Guide The British Official Film in South-East Asia: Malaya/Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong

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Table of contents

In fact the Malay claim to political dominance is that they are bumiputera sons of the soil. Similar struggles exist in east Malaysia, where the land rights of indigenous groups are bitterly disputed with loggers eager to harvest the timber for export. Due to their different colonial heritage, indigenous groups in Sarawak and Sabah have been less successful in maintaining their territorial claims. Commercial Activities. Basic necessities in Malaysia have fixed prices and, like many developing countries, banking, retail, and other services are tightly regulated. The country's commerce correlates with ethnicity, and government involvement has helped Malays to compete in commercial activities long dominated by ethnic Chinese.

Liberalization of business and finance proceeds with these ethnic dynamics in mind. Major Industries. The boom and bust in primary commodities such as rubber and tin have given Malaysian society a cyclical rhythm tied to fickle external demand. In the s the government began to diversify the economy helped by an increase in oil exports and Malaysia is now well on its way to becoming an industrial country. The country has a growing automotive industry, a substantial light-manufacturing sector textiles, air conditioners, televisions, and VCRs , and an expanding high technology capacity especially semi-conductors.

Malaysia's prominent place in the global economy as one of the world's twenty largest trading nations is an important part of its identity as a society. Primary trading partners include Japan, Singapore, and the United States, with Malaysia importing industrial components and exporting finished products. Palm oil, rubber, tropical hardwoods, and petroleum products are important commodities.

Division of Labor. The old ethnic division of labor Malays in agriculture, Indians in the professions and plantations, and Chinese in mining and commerce has steadily eroded. In its place, the Malaysian workforce is increasingly divided by class and citizenship. Educated urban professionals fill the offices of large companies in a multi-ethnic blend. Those without educational qualifications work in factories, petty trade, and agricultural small holdings. As much as 20 percent of the workforce is foreign, many from Indonesia and the Philippines, and dominate sectors such as construction work and domestic service.

Classes and Castes. Class position in Malaysia depends on a combination of political connections, specialized skills, ability in English, and family money. The Malaysian elite, trained in overseas universities, is highly cosmopolitan and continues to grow in dominance as Malaysia's middle class expands.

Even with the substantial stratification of society by ethnicity, similar class experiences in business and lifestyle are bridging old barriers. Symbols of Social Stratification. In Malaysia's market economy, consumption provides the primary symbols of stratification. Newly wealthy Malaysians learn how to consume by following the lead of the Malay royalty and the prosperous business families of Chinese descent.

A mobile phone, gold jewelry, and fashionable clothing all indicate one's high rank in the Malaysian social order. Given the striking mobility of Malaysian society, one's vehicle marks class position even more than home ownership.

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Most Malaysians can distinguish the difference between makes of cars, and access to at least a motor scooter is a requirement for participation in contemporary Malaysian social life. Kuala Lumpur has more motor vehicles than people. Skin color, often indicative of less or more time working in the hot tropical sun, further marks class position. Distinct class differences also appear in speech. Knowledge of English is vital to elevated class status, and a person's fluency in that language indexes their social background.

Malaysia's government is nominally headed by the king whose position rotates among the nine hereditary Malay rulers every five years. The king selects the prime minister from the leading coalition in parliament, a body which is further Beginning in the s, the government has attempted to increase the number of Malays living in urban areas like Kuala Lumpur above. Since independence Malaysian national elections have been won by a coalition of ethnic-based political parties.

UMNO rule is aided by the gerrymandered parliamentary districts that over-represent rural Malay constituencies. The UMNO president has always become Malaysia's prime minister, so the two thousand delegates at the biannual UMNO General Assembly are the real electoral force in the country, choosing the party leadership that in turn leads the country. Leadership and Political Officials. Malaysian political leaders demand a great deal of deference from the public. The Malay term for government, kerajaan, refers to the raja who ruled from the precolonial courts. High-ranking politicians are referred to as yang berhormat he who is honored , and sustain remarkable resiliency in office.

