Imagine Hong Kong: 8 Reasons it’s an (Almost) Perfect Utopia

By: Jen Brown

While most John Lennon (and Beatles) songs became trite through parental overplay on childhood road trips across America, “Imagine” might just be the song to describe my current home of Hong Kong.

Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor
Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor.


There are five reasons that Hong Kong embodies Imagine’s utopian vision. And three reasons that it clearly does not.

  1. “Imagine there’s no countries” is something many Hongkongers would like to do. Formerly British Hong Kong, while now part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), is its own city-state of sorts. Until 2047, it is a “Special Administrative Region:” part of China, but not of China. It retains its own political, economic and religious freedoms. Freedoms that are regularly and thoroughly subject to government control in Mainland China. For now Hong Kong can exist in accordance with its own historic values and sort-of pretend the Mother Country, its sovereign to the north, isn’t there.

  2. Militarily there is “Nothing to kill or die for” as Hong Kong has no military of its own. The region’s defense (and related expenditures) are handled by the PRC via the quietly unobtrusive Chinese People’s Liberation Army Hong Kong Garrison.

  3. “And no religion, too” as Hong Kong has one of the lowest rates of religious belief in the world. While Hong Kong maintains strong religious freedoms compared to Mainland China, the majority of Hongkongers are irreligious with 64 percent not following any religion. Because of this strong secularism, public policy debates do not hinge on the religious convictions of particular strands of society.

    Freedom of speech and religion on display in Causeway Bay
    Freedom of speech and religion on display in Causeway Bay


  4. “Imagine all the people” from across the globe working together. From Africans staying at Tsim Sha Tsui’s infamous Chungking Mansions buying and exporting mobile phones and used car parts, to European investment bankers, Hong Kong lives and thrives through international trade. For the sake of business, everyone tends to get along.

  5. “Living life in peace” can almost be taken for granted as Hong Kong is probably the world’s safest big city. There is very little violence or crime for a city of its size. Rule of law is high and justice is swiftly served if needed.

    This is the point, however, in Imagine’s lyrics where Hong Kong falls sharply out-of-sync with John Lennon’s utopian vision.

  6. It is impossible to “Imagine no possessions” in Hong Kong, a city teeming with luxury stores, status symbol cars and astronomical property prices. There is a slice of the city that is anything but humble as the personalized vanity plates “GOD,” “SUCCESS” and “BANKER” attest. Someone even paid 2.1 million US dollars for the lucky plate “18” which can be read as a Cantonese number homonym with the meaning “going to prosper.”

  7. “No need for greed or hunger” should also be struck from the song. “Greed is good” a la 1980s “Wall Street” lurks in exclusive corners of Hong Kong. In the city there is a yawning gap between rich and poor with the poorest of the poor living in appallingly cramped conditions. The worst are the very small abodes called “coffin homes” with barely enough room to store one’s possessions and sit up.

  8. “A brotherhood of man” could be imagined, except that a healthy portion of Hong Kong seems to abhor all Mainland Chinese. There is an ugly disdain for the upstarts from the Motherland that appears as a running theme in many newspapers at the moment. An advertisement calling Mainland visitors “locusts” caused quite a stir last year and many Hongkongers would like a sharp reduction in the number of Mainland Chinese tourists allowed into the territory. Most bizarrely, a city that prides itself on being a “free port” and hub of trade has cracked down on cross border trading in one surprising commodity: infant milk formula. Loud squawking by some about Mainlanders streaming across the border to buy presumably safer infant formula, has lead to a new export restriction of two cans per person.

    Chinese Mainlander: please enjoy Hong Kong Disneyland, but don’t you dare sneak three tins of baby formula into your suitcase!
    Chinese Mainlander: please enjoy Hong Kong Disneyland, but don’t you dare sneak three tins of baby formula into your suitcase!


Like what you’ve read about Hong Kong? Then “I hope some day you’ll join us.”

Perhaps now I can finally banish that song -- listened to many times while stuffed in the backseat cruising across America -- from my mind.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingJen Brown is an American expat living in Hong Kong. Blog description: Observations of a Serial Expat. American. China. England. Hong Kong. Check out my comics and stories about expat life. Proud to be Freshly Pressed by Wordpress!
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Contest Comments » There are 3 comments

Amanda R. wrote 7 years ago:

I really liked this article. As someone living in mainland China who visits Hong Kong frequently, it is awing to see the differences between the two cultures. I only hope that one day Hong Kong can get true independence and be it's own sovereign nation.

Laura Besley wrote 7 years ago:

Great article, Jen! :)

Jessica Cyphers wrote 7 years ago:

This is freaking awesome! It's true: There is no place in the world like Hong Kong. And mainlanders *are* pretty... ugh.

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