Hong Kong Research

Just as one would expect, the greatest research on local Hong Kong culture, language, politics, etc. is found within Hong Kong universities, more specifically, graduate and postgraduate papers written by students and professors.

While of course, reading academic literature probably sounds like a dull pastime, the specificity of the topics the papers cover can have much more appeal to a specific interest than a general and far-reaching paper might; for example, I wish to learn about Cantonese linguistics rather than linguistics as a whole. For those who might feel interested in such specific topics as I am, I have recently realized that there is a ton of such up-to-date and accessible material specifically concerning Hong Kong online.

Seven Hong Kong universities and the University of Macau provide online access to many academic paper abstracts, and sometimes even their full texts (many of them are also in English): http://library.hkbu.edu.hk/electronic/libdbs/dol.html

Hong Kong University has its own database of academic papers too: http://hub.hku.hk/

Personally, I hope to read “A study of written Cantonese and Hong Kong culture” by Wu Fung-hoi soon and other papers regarding Hong Kong’s unique identity and Cantonese in the near future.


English/Chinese Terms Connected to Cantonese

Beginning in the 19th century and for much of the 20th century, Chinese settlers to Western countries primarily came from Guangdong province, and many of the first Westerners seeking to conduct trade with China found their base in neighboring Hong Kong. Thus, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that many early terms traded between English and Chinese (as in English terms derived from Chinese, and vice versa) were more specifically trade-offs between English and Cantonese. With the overwhelming dominance of Mandarin in characterizing “Chinese” the world today, though, it seems that the influence of Cantonese in shaping such language trade is underestimated, ignored, or unknown to most.

But there is indeed a large list that persists, and I have long wanted to draft a list of such “loanwords,” as some call them; perhaps most notable is the multitude of Chinese terms for proper nouns (cities, countries, universities, etc) that sound closer to their English counterparts when spoken in Cantonese, as compared to when spoken in Mandarin.

Ideally, this list could be updated later as I or others came up with more loanwords or whenever I have time, but here’s to start:

[Note 1: The letter “j” has a silent value using jyutping.]

[Note 2: I used the format English word: Chinese characters (Cantonese pronunciation) below.]

Cantonese to English:

bok choy: 白菜 (baak6 coi3)
chop suey: 雜碎 (zaap6 seoi3)
chow mein: 麵 (caau2 min6)
dim sum: 點心 (dim2 sam1)
kumquat: 柑橘 (gam1 gwat1)
longan: 龍眼 (lung4 ngaan5)
lychee: 荔枝 (lai6 zi1)
ketchup(?): 茄汁 (ke4*2 zap1)
wok: 鑊 (wok6)
wonton: 雲吞 (wan4 tan1)

kowtow: 叩頭 (kau3 tau4)
kung fu: 功夫 (gung1 fu1)
sampan: 舢舨 (saan1 baan2)
typhoon: 颱風 (toi4 fung1)

(*see Wikipedia for more)

Early and some existing (English) romanizations for Chinese proper nouns come from Cantonese:

Peking (as in Peking duck), Nanking (as in the Rape of Nanking), Canton, and Toisan are some that I can think of off the top of my head.

“Chiang Kai-shek” is based on the Cantonese pronunciation of “蔣介石” as “zoeng2 gaai3 sek6.” Similarly, the common Western romanization of  “Sun Yat-sen” follows the Cantonese pronunciation of one of his names, “孫逸仙,” pronounced “syun1 jat6 sin1.” With that said, I’ve been annoyed on a few occasions, hearing some refer to “Chiang Kai-shek” as not based on a (proper) Chinese pronunciation.

English to Chinese:

Some of the below Chinese terms are only used by Cantonese speakers.

[Note: In Chinese, usually, a “口” radical placed on the left of a character will indicate that the new “口”+__ character is to be pronounced as the original character is, but will only used for its pronunciation [lacking the meaning of the original character]. In the case of “咖啡,” “咖啡” follows the individual pronunciations of “加” (gaa1) and “非” (fei1) to create the sound “gaa1 fe1” based off the pronunciation of “coffee”; “加非” itself without the “口” radicals lacks much meaning. As “加” is pronounced as “jia1” in Mandarin, it is clear that the term “咖啡” used to mean “coffee” in Chinese is derived from Cantonese, or else “咖啡” would be pronounced as “jia1 fei1” in Mandarin, rather than “ka1 fei1” as it is today. The same goes for “curry.”]

