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HONG KONG: One Country, Two Systems, but Will It Be
Free?

'The End of Humiliation' in China's Eyes

In economic lifestyle and political freedoms, Hong Kong has little in common with its new proprietor. But Beijing prefers to emphasize the somewhat amorphous pan-Chinese-ness of July 1 event.

June 15, 1997|RONE TEMPEST | Times Staff Writer

BEIJING — At midnight on March 22, China held a dress rehearsal for its big reunion with Hong Kong by staging a carefully choreographed demonstration in Tiananmen Square, the first rally of any kind--staged or not--since the bloody end to the student-led pro-democracy protests in the same historic central plaza in 1989.

This was a handpicked crowd of about 1,000 students, mostly from People's University and Qinghua University in China's capital. They assembled in front of the huge stone facade of the Revolutionary History Museum to watch as a large digital electric clock blinked the final seconds down to exactly 100 days, 0 seconds until the fateful day--July 1--when Hong Kong will be officially repatriated to the motherland.

State television crews and newspaper photographers were on hand to record the modest celebration as the students unfurled patriotic banners and chanted in Mandarin: "Hong Kong, Welcome Home!" In the shadows of the museum and on the steps of the nearby Monument to the People's Heroes, small units of police and plainclothes state security officers observed quietly.

For the main event July 1, the festivities in the famous square will be on a grander scale. But the emphasis will still be on control.

It's not that the Beijing regime wants to downplay the significance of Hong Kong's return, which it sees as a nationalistic rallying point for both mainland and overseas Chinese. In terms of economic lifestyle and political freedoms, Hong Kong has little in common with its new proprietor. However, China's leaders prefer to emphasize the somewhat amorphous pan-Chinese-ness of the event.

"Every son and daughter of the Chinese nation cannot help but feel emotional in the bottom of our hearts," waxed the official New China News Agency.

In a speech last year that, especially for a Communist leader, had oddly religious overtones, Politburo member Li Ruihuan observed that, "after the reversion of Hong Kong, we will have avenged the wrongs committed against our ancestors. We can console their spirits in high heavens and teach our descendants to learn that China must be strong or she will be bullied, beaten up, occupied and carved up."

But since the events of June 1989, when hundreds and possibly thousands of citizens died after armored cavalry units of the People's Liberation Army swept into the capital to roust the demonstrating students, the Beijing regime has been wary of spontaneous mass events.

Thus, the Hong Kong hand-over--the first peaceful acquisition of Chinese territory since World War II--will be marked in Tiananmen Square by an invitation-only gathering of party officials and selected state work units.

The government says it will put up a television screen "wall" in the square's center. Several thousand children will be assembled to lead the countdown as the screen displays the lowering of the Union Jack and the raising of the red Chinese standard with its five-pointed gold star and four lesser stars.

But most Chinese will watch the events on state television, which will devote 72 hours of coverage to the event beginning at 7 p.m. Beijing time June 30. China Central Television has conducted a sweeping campaign--including Hong Kong theme quiz shows and docudramas--to build patriotism while educating the world's most populous country about the conditions of the Hong Kong hand-over.

"Mostly they [the Chinese leadership] are using the return of Hong Kong to promote patriotism, and they appear to be doing so successfully," Xu Jiantun, China's former top official in Hong Kong, said in a telephone interview. Xu, who was also a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, defected to the United States after the army crackdown in Tiananmen Square and now lives in Southern California.

For the majority of Chinese, the repatriation of Hong Kong remains a symbolic event that will hardly affect daily life. Under terms of the agreement signed by the Chinese and British governments, most Chinese will not be allowed even to visit their repossessed territory.

The Shenzhen Special Economic Zone that borders Hong Kong already requires special permits for Chinese citizens to enter. Shenzhen will continue to act as a buffer between Hong Kong and the mainland.

If anything, the security insulating Hong Kong from China will be increased under Chinese rule. British police patrolling the border have reported a sharp decline in illegal entries, suggesting a crackdown on the Chinese side of the border in anticipation of the July hand-over.

Meanwhile, despite the emphasis on shared Chinese culture, the reunification is not necessarily a good fit: Half the residents of Hong Kong, for example, are refugees from the very Communist regime that will become their new master. Most Hong Kong people speak Cantonese--a dialect of Chinese that is incomprehensible to the vast majority of mainland Chinese. English will remain the second official language.

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