The weather was miserable; it was raining. Except for the temporary stadium nearby hosting the farewell for Chris Patten with Prince Charles in attendance, the streets were empty. Either there was something good on TV or the local Chinese had decided it was not a good idea to be seen taking to the streets.
In 1990, when we arrived in Hong Kong the local Chinese were clamouring for overseas passports (moving their families overseas to achieve residency status). Large crowds demonstrated angrily about democracy and June 4th. Confidence in the economy was low. There were bank runs. As the decade moved on, confidence was restored and there was frenzy on the stock and property markets,
The power visibly shifted from London to local wealthy Chinese and then to Beijing. By 1997, there was an air of acceptance, local Chinese had rediscovered their mainland roots, and everyone seemed to have a mainland cousin. The order of the day seemed to be to keep their heads down and maintain business as usual.
People worried about the mainland bringing lawlessness to Hong Kong.
One lunchtime, I heard bullets being exchanged in a running gunfight between mainland robbers of a gold shop and the HK police on the streets of Central. The HK police soon discovered that ex PLA (People’s Liberation Army) soldiers had been recruited by local Triads to carry out gold shop robberies in Central. It is rumoured that the Triads were told to knock it off. The robberies stopped.
A few months before the handover PLA troops had been stationed in Hong Kong. They were paid very little and people were concerned that they would get into mischief as soldiers do. In fact, they were locked inside their Central barracks and did not seem to be allowed out.
The Basic Law was implemented, and Human Rights legislation was introduced. However, Beijing was to call the shots in Legco (HK’s parliament). As the handover came near supporters of the mainland government surfaced, becoming vocal and dominant. The parties supporting democracy under Martin Lee became beleaguered.
Chris Patten advocated democracy for the HK people a little bit too rigorously, and Beijing dubbed him a “prostitute” and “man of eternal guilt."
It was against this background that on 19 June 1997 Diane and I sat in Legco for the Last Question Time of Chris Patten. Some Pro-Beijing councillors were openly hostile towards him asking questions such as, was he ashamed of what he had been doing.
Chris Patten gave the most brilliant of performances. He wiped the floor with hostile questioners. Everyone else enjoyed the event immensely. We were all aware that this was a historic occasion.
So that is how I found myself in Central at midnight on 30 June 1997 singing “Rule Britannia." It seemed the right thing to do. A few people joined in. Others watched on in silence.
We then walked to the harbour and watched Chris Patten sail away on the Britannia, its light ablaze.
On our way to the harbour we chatted to a HK Chinese policeman. He gave us a button from his uniform; the crown was not required anymore.