At a conference of European pollsters in the Netherlands last year, the issue of whether China would emerge as the land of opportunity for public opinion and market research firms was raised. Several international survey companies have already swung into action. Reputed pollsters, including the Gallup group and Hong Kong's SRG, have either established a foothold on the mainland or are looking for a local partner in what has been called the largest consumer market for the next decade. The first opinion research institute in China was inaugurated under the auspices of the People's University in Beijing in October 1986. Ten months later, the first commercial Chinese market research firm was set up. The country then saw a boom in research businesses in its key cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Gauging the thoughts of average Chinese citizens, however, has remained a tricky business. Researchers usually have to have their questionnaires approved by the relevant authorities before starting field work. Politics has remained a restricted subject area. Popularity ratings of political parties as well as individual public figures are a common feature in Hong Kong newspapers. More than a dozen surveys have been carried out to find out whether Governor Chris Patten was more popular than the director of Xinhua (the New China News Agency), Zhou Nan , for example. Similar exercises are simply impossible in China. It is a research taboo to ask, for instance, what the people think of the ruling Communist Party or its leaders. As a result, the majority of the survey companies have stayed away from politics and focused their activities on consumer behaviour and attitudes. Within the bounds of such ideological constraints, a Chinese research firm has managed to make a timid step forward. The Guangzhou-based China Diamond Information was recently commissioned by a pro-China lobby, the Hong Kong Progressive Alliance, to find out how residents in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen perceive their counterparts in Hong Kong. The company's usual lines of business cover primarily media and consumer research. It has found out, for example, that 8.6 per cent of families in the four cities installed personal computers last July. The tally was expected to rise by 6.1 per cent this year. Meanwhile, 93.2 per cent of the households there owned a colour television set, while 9.3 per cent also enjoyed the luxury of a compact disc player. About the same time, the Broadcasting Authority in Hong Kong hired a consultant to find out the penetration rates of similar appliances in the territory. In early 1995, 26 per cent of Hong Kong families had installed a computer. Televisions and CD players were in 99 and 34 per cent of homes respectively in Hong Kong in January 1995. The demand for this type of consumer product research has been on the rise in China. Companies are charging as much as 150 yuan (HK$135) to complete a face-to-face interview. Polls on how the mainlanders view Hong Kong, on the other hand, were conducted between September and November last year, while Beijing was mounting a scathing attack on the Governor's electoral reform initiatives for the Legislative Council. The findings were announced in Hong Kong last week. Although the poll revealed that mainlanders do not have a clear idea about ways of life in the territory, they generally hold a high opinion of Hong Kong. In the eyes of the 2,419 respondents from the four Chinese commercial hubs, Hong Kong plays second fiddle only to Tokyo and New York in terms of prosperity. Hong Kong is considered to be on a par with Paris and ahead of London, Taipei and the four Chinese cities themselves. Most of them also do not believe in prophecies of 'the death of Hong Kong' after the unification. The Hong Kong media has mostly played up the idea that mainlanders do not subscribe to the conspiracy theory that Hong Kong would become a subversive base against China. Unlike some of the cadres in charge of Hong Kong affairs, the average Chinese citizen does not appear to be sceptical about the political intentions of Hong Kong people. The mainlanders seem to have placed more trust in their Hong Kong compatriots than some of their government officials have. The actual scientific, statistical conclusions aside, the polling exercise is also significant at a different level. While pollsters are not given access to ascertain mainlanders' impressions of their own political systems, the survey managed to elicit opinions on some issues politically sensitive to Hong Kong. This may become a small but symbolic landmark in the development of the profession of reading public opinion in China.