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What Are the Differences Between Hong Kong & Mainland China?

differences between hong kong and mainland china
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August 15th, 2018 by the owner

Hello everyone! Today I’m sure that there are quite a bit of people who are wondering about the answers to this question, so I’m going to tell you about my personal experiences & impressions from my trips to these very similar AND different places.

The differences between Mainland China and Hong Kong are somewhat diverse: some can be seen easily while visiting and others require some deeper knowledge of the area or first-hand experience.

From what I’ve noticed between 2013 and 2018, Mainland China and Hong Kong are different in these ways:

  • general mindset
  • foreigners
  • international cuisine
  • business
  • general freedom of speech and connection to the outside world
  • social etiquette, protocols, and manners
  • speed of walking
  • government system and laws
  • language proficiency
  • overall modernization
  • relationship with other countries
  • international status

So what do I know about China and Hong Kong?

I moved to China in 2013, just one week after my first trip to Asia where I also stopped in Tokyo for the first time.

While my initial landing in China was actually in Shanghai, I was only there for a couple of hours in order to transfer for a flight to Hong Kong. After I arrived in Hong Kong I stayed one night at a local hotel before catching the train to Guangzhou the next day.

From 2013 until today I have spent a total of more than 5 years in China. For one and a half years, I lived in Guangzhou and made many trips to Hong Kong.

In total I have been to Hong Kong more than 30 times, and while it may sound like a lot, in truth it makes sense when you consider how close it is to Guangzhou and how different it is from mainland China. I was able to take a much-needed break from the incessant, ever-present issues such as internet blocks and poor selection of international foods.

You may or may not know that mainland China blocks many websites on the internet including sites or services like Google, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, therefore there were times when I was just so frustrated with fighting for a connection that I would just go spend my days off in Hong Kong and camp out online. Seriously.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

What is the difference between Mainland China’s and Hong Kong’s internet openness?

Straight out of the gate, China blocks many widely-used and even go-to or important internet websites and services on the mainland.

As of the date of this writing, the block includes absolutely everything from Google, such as Translate, Gmail, Maps, Search, and more–they even block Google-run services such as Captcha-style boxes, so if it’s required to log-into a website, you don’t do it in Mainland China.

A vast array of websites are blocked in China and you can’t use any of these at all without a VPN (virtual private network) but even then I wouldn’t say that it works well, and as matter of fact, sometimes it doesn’t connect at all. Could you accept this? It’s challenging to say the least.

As of 2018, the internet still remains open and uncensored in Hong Kong.

Because of the strict and limited access to the internet in China’s core I found myself wanting to spend more time in Hong Kong for not only ease of access to the internet but also to explore the city and learn more about the differences between it and Mainland China (if you’re interested in how to prepare for a trip to China, then check out my article about it!).

I’ve never actually needed to use my VPN for anything in Hong Kong to-date, although I will sadly say that the strict controls that Beijing are ever-tightening on HK are being felt by not only the locals, but by millions across the earth. So, what it will be like in the near and distant future, we can only speculate.

What’s the difference in freedom of speech between Hong Kong and Mainland China?

Freedom of speech in China’s mainland is, more or less, tightly controlled.

It’s easy to assume that freedom of speech in China is not preferential if you’ve never been there, but I wouldn’t say that it’s as straight-forward as that.

You see, in order to understand exactly how China works, you really need to have an extended period of exposure to it, but even then it doesn’t always make sense. This is actually the reason why many foreigners tell stories of how dumbfounded or astounded they are after witnessing just how some things transpire on the mainland.

Personal freedoms in China, in general, aren’t “bad,” but there is basically one caveat: you can’t openly go around expressing dissatisfaction or criticism of the current ruling party, either publicly or online. In private, it can also get you into trouble, and if you are going to work in China, then it may  just be in your contract that there are some “sensitive” issues you aren’t allowed to touch on.

The media outlets here, from TV to internet to printed materials, are all state-controlled and not independent in any way whatsoever. People who veer away from what they’re told to report or print something that the leadership doesn’t want can actually lose their jobs or be slandered.

These delicate issues, of course, are government/political matters and religious ones, particularly ones which hold foreign or domestic criticisms against the ruling party and its policies, procedures, etc. Simply put, it’s “Just say no…thing.”

However, if you are talking about anything that doesn’t stir people up into crowds of angry mobs or directly insults or goes against government policy, you can more or less say whatever you want–and trust me, I know many who do!


Hong Kong truly is what I would call an international City. While it does have a very strong Chinese flavor it is not like any other place I’ve ever visited on Earth and it is definitely much different than any City in mainland China.

In Hong Kong people don’t stare and point at me and say “laowai!” or “waiguoren!” which basically means foreigner. People will stand to the side on the escalators so that you can pass if you’re in a hurry. This is also very different than anywhere I’ve been in China because there even in big cities like Shanghai are still many people who will be attracted to me because I am obviously a foreigner and most people are completely unaware of my need to pass or be in a slighty-more-than-average-hurry.

Also, even in larger cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, or Guangzhou, people on the escalators will not always move to one side; furthermore, it seems to me that mainlanders are not ever in a hurry to get anywhere, even in the large cities. When I walk through the subway stations I always think that the people are walking too slow and I find myself passing everyone in front of me.

I have never had someone approached me in Hong Kong, say hello, or point at me and say look at the Foreigner! To add to this, it is much easier to communicate with anyone in Hong Kong than it is to communicate with people in mainland China anywhere, due to the fact that their English is much better. However, I will say that the English level in Hong Kong seems to have dropped in recent years, probably due to changes brought about by the government in Beijing.

This leads me to another big topic about Hong Kong, that is the relationship with the central Chinese government.

It is no secret across the Earth that there is some friction existing between the people in Hong Kong and the central government in mainland China. There are people on both sides who disagree–and some disagree strongly. In Hong Kong there are regular protests which escalate at times and at other times seem not as severe. The one consistent fact is that there are regular protests, whether big or small.

Luckily for me, even though I have been to Hong Kong many times, I have never been really inconvenienced or felt like I was in any danger. There was one time when I wanted to go to Central Station but I was not able to because the police had closed that stop due to protesters and demonstrators. However, even after I arrived in the area, I did not feel like there was anything to be afraid of. People were expressing their opinions and holding signs but no one appeared violent or dangerous.

For now I will stop this article but I want you to know that I’m going to add more information about Hong Kong in the near future, telling you a little bit more about its shopping culture, its food culture, places of interest, Disneyland, my trip to the Lamborghini store, and even the more seedy side of the city.

I hope you’ve enjoyed what I’ve said so far, and I will see you next time!

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