the booming Chinese market means that more people are able to cross the border into Hong Kong and shop-- but it also means that there are a growing number of Chinese residents in the city. It is a complicated issue, and the line between tourism and resident for the Chinese and Hong Kong governments is unusually thin.
However, there are significant benefits for maintaining the shopping culture in Hong Kong. The money made annually by the shopping industry far outweighs the cost of the extra tourists in Hong Kong. Heung and Cheng (2000) write, “Tourism contributes significantly to Hong Kong’s economy. Tourists spend about 50% of their money on shopping. This study aims to identify the satisfaction attributes of shopping and assess their relative importance in affecting the satisfaction levels of tourists The results indicate that of the 15 attributes identified, tourists were most satisfied with “lighting and physical setting of shops,” followed by “window display of shops” and “opening hours of shops,” and were least satisfied with “product reliability” Results of multiple regression analysis reveal that Staff Service Quality has the most important effect on tourists’ levels of satisfaction with shopping in Hong Kong, followed by Product Value and Product Reliability” (Heung and Cheng, 2008). This indicates that there is a significant tourist economy, and that tourist have developed a taste for the aesthetic and the experience of shopping in Hong Kong.
- Potential Problems
The success of Hong Kong’s economy and the development of the shopping culture in Hong Kong is almost entirely dependent upon the understanding and acceptance of the behavior by the Chinese government. The Chinese government has the ability, at any time, to determine the rules and regulations of the Hong Kong government; by leaving the government free to act as it always has, the Chinese have ensured continued foreign investment in the city, and so on (Heung and Cheng, 2000). However, if the Chinese government were to change the rules in Hong Kong, it would likely lead to some instability in the economy. Foreign financial firms rely on the openness of the Hong Kong market to do business in Asia; if the financial markets were to collapse, the loss of foreign investment would almost certainly lead to a collapse of the economy and a significant reduction in tourism dollars (Heung and Cheng, 2000).
Another problem for the city is population; the city is already overpopulated, and the population continues to grow each year. As the population grows, the number of tourists to the city may decline, especially since Hong Kong is known to be so crowded already. The air pollution caused by so many people also may lead to a reduction in tourism dollars to the city in the future.
- Discussion and Conclusion
The market of consumerism in Hong Kong is really what drives the tourism dollars. Without the consumerism in the city, there would be far fewer tourists that were interested in traveling to the city. Shopping is a huge part of any trip to Hong Kong, particularly for individuals who have come from other parts of Asia where there is a similarly strong cultural love of shopping. The port nature of the city only adds to this; the constant flow of people and goods into and out of Hong Kong makes it an ideal location for a city full of malls. And indeed, that is what Hong Kong is-- a city full of malls and markets. Mong Kok’s central location to all of these markets in addition to its novelty for tourists make it one of Hong Kong’s most interesting cultural attractions.
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