coffee: 咖啡 (gaa1 fe1)
curry: 咖喱 (gaa3 lei1)
chocolate: 朱古力 (zyu1 gu2*1 lik6*1) [Because “朱古力” only sounds like “chocolate” in Cantonese, Mandarin speakers have derived a different Chinese character representation of “chocolate” that resembles the English pronunciation of “chocolate” when pronounced in Mandarin.]
cheese: 芝士 (zi1 si6*2)
salmon: 三文魚 (saam1 man4 jyu4*2)
sandwich: 三文治 (saam1 man4 zi6)
strawberry: 士多啤梨 (si6 do1 be1 lei4*2)

Proper nouns – Places:
Boston: 波士頓 (bo1 si6 deon6*2)
California: 加州 (gaa1 zau1)
Canada: 加拿大 (gaa1 naa4 daai6)
Chicago: 芝加哥 (zi1 gaa1 go1)
Las Vegas: 拉斯維加斯 (laai1 si1 wai4 gaa1 si1)
Mexico: 墨西哥 (mak6 sai1 go1)
Netherlands (based on “Holland”): 荷蘭 (ho4 laan4*1)
New York: 紐約 (nau2 joek3)
San Francisco: 三蕃市 (saam1 faan4 si5)
Rome: 羅馬 (lo4 maa5)
Seattle: 西雅圖 (sai1 ngaa5 tou4)
Singapore: 星加坡 (sing1 gaa3 bo1)
Spain: 西班牙 (sai1 baan1 ngaa4)
Sweden: 瑞典 (seoi6 din2)
Switzerland: 瑞士 (seoi6 si6*2)
Toronto: 多倫多 (do1 leon4 do1)
Vancouver: 溫哥華 (wan1 go1 waa4)
Washington: 華盛頓 (waa4 sing6 deon6)

Plus, just about every place in Hong Kong’s romanized name is based on its Cantonese pronunciation (although some old names are from derived from other dialects like Hakka). Streets named after British persons similarly are represented in Chinese by combining Chinese characters based on their pronunciations in Cantonese.

Harvard: 哈佛 (haa1 fat6)
Stanford: 斯坦福 (si1 taan2 fuk1)
Yale: 耶魯 (je4 lou5)

bus: 巴士 (baa1 si6*2)
partner: 拍檔 (paak3 dong3)
taxi: 的士 (dik1 si6*2)

Cantonese on Android, Apple, and Microsoft Products

I find it interesting that even though we tend to deny Cantonese the same (if any) prestige that we give Mandarin in the world by not teaching it in schools or universities, calling it a “dialect,” and overall advocating the more “proper” use of Mandarin for economic upward mobility and business, quite prominent companies include Cantonese language features to attract consumers, perhaps indicative of the lucrativeness of the Cantonese-speaking market that predominantly resides in Hong Kong.

For one, Android products include Google voice typing using Cantonese, specifically labeled “粵語 (香港),” alongside Mandarin features for China and Taiwan. And while I don’t think Android includes a Cantonese language keyboard feature, one can use the free HKIME application to type using Cantonese romanization (I’m not sure if it’s Jyutping – it’s called “Canton Pinyin” on the keyboard), Cangjie, stroke, among others. There’s another application, Cantonese keyboard, that some reviews say works better, but I have yet to try it.

Meanwhile, while Apple [mobile] products evidently do not support outside keyboards, they include a “Chinese (Cantonese)” setting for Voice Control (on older products). Best of all, recent products include Siri in Cantonese. I personally feel that the inclusion of Cantonese in Siri language options demonstrates the influence/strength of the Cantonese language community (in terms of business interests): the languages Siri supports are English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, and Cantonese. For Cantonese to make this small group of perhaps the top nine languages spoken by the most potentially economically lucrative consumers seems a bit ironic considering that Cantonese is commonly considered a mere “dialect” in the eyes of the world. Additionally, Cantonese is listed by Apple as the language for Hong Kong with no mention of China; in one sense, it might be too repulsive for China to recognize Cantonese as a language, but in another, this goes to show recognition of the financial success of, and thus, large consumer market based in Hong Kong.

Finally, just recently, I realized that Microsoft has supported Cantonese for a few years now in more recent updates. Apparently, Windows 7 supports Cantonese Jyutping input, and even those with older versions of Windows can download a package that supports Cantonese Jyutping input (I just did). It’s called “Microsoft Office IME 2010,” but apparently it can work on Windows in general even for those who don’t have Microsoft Office; the Cantonese option is contained in the InputMethodEditor x86 zh-tw.exe or InputMethodEditor x64 zh-tw.exe file (according to if you have the 32-bit or 64-bit version of Windows).