Their longevity is due to the fact that successful politicians are great patrons, with considerable influence over the allocation of social benefits such as scholarships, tenders, and permits. Clients, in return, show deference and give appropriate electoral support. The mainstream press are also among the most consistent and most important boosters of the ruling coalition's politicians.

Even with the substantial power of the political elite, corruption remains informal, and one can negotiate the lower levels of the state bureaucracy without paying bribes. However, endless stories circulate of how appropriate payments can oil a sometimes creaky process. Social Problems and Control. Through its colonial history, British Malaya had one of the largest per capita police forces of all British colonies. Police power increased during the communist rebellion the "Emergency" begun in , which was fought primarily as a police action.

The Emergency also expanded the influence of the police Special Branch intelligence division. Malaysia retains aspects of a police state. Emergency regulations for such things as detention without trial called the Internal Security Act remain in use; the police are a federal rather than local institution; and police quarters especially in more isolated rural areas still have the bunker-like design necessary for confronting an armed insurgency. Even in urban areas police carry considerable firepower.

Officers with Ms are not a rarity and guards at jewelry shops often have long-barrel shotguns. Criminals tend to be audacious given the fact that possession of an illegal firearm carries a mandatory death sentence. Since the police focus more on protecting commercial than residential property, people in housing estates and rural areas will sometimes apprehend criminals themselves. The most elaborate crime network is composed of Chinese triads who extend back in lineage to the colonial period. Malaysia is close to the opium producing areas of the "Golden Triangle" where Burma, Thailand, and Laos meet.

Drug possession carries a mandatory death sentence. Military Activity. The Malaysian military's most striking characteristic is that, unlike its neighbors, there has never been a military coup in the country. One reason is the important social function of the military to insure Malay political dominance. The highest ranks of the military are composed of ethnic Malays, as are a majority of those who serve under them. The military's controversial role in establishing order following the May urban rebellion further emphasizes the political function of the institution as one supporting the Malay-dominated ruling coalition.

The Malaysian armed forces, though small in number, have been very active in United Nations peace-keeping, including the Congo, Namibia, Somalia, and Bosnia. The Malaysian government has promoted rapid social change to integrate a national society from its ethnic divisions. Since poverty eradication was an aim of the NEP a considerable amount of energy has gone to social welfare efforts.

The consequences of these programs disseminate across the social landscape: home mortgages feature two rates, a lower one for Malays and a higher one for others; university admissions promote Malay enrollment; mundane government functions such as allocating hawker licenses have an ethnic component. But the government has also tried to ethnically integrate Malaysia's wealthy class; therefore many NEP-inspired ethnic preferences have allowed prosperous Malays to accrue even greater wealth.

The dream of creating an affluent Malaysia continues in the government's plan of Vision , which projects that the country will be "fully developed" by the year This new vision places faith in high technology, including the creation of a "Multi-Media Super Corridor" outside of Kuala Lumpur, as the means for Malaysia to join the ranks of wealthy industrialized countries, and to develop a more unified society.

Through its welfare policies the government jealously guards its stewardship over social issues, and nongovernmental organizations NGOs work under its close surveillance. The state requires that all associations be registered, and failure to register can effectively cripple an organization. NGO life is especially active in urban areas, addressing problems peripheral to the state's priorities of ethnic redistribution and rapid industrialization.

Many prominent NGOs are affiliated with religious organizations, and others congregate around issues of the environment, gender and sexuality, worker's rights, and consumers' interests. Division of Labor by Gender. Malaysia's affluence has changed the gender divide in the public sphere of work while maintaining the gendered division Young people are instructed at an early age to socialize primarily with kin.

Most conspicuous among the new developments are the burgeoning factories that employ legions of women workers on the assembly lines. Domestic labor is a different matter, with cooking and cleaning still deemed to be female responsibilities. In wealthier families where both men and women work outside the home there has been an increase in hiring domestic servants. Since Malaysian women have other opportunities, nearly all of this domestic work goes to female foreign maids. The Relative Status of Women and Men. Generally men have more power than women in Malaysian society.

