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Hong Kong Changeover Met Differently In Former Colony and Mainland China

Shang-Lin Chuang--The Tech
Clouds loom over Hong Kong, which was handed back to China on July 1, 1997 after over a century of British rule.

By Shang-Lin Chuang

The return of Hong Kong to China after 156 years of British colonial rule ranks as one of the most important historical events of the decade, and being a person of Chinese descent, I jumped at the chance to visit Hong Kong during this period of transition. I was abroad for 17, spending the last part of June and the first part of July in various parts of China and arriving at my final destination of Hong Kong on July 13, just two weeks into the new period of Chinese rule.

Upon arriving at my first destination, Shanghai's international airport, Iwas immediately greeted by signs joyously proclaiming the impending handover. On major streets, government buildings, private businesses, hotels, restaurants, and even buses were more signs "celebrating and welcoming the return of Hong Kong to the motherland." I saw signs promising the bright future that Hong Kong would have and which celebrating the conclusion of more than one hundred years of national shame, and expressing the joy of the Chinese people.

Signs on the street made of flowers, concerts featuring famous singers, slogans spelled out by lights strung in trees, firework displays, and signs written on the sides of buildings announcing discounts on clothing, food, and hotel rates to celebrate the occasion. It made me feel like I was in the middle of Times Square on New Year's Eve.

As one who was born and raised in Taiwan, I had mixed feelings about the handover. Taiwan, home of the Nationalist Chinese government that fledChina after the 1949 Communist Revolution, is considered a renegade province by China. I couldn't get the common saying "First Hong Kong, then Macau, and next is Taiwan" out of my mind. Macau is a Portuguese colonial province near Hong Kong, mainly known for its casinos and entertainment, that will revert to Chinese control in December, 1999.

Having lived outside of China all my life, I've developed a healthy skepticism of theChinese government and I was not entirely convinced by the joyous feelings expressed by everyone. But the local residents I met and the media tried to assure me all those feelings were genuine.

All of the ten or so local guides who led us during the trip were very excited about the handover. It was usually one of the first things they talked about: about how great it is that Hong Kong is finally returning to China, about how happy everyone is, about how much of a celebration there will be.

Chinese excited about change

I spent the pivotal night of June 30 in Huangshan, a city in the Anhui Province about 250 miles west of Shanghai. I attended a celebration hosted by my hotel complete with dancing, singing, many television crews, and a great deal of jubilation.

Like many other tourists and local residents, I tuned in to the 72 hour continuous coverage of the handover on television. The broadcast featured live coverage of the ceremonies and concerts held in celebration of the event and interviews with people from China, Hong Kong, Great Britain, Taiwan, Australia, and many other countries. Those interviewed all expressed the same sentiment: they were very much in favor of the handover and optimistic about Hong Kong's future with China.

Some of us in the tour group, including myself, doubted the validity of these interviews, especially given the wariness with which people around the world were watching the handover. All coverage about the handover was controlled by the government and the same news broadcasts aired on eight of the ten available channels.

Attitudes differ in Hong Kong

We arrived in Hong Kong on July 13. There were some signs celebrating the handover, but significantly less than there had been in China. Our tour guide, Johnny, a Hong Kong resident, explained that nothing significant had changed since the handover, not even the uniform of the airport employees. Only things like the name of the Hong Kong Royal Jockey Club had been changed. It is now simply the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

Johnny did point out how the people in Hong Kong dislike the Bank of China building. Chinese people tend to be superstitious and the fact that the bank building, the second tallest in Hong Kong, is shaped like a dagger has fostered some worries. They think that this dagger, located in the heart of Hong Kong, is cutting the city apart. The fact that the building is owned by the government only heightens their perception of hidden meanings.

Despite this, life in Hong Kong continued as it always had. People scurried about attending to their business. There was some tension, though. Unlike in China, where feelings were extremely open, it was very difficult for us to get anyone in Hong Kong to tell us their opinion of the handover. People in general seemed to not want to think about the event, nor about the effects it is having and will have in their lives.

This superstition and the people's actions demonstrate their views toward China: they don't like the handover and the possible effects on the economy and human rights, but they have learned to deal with it. There is nothing they can do, so they are not going to fight it. The people who can leave the country have already left and those remaining will just try to make the most of it.

One interesting idea on the significance of the handover came from Marvin, a member of my tour group who was born in China but spent time in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and now lives the U.S. "Of course Hong Kong will change. How could it not?" he said. "Many people say that the future of Hong Kong depends on the Chinese government. I think instead the future of Hong Kong depends on the Taiwanese government," he said. "Hong Kong will be set up as a model for Taiwan to see. Hong Kong has been returned and Macau will be easy. Taiwan is the hard battle, and the Chinese government wants to show the world that having Taiwan under its rule wouldn't be so bad: just look at what is happening in Hong Kong'."