Previously, the Hong Kong Supplementary Character Set provided by the Hong Kong government could be downloaded to allow use of unique Cantonese characters in conjunction with the standard Mandarin/written Chinese set, but I believe this is not necessary now. Although a bit confusing, the Cantonese Jyutping option is called “Hong Kong Cantonese 2010” and is listed as a keyboard under “Chinese (Taiwan),” rather than “Chinese (Hong Kong S.A.R.).” This may make it easier for those who may wish to switch back and forth between Cangjie and Jyutping or Jyutping and Pinyin.

Interestingly enough, it feels a bit unnatural typing using Cantonese romanization after previously having to use Mandarin romanization or the IME pad or my limited Cangjie to type Chinese; it’s also a bit confusing grouping Cantonese sounds with the “standardized” Jyutping consonant and vowel values. I still feel that “y” should go in place of the silent “j” and it’s overall a bit awkward typing “ngo” for “我” and “m” for “唔.”

Overall, I find it intriguing that such prominent companies treat Cantonese as a language in providing native language options in their products for people of different regions or cities; while this can be attributed to Hong Kong’s international city status, it is quite significant that there is such financial incentive for a “language” rarely considered a language in everyday life (by non-Cantonese speakers and some Cantonese speakers alike) to have its own voice and keyboard options. This further highlights the often under-emphasized differences between Cantonese and Mandarin (and other “dialects”), and that Cantonese is largely not considered a language for political reasons.

I knew there were voice options on Android and Apple products, but the addition of a Cantonese keyboard put out by Microsoft portrays Cantonese as a true standardized language with even a correct written form, even as I hear colloquial Cantonese often times called “slang” (perhaps arising from the lack of wide recognition of Cantonese in official or “proper” use). With the recognition of Cantonese by companies and their manufactured electronic products like this, I cannot help but hold onto my sliver of hope for the future of Cantonese.


*If anyone encounters any issues in downloading any files, Pinyin Joe provides some help. Below are some instructions and information on downloading the Microsoft Office IME 2010 file:



In general, if trying to add the Cantonese keyboard, I think you just need to go to language settings and look up keyboards to add after clicking “Chinese (Taiwan)” (although you need the East Asian Language pack first: see Pinyin Joe if you need help).

Hong Kong Autonomy Movement

(Image taken from badcanto.wordpress.com)

I’m not sure how I came across this, but often times on the Internet, one website or video provides a link or reference to another, and as I try to learn more about Hong Kong, I came across the Hong Kong Autonomy Movement. The Hong Kong Autonomy Movement, I believe, is known for its members who wave the British Hong Kong colonial flag of old at protests and on a variety of occasions to express resistance to the Chinese Communist Party. They are those who are denounced by Chinese officials for longing to return to “mistreatment” under the British and demonstrating a lack of gratefulness towards the so-called motherland that provides for Hong Kong’s needs.

But upon reading the little English content published on its blog, I realize that its ideas and actions are not as repulsive or threatening as the Chinese Communist Party perceives it to be; it lists its objectives on its blog as:

  • Universal Suffrage

  • A Hong Kong Government which makes policies for the needs and interests of Hong Kong people

  • Long term housing and land policies to ensure the quality of life of Hong Kong people

  • To reinvigorate the local industries and agriculture

  • To reformulate immigration policy; to regain full authority in approving immigrants from Mainland China

  • To review the constitutional framework under the Basic Law

  • To defend the city-state of Hong Kong, and to reject ‘mainlandisation’ policies such as the “Action Plan for the Bay Area of the Pearl River Estuary” and the brainwashing of our children in the name of “Moral and National Education”

  • To establish local language policies and to protect the Hong Kong culture

  • To review Hong Kong’s currency standard and monetary policies to strengthen Hong Kong’s financial autonomy

Its name is quite self-explanatory: HKAM, as it is abbreviated, desires not so much independence, but Hong Kong’s due freedoms and autonomy, and a government that truly seeks Hong Kong’s interests first.
HKAM is largely made up of young, idealistic Hong Kongers, as many local Hong Kong movements advocating universal suffrage or protection of Hong Kong’s unique culture are; I believe it largely organizes on Facebook. Something I find interesting about it is its explanation for its use of the colonial emblem:
A Cultural Reinterpretation of the Dragon-Lion Emblem of Hong Kong

