The current population of Hong Kong is a melting pot of Chinese and non-Chinese, permanent and non-permanent residents, including expatriates and foreign workers who come to work in Hong Kong on a short-term basis. 

About 92 percent of the 7.5 million population are Chinese, with the vast majority speaking Cantonese. The Chinese population may appear outwardly homogenous but includes ethnic groups like the Hakka, Hoklo and “people of the water” (traditionally known as Tanka), who have their own traditions and dialects, although younger generations have largely assimilated into the Cantonese-speaking community. 

The city is also home to sizable non-Chinese communities, some of which date back to the colony’s founding. Additionally, there is a vibrant, multicultural international community of more transient residents, passing through the city on one- or two-year contracts with global firms, or as domestic helpers. Nationalities represented in the city include Americans, Australians, Britons, Canadians, Filipinos, French, Indonesians, Indians, Kiwis, Nepalis, Portuguese, Thai, Vietnamese and many more. Hong Kong has also seen an influx of migrants from mainland China since reunification in 1997.

The result is a melting pot of cultures, languages and backgrounds — where English is widely understood and used.

Religion and Belief

Many different faiths are represented in Hong Kong.

Tung Shing

The Chinese almanac, Tung Shing, is widely consulted whenever any life change is contemplated. It has its roots in historical superstition and belief, and is still greatly respected as a practice.


Taoism is a philosophical and ancient tradition and religious belief that is deeply rooted in the principles of living in harmony with the “Tao” or “the way.” The Tao is the force that is behind all things, and all things are unified by the Tao. Taoist priests supervise worship, officiate at marriages and burials, and advise on building locations and the placement of furnishings with feng shui. Taoist festivities are seen throughout the year on auspicious dates. The Tin Hau Temple and the Wong Tai Sin Temple, named after Taoist deities, are the best places to be during key festivals. However, do expect that all these places will attract huge crowds during those days.

Taoist temples in Hong Kong include:

  • Che Kung Temple
  • Man Mo Temple
  • Tin Hau Temple
  • Wong Tai Sin Temple


Buddha, born in 563 BC, taught compassion for all living things throughout his life. Buddhism focuses on personal spiritual development and the attainment of insight, peace and enlightenment. It is one of the dominant beliefs in Hong Kong and China. Buddha’s birthday is celebrated in Hong Kong with a general holiday and with many activities around the city, especially at the Po Lin Monastery. The Hong Kong Buddhist Association (Chinese website only) is the largest organization in Hong Kong; it provides charitable and social services to the public.

Buddhist temples in Hong Kong include:

  • Chi Lin Nunnery
  • Guan Yin Temple
  • Lin Fa Temple
  • Miu Fat Buddhist Monastery
  • Po Lin Monastery
  • Wong Tai Sin Temple

As well as these, there are many smaller places in Hong Kong that teach Buddhist meditation. One place that offers information to newcomers to Buddhism is the Buddhist Lodge of Laity on Queen’s Road in Central.


Roman Catholicism
The Roman Catholic Church in Hong Kong was established in 1841. There are more than 350,000 Catholics in Hong Kong. Services at most of the 52 parishes are conducted in Chinese; three-fifths of them also conduct services in English. Tagalog services are also available for the Filipino community. The diocese runs Catholic schools and kindergartens providing education for thousands of students. The official welfare arm of the Hong Kong diocese, called Caritas, provides social services to many non-Catholics in Hong Kong. The diocese also publishes two weekly newspapers for the community, The Sunday Examiner in English and Kung Kau Po in Chinese.

A list of parishes can be found on the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong’s website.

Protestant Christianity
With around 300,000 Protestants attending church regularly in Hong Kong, the community comprises 1,500 congregations and over 70 denominations. The Protestant community dates back to 1841 in Hong Kong and is committed to community service, education and social welfare. Major denominations are Anglicans, Baptists, Lutherans, Adventists, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Methodist, Pentecostal, Salvation Army and the Church of Christ in China (representing Presbyterian and Congregational traditions).

Protestant organizations operate and run nurseries, kindergartens, primary and secondary schools, seven hospitals and many social service organizations. Three post-secondary schools were founded by Protestant organizations but are now independent, government-funded entities with no controlling ties to religious groups: Chung Chi College at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Baptist University and Lingnan University.

There are Protestant churches all over Hong Kong. Apart from the many Chinese-language churches, there are ones that offer services in both English and Cantonese, while others use English as their predominant language. These range from small, traditional communities to large, modern mega-churches which conduct lively services. Most of these bigger churches have their own website where they post weekly schedules. Some even have their own in-church social networking sites. The Protestant community publishes two weekly Chinese-language newspapers: The Christian Weekly and The Christian Times.

