Hong Kong: 21 Years After the Handover – What’s Changed?


A statue of Queen Victoria continues to preside over Victoria Park in Hong Kong’s bustling Causeway District 15 years after the former British Crown Colony’s return to Chinese sovereignty. Most colonial era nomenclature survived the Handover. Photo Credit: Minghong via Wikimedia Commons.

Festivals and Holidays

Has it really been 21 years?

Just before midnight on the night of 30 June 1997, the Union Jack was lowered to the strains of God Save the Queen for the last time in a solemn ceremony at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wanchai.

At the stroke of midnight, the five starred flag red flag of the People’s Republic of China was raised to the tune of March of the Volunteers, the Chinese national anthem.

Tung Chee-hwa was sworn in as the Special Administrative Region’s first Chief Executive.

Hong Kong’s last Governor, Chris Patten, his wife, and daughters sailed majestically out of Victoria Harbour a couple of hours later.

High Degree of Autonomy

Big changes were expected in Hong Kong, but life goes on pretty much as it did before the Handover. Guaranteed a “high degree of autonomy” under the Basic Law, Hong Kong continues to enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of worship, a free press, and freedom of travel.

Hong Kong levies its own taxes, maintains its own customs, issues its own stamps, prints its own money, and has its own legal system. The border between Hong Kong and the mainland, in fact, was actually strengthened after the Handover.

Contrary to expectations, there have been few name changes since the Handover. Such colonial appellations as Queen’s Road Central, Prince Edward MTR Station, and Princess Margaret Hospital continue.

There is still even a statue of Queen Victoria in Hong Kong’s largest urban park, Victoria Park, which is situated in the heart of the city’s bustling Causeway Bay district.

Top 10 Events in Hong Kong – 1997 – 2012

Here’s a nostalgic look back at some of the trials and tribulations that have taken place during Hong Kong’s first 15 years under the One Country, Two Party system.

  • 1 July 1997 – at dawn, 4,000 troops from the People’s Liberation Army cross the border and make their ways to the military barracks abandoned by the British Armed Forces just hours earlier.
  • 6 July 1998 – Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok opens, and everything that could go wrong seems to go wrong.
  • 1 April 2003 – Canto-pop icon Leslie Cheung commits suicide by jumping from the 24th floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, unleashing an outpouring of grief.
  • Spring 2003 – the city is rocked by SARS, which claims 299 lives, causing the closure of schools and an unprecedented quarantine.
  • 1 July 2003 – Half a million people take to the streets to protest provisions of a proposed anti-subversion law, call for the resignation of Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, and express general dissatisfaction with the state of affairs in the city.
  • September 2005 – Hong Kong Disneyland opens, drawing smaller than expected crowds and relentless criticism in the media.
  • 2005 – Police draw criticism for using pepper spray as South Korean farmers and others protest the WTO in the streets of Hong Kong.
  • 2006 – Hong Kong’s first Internet sensation, Bus Uncle goes viral on YouTube as a young chap is filmed asking middle aged Roger Chan to lower his voice while talking on his mobile phone. “I’ve got my pressure, you’ve got your pressure!” becomes a buzz word.
  • 2010 – millions of Hong Kong people sit glued to their television screens as Philippines police officer Rolando Mendoza shoots seven Hong Kong tourists and their tour guide dead on live TV during a bungled rescue attempt.
  • 2012 – There are calls for Chief Executive Donald Tseng to step down as outrage against cronyism and his lavish lifestyle is exposed in the media.
  • 2012 – Leung Chun-ying is chosen by a small circle of power brokers as Hong Kong’s third Chief Executive. Will he prove more popular than the first two chief executives? Will the next Chief Executive be chosen by universal franchise?


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