The Emblem of the Hong Kong City-State Autonomy Movement symbolizes protection through the combination of the dragon and the lion, that is, the distillation and blending of the best parts of the Chinese and British traditions. The Hong Kong flag of the Chinese dragon and the British lion embodies the spirit of merging Chinese and British cultures, honours the history of Hong Kong, and guards the city-state of Hong Kong. This flag inherits the Hong Kong Ensign under British rule. With the newly added Chinese characters, 香港 (Hong Kong), and the white background changed to the free and noble blue, it symbolizes Hong Kong people keeping their foothold in Hong Kong, sustaining themselves, and autonomously ruling themselves.

The dragon rides on the heavens and the lion strides across the earth. The merging of the lion and dragon means the dragon walking on earth and the lion soaring to the sky. In the face of the Communist Chinese wolf, the people of Hong Kong are not lambs but the vigorous offspring of the Chinese dragon and British lion. Just like a lion mounting the clouds and a tiger with wings, we cannot be put on the same par as the wolf and we will not be in the same room with it.

The Coat of Arms of Hong Kong was designed by the British College of Arms, and it represented Hong Kong between 1959 and 1997. Elegant and noble, upright and balanced, this flag has been familiar to the people of Hong Kong, and it contains Hong Kong’s culture and history. According to The Book of Songs, “Although Zhou is an old state, its mission is to reform and to renew.” The Hong Kong Autonomy Movement reinterprets this flag as follows:

The dragon belongs to the Chinese tradition, symbolizing viability and flexibility; Hong Kong is the repository and guardian of Chinese culture. The lion belongs to the British tradition, symbolizing justice and bravery. Hong Kong is the inheritor and promoter of British culture. The people of Hong Kong are the offspring of the dragon and the lion, the hybrid child of Chinese and British cultures. The shield jointly guarded and supported by the dragon and the lion standing on the territory of Hong Kong symbolizes Hong Kong’s state of being civilized and cultured. The tower above the shield symbolizes the city-state of Hong Kong; the crown on top of the tower symbolizes Hong Kong’s inheriting the full cultural traditions and making herself a king. The junks on the sea stand for Hong Kong’s history as a trading port as well as the adventurous sea-faring spirit. The crown worn by the big lion symbolizes the fact that Hong Kong was once ruled by the British monarch; the small lion holding the dragon pearl symbolizes the ruler of the city-state of Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Autonomy Movement preserves the crown for two reasons:- Firstly, to inherit noble spirit, secondly, to make Hong Kong a king forming a constitutional, republican and democratic government and ruling with benevolence and righteousness.

Note: As Hong Kong lacked discussions about city-state autonomy before 1997, no spiritual signs or heraldries have been left, and up till now, a common symbol for Hong Kong is not available. Our adoption of the dragon-lion flag aims at impelling and inspiring the people of Hong Kong by means of a familiar sign. Moreover, as the significance of the original flag has seldom been explored by the people of Hong Kong, it is susceptible to a brand new interpretation. Certain left-wing participants in local resistance movements may find it hard to tolerate our borrowing the cultural sign of the British colony, and may insist on decolonizing Hong Kong and bringing Hong Kong citizens back to the chainless primal state before resisting the tyranny of the local government and of the CCP. We think that this is impracticable. First of all, we cannot possibly return to the primal state. This kind of attempt at decolonization is doomed to fail and thus tolerable to the CCP. In addition, in order to deal with tyranny and struggle with the new colonizer, we must have resources, even resources given to us by the former colonizer. Without weapons, especially a familiar one, one is unable to fight.

Using my meager Chinese literacy, I have surmised that HKAM finds much inspiration in professor Chin Wan’s (陳雲) Hong Kong as a City-State (香港城邦論). Below, I’ve listed the English content I found on HKAM’s blog thus far:
http://hkam2011.blogspot.com/2011/09/hkam-outline.html (This was the post I block-quoted from.)
http://hkam2011.blogspot.com/2011/06/flag-that-is-truly-ours-cultural.html (This seems like a modification of the interpretation of the flag I posted above.)
But if you were to ask me which post I linked to read if you only had time to read one, I would tell you to read this one, posted by what I believe to be of an external organization/person:
I feel that this above link does a good job of helping me sort out my thoughts about HKAM and Hong Kongers’ demonstrations of resistance to the Chinese Communist Party in general; at times it seems that there is little insight or analysis on Hong Kong written in English.