The Hong Kong Christian Council is an ecumenical organization that facilitates cooperation among Protestant churches in Hong Kong.

Churches offering English services include:

  • Calvary Church
  • Church of All Nations
  • Community Church
  • Discovery Bay International Community Church
  • Evangelical Community Church
  • Island Evangelical Community Church
  • Kowloon International Baptist Church
  • Shatin Anglican Church
  • Solomon’s Porch
  • St. John’s Cathedral
  • The Vine
  • Union Church
  • Watermark Community Church


There are roughly 100,000 Hindus living in Hong Kong, including both recent migrants and families of south Asian descent that have lived in Hong Kong for generations. Although Hindu temples tend to be concentrated on the Kowloon side, the Hindu Temple in Happy Valley, established in 1949 by the Hindu Association, is a major nexus for the Hindu community in Hong Kong.


According to the most recent census, there are more than 300,000 Muslims living in Hong Kong. Of these, 30,000 are Chinese and many more are immigrants or migrant laborers from Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Middle East and Africa.

Charitable work in the Islamic community providing financial aid for the needy, medical care and education assistance is conducted through various Muslim organizations in the city.

The Chinese Muslim Cultural and Fraternal Association is the major organization representing Chinese Muslims in Hong Kong. The Incorporated Trustees of the Islamic Community Fund of Hong Kong manages the masjids, Muslim cemeteries and a kindergarten in the city; it also certifies the supply of halal food in Hong Kong. The Islamic Union of Hong Kong aims to improve the general welfare of Muslims in Hong Kong and educate the broader community about Islam.

Masjids in Hong Kong include:

  • Jamia Masjid
  • Kowloon Masjid and Islamic Center
  • Masjid Ammar and Islamic Center


The Hong Kong Jewish community dates back to the 1840s. It comprises families from various parts of the world who worship at three main synagogues:

  • The Ohel Leah Synagogue
  • Chabad of Hong Kong
  • United Jewish Congregation of Hong Kong

The Jewish Community Centre in Mid-Levels is a hub of activity for the Jewish community in Hong Kong.

Local Customs and Superstitions

Plenty of Chinese people are still a bit superstitious, and being mindful of local customs and traditions wherever you go in Hong Kong will only benefit you professionally and socially. To start with, take note of the following cultural Dos and Don’ts.


  • Present and receive business cards with both hands, examine it, and show appropriate interest in the person’s job title, as a sign of respect.
  • Stand up as key people enter the room (meeting or dining), and always direct your attention to them, even if there are communication and language barriers.
  • Observe proper seating etiquette. Traditionally, the most important person or people sit at the head of the table, looking toward the door, and a hierarchical seating order follows from there.
  • Help to pour tea for others at a Chinese-style meal or banquet whenever you see that those near you have empty teacups. It is also courteous to serve food to those next to you, before serving yourself.
  • Leave a little bit of food on your plate as a guest at a Chinese meal; an empty plate signals that you are still hungry and that the host’s provision wasn’t sufficient.
  • Give food, fruits, flowers, or money (in a red lai see envelope) as gifts.


  • Point at someone with just your index finger. This is considered downright rude. Gesture instead with an open hand.
  • Give gifts, flowers or bills of money in fours. The Chinese word for the number four sounds like “death,” and is extremely inauspicious. Many office and residential buildings don’t have a fourth floor.
  • Open gifts when you receive them. This is generally saved for later.
  • Stick chopsticks straight up in rice during meals; this carries connotations of offering food to the dead. Chopsticks should be placed on a chopstick rest when not in use.
  • Cause anyone to lose “face” or pride, which is an enormously important element in Chinese culture. Even light jibing or playful mockery can be seen as offensive.
  • Give a clock (or watch) or shoes, because the Cantonese phrase for “giving a clock” sounds like the phrase for attending a funeral, and the word for “shoes” sounds like “rough” in Cantonese.

    Don’t cause anyone to lose “face” or pride, which is an enormously important element in Chinese culture. Even light jibing or playful mockery can be seen as offensive.


    Death being a taboo subject in Chinese culture, it is not easy to find information on cemeteries and funeral parlors in Hong Kong. Most modern funeral parlors in Hong Kong cater for both religious and non-denominational funerals of all kinds. Certain hospitals also have a memorial hall for private ceremonies.

    There are two categories of cemeteries and crematoria in Hong Kong: government-run public cemeteries and private cemeteries. A portion of the latter category may be affiliated with specific religions. Another detail to note is the price difference of burial plots between these two types of cemeteries.

