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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Happy Birthday Hong Kong, SAR

On Sunday 1 July, we will celebrate 10 years of 'liberation'. 1 July 1997 was the day China took Hong Kong back into the fold after 156 years of British rule and we went from being plain old Hong Kong, to Hong Kong, SAR (Special Administrative Region), People's Republic of China. It was a complex thing, given that Hong Kong island and a small part of the peninsula across the harbour had been ceded to Britain in perpetuity, while the rest of the Kowloon peninsula and beyond, up to the border with China and including all our outlying islands, ran on a 99 year lease which ended in 1997. Britain gave the island and tip of the peninsula back too, at the time the lease ran out, perhaps fearing another Falklands fiasco.

At the time of the change, it was referred to as both the 'handover' and the 'takeover', depending on which camp you were aligned with. No matter the semantics, we went from being British to Chinese, overnight.

The Union Jack and colonial Hong Kong flags were taken down, forever, at midnight on 30 June 1997, amidst much pomp and ceremony.

And in their place were raised the Chinese national flag and our new flag, with even more pomp and ceremony. It seemed to be a case of showing who was more powerful than the other and I think the Chinese had it in the bag:

The original new flag, as chosen by a panel of local representatives, was refused and we were given another flag which was designed by an architect, in China. It connects very closely to the flag of the motherland by matching colour and incorporating the five stars from the national flag, allowing us only the use of the bauhinia, Hong Kong's indigenous flower. It is considered to be a regional Chinese flag.

The international press revelled in predictions of doom and gloom ahead, fuelled by reports of the PLA (People's Liberation Army) rolling into Hong Kong in tanks (reminiscent of the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989). While we sat here knowing exactly what it was, an opportunity by our new masters to give a show of strength while the world watched. Truth is, the only PLA forces in Hong Kong have been well sequestered in their barracks here and are never seen on our streets.

The past 10 years of 'one country, two systems' has worked well for us. While the border remains closed, travel across it has been made easier and the mainland has provided us with a whole new tourism market, to which we have learned to cater. We haven't been without our difficulties, first the Asian financial crisis in 1997 and then the outbreak of SARS in 2003, which almost destroyed us. But Hong Kong is an incredibly resilient place and we bounced back.

So, on Sunday, 1 July, our National Day, we will celebrate with many things, including a parade and a fireworks display over the harbour combined with our daily Symphony of Lights Extravaganza.

Here are some pics from last year and they are promising something even more spectacular this year in honour of the 10-year anniversary. With a US$2million spend on the fireworks alone, it should be interesting. I'm going to come to the office where there is a harbour view, to take in the show.

Those are from last year's show. The complete gallery is here.


Anonymous said...

I like the pictures of the downtown buildings all different colors. Of course the fireworks are pretty too :)

Fiona said...

The light show is quite something...they flash and blink and make patterns and it's all synchronised to music. We turn our whole town into 'bling' once a day *L*

NWO said...

Very interesting; I enjoyed reading about this.

Fiona said...

NWO - thank you. I could have gone on for pages and pages :) We do have a very interesting history here!

Fusion said...

I'm with Oblivion, very nice colors!
Were you at all nervous at the time of the handover?

Fiona said...

Well Fusion, although I'm the equivalent of a citizen of Hong Kong, I've always had the escape route of holding a British passport. Not that I'd ever want to live there.

It was an incredibly stressful time for people here. When the deal was first negotiated way back in 1984, over the next few years there was a mass exodus of our talent, fleeing to Australia, Canada and the US. Totally understandable, most were the first generation of refugees who had fled China in the 1950s and who feared the regime coming here.

Many have since returned home after educating their children abroad - most gave up managerial positions to take blue collar jobs as that is all they could get. But the fear was strong enough to make them feel there wasn't another way. There was tremendous animosity towards the British at the time and I for one was ashamed of the way formerly British citizens were unceremoniously dumped and passports taken away. My Hong Kong British passport was removed and I had to apply for a British one.

But it takes a lot to knock the stuffing out of Hong Kong and really some good came of it all. The British were no longer given visa-free residency (unless we had already sought citizenship such as I had) and it cleared a lot of 'FILTH' (Failed In London Try Hongkong) out. For me, personally, the flags changed and that was about it. We went on with life as normal.

Jac said...

Fascinating stuff! I (we) always learn a lot from you Fiona!

freebird said...

Wow! Makes my little holiday snap look very tame!

Sunny Delight said...

I adore your Hong Kong History lessons, they are a part of who you are too. The photos are phenomenal, and make the fireworks here in my small Midwestern towns look so lame.

Note to self: Visit Fiona before she decides to move to the States *VBS*

Fiona said...

Jac - thank you :)

Freebird - well I happen to LIKE your holiday snap!! I'm useless at photos *L* The weather is a bit dubious right now so we're all hoping it clears enough for the cloud cover to lift and the rain to stop :)

Sunny - get on over here!!! Yes, we do tend to do things 'large' here, personally I think the money could have gone to a better cause but we like a show here too! I absorb a bit of everywhere I've been, and most of of has been here. I am hoping to absorb something of somewhere else too, though :)


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