I originally wrote this on 01 July, 1997, the day on which Britain handed control of Hong Kong back to China. My opinions have not significantly changed since.
Today is a new day for Hong Kong. At 4am (New Zealand time), the Union Jack was lowered and the flag of Red China raised.
It is with mixed feelings that I witness the handover - feelings of pride, shame, sadness, fear, hope - all rolled into one.
There is a certain sense of sadness. As a subject of the Queen, I feel a certain connection with the once-great British Empire. At its greatest extent, in the early 1920s, it ruled lands on every continent. The sun never set on the British Empire. Ireland; Canada, Belize, Guyana, and most of the Caribbean; Australia, New Zealand, and most of the Pacific; India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Israel, Iraq, and the Gulf States; a vast expanse of territories between Cairo and Capetown, along with Nigeria, Ghana, the Gambia, and Sierra Leone further to the west; all these were ruled by Britain. The return of Hong Kong is the end of an era lasting almost four hundred years. Apart from Gibraltar, a few scattered islands in the Pacific and the Caribbean, and the almost uninhabited British Antarctic Territory, it has all gone. Although I am a republican, the death of a mighty empire into which I was born (in its dying days), grieves me.
Pride and shame are mingled. There is a sense of pride at what Britain did for its colonies, and more especially for Hong Kong - a barren rock was transformed into an economic giant which, with just 0.5 percent of China's population, accounts for almost a sixth of its economy. But there is also shame - shame at how the British obtained Hong Kong in the first place, in the Opium Wars, and shame at the end of the drama too. The people of Hong Kong have been betrayed and handed over to a monster; according to the 1898 treaty, the British did not need to hand over Hong Kong Island or Kowloon. Only the New Territories needed to be handed back. The people of Hong Kong would have preferred independence, but trade with China was more important to the British than the wishes of six million British subjects. And I, as a citizen of another former British colony, which is still in a few small ways subject to Britain, feel the shame.
Fear is also mingled with hope. Like many, I am fearful that China may not keep its promise of internal autonomy, and may restrict civil liberties. They have already sacked the democratically elected legislature and installed a puppet parliament of their own. But there is also hope. The people of Hong Kong have had 156 years of exposure to Western ideas about freedom. Maybe those ideas can start seeping into China too.
© David Cannon.