Hong Kong's future will be Chinese, but what will be the residual influence of British traditions? As 1997 approaches, it remains unclear how much political and economic autonomy Beijing will tolerate. Ending the impasse between Britain and China could have some benefits, but lasting prosperity requires that Hong Kong retain its cosmopolitan spirit, says Philip Bowringby Philip Bowring / October 20, 1995 / Leave a comment
Published in October 1995 issue of Prospect Magazine
Hong Kong has little time for history. That is perhaps just as well. Historic buildings get in the way of developers’ profits. History books remind the Chinese that this city semi-state was born out of China’s humiliation by western imperialism.
But a sense of history must be the starting point for any soothsaying about 1997 and beyond. Will this date signal the end of something remarkable? Or a new beginning for what will be one of the world’s greatest cities for centuries to come? Will this date, etched in the consciousness of Hong Kong as surely as 1066 is a part of the English psyche, prove a non-event? Will it see an almost seamless transition from 150 years of British rule to the 50 years of continuity and autonomy promised by the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong?
Hong Kong’s future will belong to China, but important to the evolution of the next 50 years will be the extent of the survival of British-derived institutions. Will Hong Kong be like India, where law, parliament, even railway timetables are not so different from 1947? Or will it be like Aden? It matters not because these institutions are intrinsically admirable, but because they are part of what Hong Kong is and wants to remain.