Male dominance is codified in laws over such things as the guardianship of children. The top politicians, business leaders, and religious practitioners are predominately male. Yet Malaysian society shows considerable suppleness in its gender divisions with prominent women emerging in many different fields. Most of the major political parties have an active women's wing which provides access to political power.

Though opportunities for men and women differ by ethnic group and social class, strict gender segregation has not been a part of modern Malaysian life. Even with significant changes in marriage practices, weddings reveal the sharp differences in Malaysian society. There are two ways to marry: registering the union with the government; and joining in marriage before a religious authority. Christian Malaysians may marry Buddhists or Hindus answering only to their families and beliefs; Muslim Malaysians who marry non-Muslims risk government sanction unless their partner converts to Islam.

Marriage practices emphasize Malaysia's separate ethnic customs. Indians and Chinese undertake divination rites in search of compatibility and auspicious dates, while Malays have elaborate gift exchanges. Malay wedding feasts are often held in the home, and feature a large banquet with several dishes eaten over rice prepared in oil to say one is going to eat oiled rice means that a wedding is imminent.

Many Chinese weddings feature a multiple-course meal in a restaurant or public hall, and most Indian ceremonies include intricate rituals. Since married partners join families as well as individuals, the meeting between prospective in-laws is crucial to the success of the union. For most Malaysians marriage is a crucial step toward adulthood.

Although the average age for marriage continues to increase, being single into one's thirties generates concern for families and individuals alike. The social importance of the institution makes interethnic marriage an issue of considerable stress. Domestic Unit. Malaysian households have undergone a tremendous transformation following the changes in the economy.

The shift from agricultural commodities to industrial production has made it difficult for extended families to live together. Yet as family mobility expands, as a result of modern schedules, efforts to maintain kin ties also increase.


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Improved telecommunications keep distant kin in contact, as does the efficient transportation network. A dramatic example of this occurs on the major holidays when millions return to hometowns for kin reunions. The critical issue of inheritance is land. With the importance Malays place on land ownership, it is rarely viewed as a commodity for sale, and the numerous empty houses that dot the Malaysian landscape are testament to their absentee-owners unwillingness to sell.

Gold is also a valuable inheritance; Malaysians from all groups readily turn extra cash into gold as a form of insurance for the future. Kin Groups. The crucial kin distinctions in Malaysian culture are between ethnic groups, which tend to limit intermarriage. Among the majority of Malays, kin groups are more horizontal than vertical, meaning that siblings are more important than ancestors.

Those considered Malay make appropriate marriage partners; non-Malays do not. These distinctions are somewhat flexible, however, and those that embrace Islam and follow Malay customs are admitted as potential Malay marriage partners. Greater flexibility in kinship practices also appears among immigrant groups amid the fresh possibilities created by diasporic life.

A striking example is the Baba community, Chinese who immigrated prior to British rule and intermarried with locals, developing their own hybrid language and cultural style. These dynamics point to the varied kinship arrangements possible between the different ethnic communities in Malaysian society. Infant Care. Malaysian babies are lavished with considerable care. Most are born in hospitals, though midwives still provide their services in more remote areas. Careful prohibitions are rigidly followed for both the infant and the mother, according to the various cultural customs. New mothers wear special clothes, eat foods to supplement their strength, and refrain from performing tasks that might bring bad luck to their babies.

Grandmothers often live with their new grandchildren for the first few months of their new life. Child Rearing and Education. Malaysian child rearing practices and educational experiences sustain the differences among the population. Most Malaysian children learn the importance of age hierarchy, especially the proper use of titles to address their elders. The family also teaches that kin are the appropriate source of friendly companionship. The frequent presence of siblings and cousins provides familiarity with the extended family and a preferred source of playmates.