    Although historic cemeteries and the colorful joss paper models that are burned as offerings for the dead may make for interesting photographs, it is considered unlucky to photograph them.

    The Hong Kong Cemetery in Happy Valley is adjacent to other cemeteries of specific religions: The Hindu Cemetery, The Jewish Cemetery, Hong Kong Parsee Cemetery, St. Michael’s Catholic Cemetery and The Muslim Cemetery. The Hong Kong Christian Churches Union Pok Fu Lam Road Cemetery is another large cemetery on the Island.

    Although historic cemeteries and the colorful joss paper models that are burned as offerings for the dead may make for interesting photographs, it is considered unlucky to photograph them.

     Most cemeteries in Hong Kong provide both coffin burial plots and niches for cremated ashes. But due to the small land size in Hong Kong, coffin burial plots have become very limited, and the same applies to niches. There is currently an allocation system for these niches.

    The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department provides details on cemeteries, crematoria and a list of licensed undertakers and funeral parlors.

    Lai See

    The giving of “lai see” or lucky money as gifts is a large part of Hong Kong Chinese culture. During Chinese New Year, weddings or other important occasions, adults — or people who are married and have their own families — will give out notes of cash in varying amounts to children, unmarried persons and service staff for good luck. Banks and many other retailers will give out specially printed and designed lai see envelopes to their customers for free. 

    The giving of lai see or “red packets” is a traditional practice that symbolizes giving out good luck, and as a reward to those who serve. During these occasions, it is the spirit of giving that is celebrated, and the gesture is greatly appreciated by the receiver no matter the amount. As crisp, fresh bills are preferred, in the weeks leading up to Chinese New Year you will see long queues of customers waiting at banks for new notes.

      Elderly Chinese grandmothers, grandfathers, matriarchs and patriarchs will get stacks of lai see packets ready to give out to everyone. The boss or owner of a company will give staff lai see on the first day of work after the holiday as a gesture of appreciation and to welcome them back.

      If you’d like to take part in the practice, keep the following etiquette tips in mind:

      • Children should never offer lai see to service staff or other adults, as this is considered disrespectful.
      • Lai see envelopes should be offered and received with two hands, and not opened in front of the giver.
      • Give lai see the first time you see someone, at any time during the two-week Lunar New Year period.

      Political System

      Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. Its status is defined by the Basic Law (adopted in 1990 by the National People’s Assembly of China), which serves as the “constitution” of the territory and is based on the “one country, two systems” principle.

      The territory is governed by a Chief Executive, elected for five years by a college of 1,200 large voters including parliamentarians, eminent personalities and representatives of the professional sectors.

      The government answers to the Chief Executive and is composed of 16 ministers (Secretaries) who are assisted by 19 senior functionaries who hold the title of “Permanent Secretaries.” In hierarchical order, the three main government posts are the Chief Secretary (who is second to the Chief Executive), the Financial Secretary and the Secretary for Justice.

      In addition, the Chief Executive is assisted by an Executive Council or ExCo which includes the government ministers and 16 non-official members, who are parliamentarians nominated by the Chief Executive or personalities from the business world or from civil companies. The ExCo serves as the Council of Ministers by being the venue for formulation of government policies. This council is consulted for all important political decisions. It meets once a week, under the chairmanship of the Chief Executive who should specially justify decisions in case of disagreement with the majority of its members. The unicameral legislative power is conferred to a Legislative Council (LegCo).

      The LegCo votes for and amends laws and can also introduce any new proposal. It examines and approves the budget, taxes and public expenditure, and appoints the judges for the Court of Final Appeal and the President of the High Court. It is also responsible for monitoring the conduct of the Chief Executive and ensuring the government appropriately applies its policy.

      LegCo members are on the council for four years. The government is dependent on lawmakers’ support, which is often given through a vote of confidence. The Chief Executive does not have the power to dissolve the legislature. He or she cannot refuse to sign a bill which has been voted in by two-thirds of the parliament. 

      Hong Kong traditionally maintained a high degree of autonomy from China but is not independent from Chinese politics. As such, there are no governing political parties. Legislative matters are largely carried out through the business or professional sectors; political parties will often officially register under the auspices of a company or business corporation.

      In June 2020 the Chinese Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress enacted a national security law prohibiting acts of “secession, subversion, organisation and perpetration of terrorist activities, and collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security” in relation to the HKSAR. The initial response from the international business community was mixed, with some saying it stabilized the business environment and others speculating how it would be enforced. The Hong Kong government has published an English-language booklet explaining the law.

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