Friends in Hong Kong

Hong Kong means “fragrant harbor,” and its harbor is one of the most beautiful and important ports in the world.

Hong Kong is a British crown colony on the south coast of China. Part of Hong Kong is an island and part of it lies across the harbor on the Kowloon Peninsula about a mile away. This part of Hong Kong is called the New Territories and spreads out behind Kowloon on the mainland of China. China has leased this area to Great Britain in an agreement that expires in 1997.

Almost all the people of Hong Kong are Chinese and speak Cantonese, which is one of the dialects or forms of Chinese. At the University of Hong Kong, however, all teaching is done in English. Radio and television stations broadcast in English and also in several Chinese dialects.

The climate of Hong Kong is hot and humid in the summer and cool in the winter. Throughout the whole area there are shimmering green rice paddies. Rice and wheat are China’s most important crops. The Chinese people raise more livestock than any other nation, but few animals are used for food. Most farm animals do the work of tractors and trucks.

Lee Sau King wrote from Hong Kong to tell us about five festivals the Chinese people celebrate.

The best known is the Chinese New Year’s Festival that begins on the first day of each lunar year, which usually starts in February. It is celebrated for about a week, but the first three days are the most exciting. A parade is a part of the celebration and always features a scary dragon. The dragon isn’t real, of course, but is made of paper or cloth. Inside are men and boys who zigzag their way through the streets, hopping and jumping. The dragon’s mouth is open and has a bright red tongue sticking out. Sometimes it has horns of silver, a green beard, and eyes of gold and blue.

During the new year’s celebration people wear their best clothes and say special words of greeting to wish good luck. The Chinese new year is a time for people to rejoice and wish each other good fortune.

Firecrackers are a part of this Chinese celebration in many places, but they are forbidden in Hong Kong.

Boys and girls find money in little red envelopes hidden under their pillows as part of the new year’s celebration. A red envelope is used because the Chinese believe that red will bring good luck.

Food is an important part of this festive time. Every family buys special food such as melon seeds, sweets, and cakes to be offered to all visitors.

Ching Ming is held in March each year to pay respect to the dead. Parents and children take flowers, food, and incense to the graves of their ancestors. They bow or kneel in front of the graves as a sign of respect. On every Ching Ming day in Hong Kong, long lines of people wait at railway and bus stations to travel to the graves of loved ones.

The Dragon Boat Festival is held May 5. This festival honors a great poet named Wat Yuen who lived more than a thousand years ago. He tried to persuade the king not to go to war, but the king at that time was very wicked and didn’t care whether the people were killed or mistreated. Wat Yuen was so sad about this that he jumped into a river and was drowned. All the people grieved over the death of this great man, and in his honor they still hold the Dragon Boat Festival.

Another festival held August 15 each year is called the Mid-Autumn Festival. This is held in memory of the revolt of the people against a long-ago enemy—the Mongol warriors who swept down on China from the north. At that time the leaders of the Chinese people planned a revolution. They sent messages about the revolution inside of little cakes to tell the people when the revolution would start and what each one should do. On August 15, when the moon was full, the people gathered and rebelled against the Mongols. Since that day, on August 15 the Chinese eat a special cake called moon cake. Children have a parade of lanterns that night, and everyone feels as if the moon shines down on them with an especially bright light.

The Festival of Tung Chi marks the coming of winter. In the past this was the time when farmers had finished harvesting their crops and felt they could rest until spring came again. Although work continues now for most of the people year-round, Tung Chi is still celebrated.

Boys and girls in Hong Kong celebrate these five festivals, but they also celebrate Christmas, and New Year’s on January 1, the same as people in other parts of the world.

A favorite game that children in Hong Kong play is called Tsoo Tsoo. It is much like the game of Blindman’s Bluff. The child who is “it” wears a blindfold and is called the hen. The other players are called chickens. The purpose of the game is for the “chickens” to try to touch the “hen” without getting “pecked.”

[illustrations] Illustrated by JaNeanne Webster