In turn, many families teach that strangers are a source of suspicion. The school experience reinforces the ethnic differences in the population, since the schools are divided into separate systems with Malay-medium, Mandarin-medium, and Tamil-medium instruction. Yet the schools do provide common experiences, the most important of which is measuring progress by examination, which helps to emphasize mastery of accumulated knowledge as the point of education. Outside of school, adolescents who mix freely with others or spend significant time away from home are considered "social," a disparaging remark that suggests involvement in illicit activity.

A good Malaysian child respects A textile worker creates a batik in Kota Bharu. Outside of northern peninsular Malaysia, batik designs are usually produced in factories. These lessons teach Malaysian children how to fit into a diverse society. Higher Education. Higher education is a vital part of Malaysian life, though the universities that are the most influential in the society are located outside the country.

Hundreds of thousands of students have been educated in Britain, Australia, and the United States; the experience of leaving Malaysia for training abroad is an important rite of passage for many of the elite. Malaysia boasts a growing local university system that supplements the foreign universities. The quality of local faculty, often higher than that of the second- and third-tier foreign universities that many Malaysians attend, is rarely sufficient to offset the cachet of gaining one's degree abroad. Malaysian society is remarkable due to its openness to diversity.

The blunders of an outsider are tolerated, a charming dividend of Malaysia's cosmopolitan heritage. Yet this same diversity can present challenges for Malaysians when interacting in public. Because there is no single dominant cultural paradigm, social sanctions for transgressing the rights of others are reduced. Maintaining public facilities is a source of constant public concern, as is the proper etiquette for driving a motor vehicle.

Malaysian sociability instead works through finding points of connection. When Malaysians meet strangers, they seek to fit them into a hierarchy via guesses about one's religion Muslims use the familiar Arabic greetings only to other Muslims ; inquiries into one's organization as an initial question many Malaysians will ask, "who are you attached to?

Strangers shake hands, and handshaking continues after the first meeting Malays often raise the hand to their heart after shaking , though it is sometimes frowned upon between men and women. Greetings are always expressed with the right hand, which is the dominant hand in Malaysian life. Since the left hand is used to cleanse the body, it is considered inappropriate for use in receiving gifts, giving money, pointing directions, or passing objects.

Religious Beliefs. Nearly all the world religions, including Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity are present in Malaysia. The presence of such diversity heightens the importance of religious identity, and most Malaysians have a strong sense of how their religious practice differs from that of others therefore a Malaysian Christian also identifies as a non-Muslim. Religious holidays, especially those celebrated with open houses, further blend the interreligious experience of the population. Tension between religious communities is modest. The government is most concerned with the practices of the Muslim majority, since Islam is the official religion 60 percent of the population is Muslim.

Debates form most often over the government's role in religious life, such as whether the state should further promote Islam and Muslim practices limits on gambling, pork-rearing, availability of alcohol, and the use of state funds for building mosques or whether greater religious expression for non-Muslims should be allowed. Religious Practitioners. The government regulates religious policy for Malaysia's Muslims, while the local mosque organizes opportunities for religious instruction and expression.

Outside these institutions, Islam has an important part in electoral politics as Malay parties promote their Muslim credentials. Hindu, Christian, and Buddhist clergy often have a presence in Malaysian life through cooperative ventures, and their joint work helps to ameliorate their minority status.

Religious missionaries work freely proselytizing to non-Muslims, but evangelists interested in converting Muslims are strictly forbidden by the state. Rituals and Holy Places. Malaysia's most prominent holy place is the National Mosque, built in the heart of Kuala Lumpur in Its strategic position emphasizes the country's Islamic identity. Countrywide, the daily call to prayer from the mosques amplifies the rhythm of Islamic rituals in the country, as does the procession of the faithful to fulfill their prayers.

Reminders of prayer times are included in television programs and further highlight the centrality of Islam in Malaysia. Important holidays include the birth of the Prophet and the pilgrimage to Mecca, all of which hold a conspicuous place in the media. The month of fasting, Ramadan, includes acts of piety beyond the customary refraining from food and drink during daylight hours and is followed by a great celebration.

