Imagine if the handover never happened and you’re under a Teresa May government, running across a wheat field. Oh goodness! – BC, Editor-In-Chief (The Typewriter)
In 1997, what was once an empire that never saw a sunset handed over its last colony to the next superpower of the world. After 150 years of humiliation at the hands of Western colonisers, Britain formally returned Hong Kong to China.
Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping famously warned British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1982 that British rule in Hong Kong could be overthrown by the Chinese in just a single day. This marked the beginning of the end for the once formidable British empire with Thatcher conceding that there was nothing she could do to prevent an early handover if push came to shove.
However it would be another 15 years before Hong Kong returned to China or in what some people in Hong Kong describe as the changing of the coloniser. July 1st 1997 may have appeared to be a victory for China but 20 years on, how is the journey of “One Country, Two Systems” actually going?
Upon arriving in Hong Kong this week, Chinese President Xi Jinping said his visit was to inspect the city’s progress and development in the past 2 decades. The official visit includes the swearing-in of Hong Kong’s first female Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on 1st July.
Hong Kong is now a city more divided than ever before both socially and politically. Housing remains largely affordable for young people and new families with increasing competition from mainland Chinese immigration. Civil liberties are under attack from the Hong Kong government eager to appease its masters in Beijing.
Many of the major news events since 1997 have been political highlighting the power struggles for Hong Kong and within Hong Kong. From the appointment of Tung Chee-hwa as the first Chief Executive to his dismissal, rise of Hong Kong’s son Donald Tsang to his jail sentence for corruption and the highly polarising Leung Chun-ying that faced the brunt of the Umbrella Revolution protests, without a doubt Hong K0ng is very much strung by politics whether many choose to admit it or not.
In recent years, the rise of pro-independence voices have also been countered by pro-China patriots seeking to affirm support for the mainland. Protests have become quite commonplace although its impacts are contentious with many people in Hong Kong weary of civil disobedience after the 2014 Umbrella Revolution.
For many of Hong Kong’s young people born around 1997, this weekend’s handover celebrations is largely devoid of significant meaning as most are too young to remember the supposedly better British days of colonial Hong Kong. For many post-90s Hong Kongers, they find themselves in a precarious socio-political place where they are surrounded by an echo-chamber of nostalgia about the colonial days and a backlash against the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing.
Hong Kong once a colony of Britain now a colony of China is somewhat accurate with increasing mainland influences both in official government decisions and in general society. The mandatory introduction of Mandarin and Chinese history into Hong Kong classrooms is part of wider pushes from Beijing to prepare the former British colony for 2047 when the “One Country, Two Systems” model expires.
This weekend may be an anniversary of mixed feelings for Hong Kong, but it ought to be the future especially towards 2047 that the city must learn to reconcile with. Hong Kong is nearly half-way in its 50 year road to full “unification” with China whether it be voluntary or forced, much needs to be done especially on the Chinese government’s behalf to sell a narrative and a country that Hong Kong yearns to belong with.
This post has also appeared in The Typewriter.