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THE GOODS | CYBURBIA

As Hong Kong Waits, Web Talk Reacts

June 10, 1997|DAVID COLKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The countdown clock on my computer screen reads: 31 Days, 02 hours, 10 minutes, 29 seconds. When it reaches zero, a long-anticipated, peaceful political upheaval will occur.

The clock is on the home page of a newspaper, the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong.

It is no surprise that the July 1 hand-over of Hong Kong to China from the British, which has ruled there for more than 150 years, is the subject of several World Wide Web sites. Other changes in political power--including the break up of the Soviet Union and the recent civil war in what is now the Congo--have been discussed extensively on the Internet.

But most of these changeovers occurred in atmospheres of upheaval and even violence. The return of Hong Kong to China--which lost it in 1841 in the wake of the first Opium War--is a peaceful one. Britain and China signed a joint declaration in 1984 that assured the handoff. Later, China approved a Basic Law that declared the current political and economic status of thriving Hong Kong would undergo little change for at least 50 years.

But on the Web, the tensions and uncertainties generated by the takeover are apparent.

One of the best sites is that of the Post at http://www.scmp.com/1997. It offers basic information, including the texts of the joint declaration and the Basic Law, and profiles of current political leaders. Its most interesting section is a guide to how the changeover will affect many aspects of everyday life, including language, media, police, sports, money, phones and even marriage.

On the question of censorship, the paper notes that the Basic Law guarantees freedom of speech and the press. But it also notes that one high-ranking Chinese official recently warned that publications should not advocate independence for Taiwan or Tibet, and another declared that attacks on Chinese leaders would not be tolerated.

There is an official Chinese site--http://www.hk1997.china.com/english/front/front.html--which offers little more than boring, party-line prose on the "celebrations" that will mark the changeover. Those who have visited China will not be shocked to learn that the site is extremely slow in Internet terms.

Individuals have established sites to express their own opinions. David Ho's home page at http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/2988 declares at the very top, "Beijing! Leave Hong Kong alone!" He goes on to post an impassioned "97 Theses" on why Hong Kong residents should be allowed to form their own government. "Hong Kong is not returning to the motherland, but rather coming under Pekinese Occupation," he argues.

On the other hand, Hong Kong resident Charles B.D. Caldwell says he believes the Basic Law will be followed because it's in the best economic interest of China. "If anything will result in the territory's demise," he writes, "it will be the world's lack of confidence."

His site, at http://www.gateway.net.hk/~ caldwell, provides a forum for those who do not agree with him.

Finally, there is a new, engaging stateside site created by staffers at POV, the documentary film series shown on PBS. One fascinating aspect of this site--at http://www.pbs.org/pov/hongkong--is a collection of diary entries sent in by people living in Hong Kong. People from all walks of life discuss how the changeover might affect them.

A legal secretary longs for stability. "At the time when I married," she writes, "my husband and I decided not to have any kids because of the uncertainty that surrounds the future of Hong Kong."

A man who signs his diary "Old Timer," writes that he believes residents will undergo only "slight changes" in their lives. Anyway, he is so set in his ways that, "nothing affects me at all."

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Cyburbia's e-mail address is david.colker@latimes.com.

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