Non-Muslim religious buildings, practices, and holidays have a smaller public life in Malaysia. Part of this is due to fewer believers in the country, and part is due to public policy which limits the building of churches and temples along with the broadcasting of non-Muslim religious services. The important non-Muslim holidays include Christmas, Deepavali the Hindu festival of light , and Wesak day which celebrates the life of the Buddha. The Hindu holiday of Thaipussam merits special attention, because devotees undergo spectacular rites of penance before vast numbers of spectators, most dramatically at the famous Batu Caves, located in the bluffs outside of Kuala Lumpur.

Death and the Afterlife.

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Malaysians have a strong interest in the metaphysical, and stories about spirits and ghosts whether told in conversation, read in books, or seen on television gain rapt attention. Many of these stories sustain a relationship with people who have passed away, whether as a form of comfort or of fear. Cemeteries, including vast fields of Chinese tombs marked with family characters and Muslim graves with the distinctive twin stones, are sites of mystery. The real estate that surrounds them carries only a modest price due to the reputed dangers of living nearby.

Muslim funerals tend to be community events, and an entire neighborhood will gather at the home of the deceased to prepare the body for burial and say the requisite prayers. Corpses are buried soon after death, following Muslim custom, and mourners display a minimum of emotion lest they appear to reject the divine's decision. The ancestor memorials maintained by Chinese clans are a common site in Malaysia, and the familiar small red shrines containing offerings of oranges and joss sticks appear on neighborhood street corners and in the rear of Chinese-owned shops.

Faith in the efficacy of the afterlife generates considerable public respect for religious graves and shrines even from non-adherents. Malaysia boasts a sophisticated system of modern health care with doctors trained in advanced biomedicine. These services are concentrated in the large cities and radiate out in decreasing availability. Customary practitioners, including Chinese herbalists and Malay healers, supplement the services offered in clinics and hospitals and boast diverse clientele.

Given the large number of local and religious holidays observed in Malaysia, few national secular celebrations fit into the calendar. Two important ones Farm workers harvesting tea leaves.

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Ethnic division of labor, in which Malays work almost entirely in agriculture, has eroded in recent years. The strong Malaysian interest in sports makes victories for the national team, especially in badminton, a cause for revelry. Support for the Arts. Public support for the arts is meager. Malaysian society for the past century has been so heavily geared toward economic development that the arts have suffered, and many practitioners of Malaysia's aesthetic traditions mourn the lack of apprentices to carry them on.

The possibility exists for a Malaysian arts renaissance amid the country's growing affluence. The pre-colonial Malay rulers supported a rich variety of literary figures who produced court chronicles, fables, and legends that form a prominent part of the contemporary Malaysian cultural imagination. Developing a more contemporary national literature has been a struggle because of language, with controversies over whether Malaysian fiction should be composed solely in Malay or in other languages as well.

Though adult literacy is nearly 90 percent, the well-read newspapers lament that the national belief in the importance of reading is stronger than the practice. Graphic Arts. A small but vibrant group of graphic artists are productive in Malaysia.

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Practitioners of batik, the art of painting textiles with wax followed by dying to bring out the pattern, still work in northern peninsular Malaysia. Batik-inspired designs are often produced in factories on shirts, sarongs, table cloths, or dresses forming an iconic Malaysian aesthetic. Performance Arts. Artistic performance in Malaysia is limited by the state's controls over public assembly and expression. The requirement that the government approve all scripts effectively limits what might be said in plays, films, and television.

The preferred performance genre in Malaysia is popular music, and concerts of the top Malay pop singers have great followings in person and on television. Musical stars from Bombay and Hong Kong also have substantial numbers of very committed fans, whose devotion makes Malaysia an overseas stop on the tours of many performers.

The favorite Malaysian entertainment medium is television, as most homes have television sets. Malaysians watch diverse programming: the standard export American fare, Japanese animation, Hong Kong martial arts, Hindi musicals, and Malay drama. The advent of the video cassette and the Internet was made for Malaysia's diverse society, allowing Malaysians to make expressive choices that often defeat the state's censorship. Given the Malaysian government's considerable support for rapid industrialization, scientific research is high on the list of its priorities. Malaysian universities produce sophisticated research, though they are sapped for funds by the huge expenditure of sending students overseas for their degrees.

