BEIJING — Returning to a triumphant mainland as the first Chinese head of state over Hong Kong in more than 150 years, President Jiang Zemin hailed the start of a new chapter for his reunited country Tuesday and pledged that the former British colony will shine even brighter under Chinese rule.
"The return of Hong Kong marks an end to the 100-year national humiliation of leaving Hong Kong under foreign occupation and has opened a new era of common development," Jiang told 80,000 spectators at an evening jubilee in Beijing. With the continued support of "the great motherland," he added, "the international metropolis of Hong Kong will [give off] even greater radiance."
It was Jiang's first address on mainland soil since the official hand-over ceremony at midnight Monday. In a 20-minute speech broadcast live on national television, Jiang invoked Chinese history, from the Opium Wars to the founding of the Communist Party, as a guide for the present--with himself, as speaker after speaker affirmed, "at the core."
The remarks dovetailed neatly both with the tide of nationalism occasioned here by the repatriation of Hong Kong and with Jiang's efforts to shore up his position as the nation's top politician after "paramount leader" Deng Xiaoping's death in February. Across the country, citizens and officials continued to exult over Hong Kong's transfer, pounding an ever-louder patriotic drum and praising the leadership of Jiang and his predecessor.
"The loss of Hong Kong and its recovery tells us that national strength is more important than anything," declared Xie Xide, an elderly official with the Chinese Academy of Sciences who spoke at a festival in Shanghai.
Although she had to be helped to the lectern, where she attributed the smooth return of Hong Kong to Jiang and Deng, Xie punched her fist in the air as she cried, "Long live the motherland!" to appreciative applause.
Such nationalistic strutting was in full plumage wherever celebrations were held Tuesday, the first day of China's sovereignty over Hong Kong and a national holiday here. Although many ordinary Chinese have given only a passing nod to the hand-over, grateful mostly for an extra day off work, others have waved the Chinese flag with perhaps the most fervor the nation has seen since 1949 at the founding of the People's Republic, when Mao Tse-tung announced that the Chinese people had "stood up."
"It's time for the Chinese to raise their heads," said Yu Guoqing, 22, a worker at the Beijing No. 3 Construction Co.
"I've been to Hong Kong, and I saw some British soldiers on our Chinese land. I feel the shame of that," said Tang Haigen, 67, one of tens of thousands of people who turned out Tuesday evening in Shanghai to watch a fireworks display. "Now I feel proud that Hong Kong is returning."
The comments illustrate the two sides of the "national humiliation" that the central government has emphasized in its handling of the hand-over. Not only did Britain act shamefully in inflicting terrible defeats on China in the 19th century, goes the party line, but also China was too weak and corrupt itself to resist the lure of opium or the guns of its opponents, exposing a deep and embarrassing stain on the national character.
Repossessing Hong Kong has erased all that, officials and citizens say, describing the event as a result--not a potential cause--of China's growing stature on the world scene after decades in the political, social and economic wilderness.
In his speech at the Workers Stadium gala in Beijing on Tuesday evening, Jiang echoed the point.
"The Chinese people have made remarkable achievements in their modernization endeavor," he said. "As a result, China now enjoys a higher international status in the world. It is against this background and for this very reason that Hong Kong has come back to China."
Scheduled next for return is the Portuguese territory of Macao, in 1999, and then one day, Chinese leaders say, the biggest prize, Taiwan, whose officials have been looking askance at the swelling nationalism across the Taiwan Strait. Jiang and Chinese Premier Li Peng appealed to Taiwan on Tuesday to consider more carefully the "one country, two systems" agreement for Hong Kong as the template for a return of Taiwan.
Though only in its beginning stages, the smooth transfer of power in Hong Kong has raised Jiang's profile and image on the mainland at a time when he is trying to solidify his claim as Deng's successor. A relatively obscure technocrat tapped by Deng to eventually become the head of the world's most populous country, Jiang faces his most important test this fall at the 15th National Party Congress, where the political lineup in the first post-Deng government will be settled.
The Hong Kong hand-over has granted him a valuable opportunity to strengthen his hand as the most visible and powerful leader in the Communist Party, which marked its 76th anniversary Tuesday.