in this tiny, crowded British colony. Each one of those 6.3 million people has one big question: "What is going to happen on July 1, 1997?" On that day, China will regain control of Hong Kong. The colony has been under British rule for the past 155 years, a period of time that is a mere speck in China's 5,000- year history.
Today, Hong Kong is one of the world's leading financial and trading centers. Hong Kong exports textiles, clothing, and electronics around the world. A third of mainland China's imports and exports pass through Hong Kong. Under British rule, the people of Hong Kong have enjoyed many freedoms, although not total democracy.
China, by contrast, is a Communist country. At one time, is Communist government owned all the factories, farms, and businesses in China. Today, China welcomes private businesses. But the government still strictly controls the Chinese people, and severely punishes anyone who openly oppose it.
What Will Change?
Britain took control of Hong Kong Island in 1842, after defeating China in a war. In 1860, after another war, the peninsula of Kowloon was added to the colony. Then, in 1898, China leased the New Territories to Britain for 99 years.
Ninety-nine years seemed like a long time back then. Now, though, the time is almost up. Britain has agreed to return Hong Kong to China on July 1, 1997. China has promised that, for the next 50 years, Hong Kong can keep its free-market capitalist economy and lifestyle.
Will China keep its promise? No one knows. Many people think that China will not want to do anything that would scare away business and ruin Hong Kong's booming economy.
China's leaders say that there will be only one China, but two systems of government, China's and Hong Kong's. But some people in Hong Kong wonder how there can be one nation with two systems of government.
Claire Ellis, 13, and Michelle Shackleton, 15, go to a private school in Hong Kong. Claire came to Hong Kong with her parents from England. "I've lived here four years, and we will stay another four years," Claire told JS.
Michelle was born in Hong Kong. Her mother is Chinese, but her father is from New Zealand. When her father retires, the family will move to New Zealand. "I love Hong Kong, it's the only place I really call home," says Michelle. "It's a perfect place to grow up, it's fairly safe, and it has a great social life."
What will happen when China takes over? "I don't think China will allow freedom of speech," says Claire. "China will come in and say, "This is how things are going to be.""
Michelle does not expect that things will change overnight. "I expect that China will rule Hong Kong the same way it does mainland China," she says. "But things will change gradually, probably in a year."
Leave or Stay?
Many non-Chinese residents are not waiting to see what happens. "Some parents are sending their children back to schools in England," says Claire. "They want to know that, if someday they can't get out of Hong Kong, their children will be safe."
Some British residents are packing their bags and leaving Hong Kong. But a larger number are leaving Britain and moving to Hong Kong. That is because per-capital income in Hong Kong is higher than in Britain. Even menial jobs pay more.
Living in Harmony
About 93 percent of Hong Kong's people are Chinese. Most of the rest are British, Asian, Indian, Japanese, or Filipino. Although Hong Kong's people are of many different nationalities, they live in harmony.
Many Chinese are refugees from mainland China, who hang on to their rich and varied beliefs and traditions. For instance, many of them believe in Feng Shui (fung shway), which means wind and water. Feng Shui is about the balance between nature and man-made objects. Feng Shui followers believe that a building should have a hill behind it and water in front to achieve proper balance. No matter how high-tech a Hong Kong skyscraper may be, one can be sure that its builders consulted a Feng Shui expert before choosing the final design.
The Chinese love birds, and many have them in their homes. Many people also have aquariums, especially if their homes do not face the water. The color red is thought to bring good luck, so brides prefer red wedding dresses, and gifts are usually wrapped in red paper.
Hong Kong people are industrious and work hard. Most work in offices, service industries, and factories rather than in farming and fishing.
Wealth is very visible, just as it is in the U.S. "Some people have flashy cars and chauffeurs. They live in luxury apartments and wear designer clothes," says Michelle Shackleton. Cellular phones are not a luxury in Hong Kong, but part of everyday life. People rush from place to place while making calls.
When China Takes Over
Choi Siu Kei, 15. Is Chinese. He is known as Kendrick. He is confident that life in Hong Kong will not change once China takes over. "Nothing special will happen," he says. "it might be more difficult to find a job, because many people will move here from China, so there will be a lot of competition."
Kendrick wants to be a doctor. "Many doctors from China will come to Hong Kong to find jobs. But I think I also will find work. I don't think there will be a loss of freedom under Chinese rule."
Kendrick's mother is less confident. "I have a lot of worries, especially for my children," she says. "There is uncertainty about the future. I have friends who moved to Singapore, Australia, and other places. They were afraid that they would lose their freedom. People in Hong Kong are accustomed to being free. The new government may clamp down on people who have opposing views."
Kendrick's mother worries that the family may lose its apartment. "My husband works in the Corrections Department, and our apartment is provided by the government. We could lose it."
Some Hong Kong residents have passports from Britain or other countries. They can move to those countries if they want, but Kendrick's family cannot. "We have no choice, we must wait and see," says Kendrick's mom. "I am not very afraid of next year, but don't know about later on. I worry because Kendrick is not worried."
Kendrick would not leave Hong Kong even if he could. "I miss my friends who left, and I don't think they will come back" he says. "Not much will change in the near future. It's difficult to say what will happen in the long run."
At midnight on June 30, the British Union Jack flag will be lowered and the red flag of China raised over Hong Kong. Which prediction will come true: Kendrick's, Michelle's or Claire's?