Malaysian scientists have made substantial contributions in rubber and palm oil research, and this work will likely continue to increase the productivity of these sectors. Government monitoring of social science research increases the risks of critical scholarship though some academicians are quite outspoken and carry considerable prestige in society. Alwi Bin Sheikh Alhady. Malay Customs and Traditions , Andaya, Barbara Watson, and Leonard Y. A History of Malaysia, Ariffin Omar.

Chandra Muzaffar. Collins, Elizabeth. Crouch, Harold. Government and Society in Malaysia, Gomez, Edmund Terence and K. Gullick, John. Indigenous Political Systems of Western Malaya, Harper, Timothy. Jomo, K. Kahn, Joel S. Kaur, Amarjit.

Chapter 2- Migration to Southeast Asia

Khoo Boo Teik. Kratoska, Paul. Loh, Francis K. Means, Gordon. Malaysian Politics: The Second Generation, Of these, 90 percent speak the Cantonese dialect of Chinese and come from southern China, or are descendants of people who originated there. The remaining 10 percent of Han Chinese come from other regions of China and speak other Chinese dialects.

About 2 percent of the total population come from or have ancestors who came from foreign countries, most from Southeast Asia. Many people practice ancestral worship, owing to the influence of Confucianism, but all major religions are represented. Chinese and English are Hong Kong's official languages. From to , due to the uncertainty of the transition back to China, thousands of well-educated and wealthy Hong Kong citizens moved to countries such as Australia, Canada, and the United States, where they obtained permanent residency status or citizenship.

However, many returned to Hong Kong after their initial emigration, and they will likely remain there as long as conditions remain stable. In the Hong Kong government began a massive program of housing construction and industrial relocation in the New Territories.


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The program is an attempt to lessen the crowding of Kowloon and the Central district of Hong Kong Island, and to reduce the demand for transportation by building planned communities near employment centers. Since many people in Hong Kong prefer living near their workplace, this approach has helped to accommodate Hong Kong's large population on its small area of land.

By almost 3 million people, about half of Hong Kong's total population, were living in public housing. Many were in planned towns in the New Territories. Education is free and compulsory for all children from the ages 6 to 15, and adult literacy is over 90 percent. Only a small percentage of high school graduates attend college or university on a full-time basis, however. There are seven colleges and universities, including two polytechnic schools. The largest and oldest institution of higher learning is the University of Hong Kong, founded in , with more than 10, students.

The Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts offers courses in dance, music, theater, and technical arts. There are also more than a dozen technical institutes, technical colleges, and teacher-training colleges, which have large numbers of part-time students. Hong Kong has a variety of cultural attractions and activities. The territory has a thriving film and television industry.

One of Hong Kong's most popular actors is Jackie Chan, who is known for his starring roles and stunts in action movies. Hong Kong's prosperous economy is reflected in the lifestyle of its people. They have one of the highest standards of living in all of Asia, and it is more than 30 times higher than China's average standard of living.

Hong Kong's position as one of the world's most important economic centers is based on several factors. It is located midway between Japan and Singapore, and it lies astride the main shipping and air routes of the western Pacific. It also has long served as a major port of entry and trade for China, which uses Hong Kong as a primary link to the world economy. Furthermore, Hong Kong has a favorable atmosphere for business and trade. Despite the uncertainty associated with its return to China, which has a Communist government, Hong Kong continues to thrive economically and attract new migrants.

Hong Kong's economy has always been based upon commerce, trade, and shipping, and today it vies with Singapore as the world's largest container port. Industry and tourism are also important, and agriculture continues to provide a significant share of the territory's food and flower supplies, although Hong Kong must import the majority of its food. Farming is a declining sector, because of the shortage of suitable farmland. There are now less than hectares acres under cultivation for vegetables and flowers, although these produce about one-quarter of the fresh vegetables consumed.

Increasingly, farmers are growing premium food and flower varieties, which fetch higher market prices than the traditional rice crop. Pig farming is also important. Hong Kong's fishing fleet is significant and contributes about two-thirds of the live and fresh marine fish consumed each year. Manufacturing developed rapidly in the s and grew to become the most important economic sector in the early s, when manufacturing employment reached nearly , It quickly declined in the following decade, however, as Hong Kong manufacturers began shifting the location of their production facilities to neighboring Guangdong Province, where labor costs were much lower.

By the early s industrial employment had declined to less than , Manufactured products include clothing, textiles, toys, plastics, electronics, and watches and clocks. However, these products are gradually being replaced by manufactures that require a more highly educated and skilled labor force to produce. Hong Kong is among the leading trading centers in the world, and shipping and trade continue to be important aspects of its economy.

The market is generally open and favorable to trade, and Hong Kong has been successful at balancing its imports and exports. Many of its exports are actually re-exports, products that are manufactured in other parts of China, or in Japan, Taiwan, the United States, or South Korea but distributed through Hong Kong.

These products include clothing, textiles, telecommunications and recording equipment, electrical machinery and appliances, and footwear. Imports consist largely of consumer goods, raw materials, transportation equipment, and foodstuffs. Extensive trade occurs with other regions of China. The unit of currency is the Hong Kong dollar 7. The terms of the Sino-British Joint Declaration of allow Hong Kong to continue issuing its own currency until the year Tourism is one of Hong Kong's most important service activities and it is the third largest source of foreign exchange earnings.

Many European and North American tourists also visited. In addition to its excellent deepwater port and extensive maritime connections, Hong Kong has one of Asia's main airports, the Hong Kong International Airport. There is passenger and freight rail service to Guangzhou. The MTR serves nearly million passengers annually. A km mi long electric trolley line operates on Hong Kong Island, and ferries shuttle between the mainland, Hong Kong Island, and all other major outlying islands.

Prior to July 1, , Hong Kong was a British dependent territory. As such, a British-appointed governor, representing the British crown, headed the Hong Kong government and exercised authority over civil and military matters. The governor presided over a member Executive Council that advised him on all important matters.

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A member Legislative Council Legco -which under Hong Kong's last British governor, Chris Patten, was in part popularly elected-enacted laws and oversaw the budget. Under Chinese rule, a chief executive, appointed to a maximum of two five-year terms, heads the government of the Hong Kong SAR. The chief executive presides over the Executive Council, whose members assist the chief executive in policy-making decisions. A Provisional Legislative Council of 60 members, who were appointed by China, initially served as Hong Kong's legislature.

Elections for the First Legislative Council were held in May Twenty members from five geographic constituencies were directly elected under a system of proportional representation, where legislative seats are awarded to a political party in proportion to the number of popular votes it receives. The remaining members were appointed or indirectly elected, with 10 members chosen by an electoral college and 30 members selected through functional constituencies representing a variety of business, community, and social interests. In future legislative elections, the number of directly elected representatives will increase.

The judiciary is independent and laws are based on English common law and the rules of equity. Judges are appointed by the chief executive. Little growth took place until the 19th century, owing to China's imperial policy of inward development, with a focus away from developing the resources of coastal areas. Also, despite Hong Kong's proximity to the port city of Guangzhou, all foreign trade with China was controlled through a small Chinese merchant guild in Guangzhou known as the Co-hong, and contact with foreigners was highly restricted.

The British, who wished to expand their trading opportunities along China's coast, became interested in Hong Kong in the early 19th century. They also desired a location to serve as a naval re- supply point, similar to the role Singapore was playing at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. The trade of opium, a highly profitable product for British merchants and eventually an illegal import into China, led to the Opium Wars and Britain's acquisition of Hong Kong.

In the Chinese Special Commissioner imprisoned some British merchants in Guangzhou and confiscated opium warehouses.