A Modern-day Rip Van Winkle who fell asleep a year ago and
woke up today would hardly realize that the British left Hong Kong
three months ago.
The street cars still trundle down Queen's Road. The
policemen wear the same uniforms, and Rip would have to look very
closely to note that the official flower has replaced the royal
crest on their cap badges.
China's People's Liberation Army moved into Hong Kong with
considerable fanfare on the morning of July 1 and disappeared into
its barracks never to be seen again. Its headquarters in what is
still known as the Prince of Wales Building often looks deserted.
About the only thing Rip might notice are the new
red-and-white flags of Hong Kong flying where the British Union
Jack used to flutter. Oh yes, and the familiar red Royal Mail post
office boxes have been painted green.
Other than those, the "new" Hong Kong looks, feels, and
operates remarkably like the old Hong Kong.
"It's business as usual," Chief Executive Tung Chee Hwa tells
everyone he meets these days.
His first state-of-the-territory speech Wednesday also marked
the first 100 days of Chinese rule. In it, he set out a series of
policies from building more affordable housing to creating
high-tech industrial parks, from increasing new welfare payments to
the elderly to new railroads. He also promised vigorous action to
maintain Hong Kong's economic competitiveness.
Only once during his 125-minute speech did he touch on
politics. He reaffirmed his commitment to open, law-based
government, and announced that legislative elections will be held
in May. The election rules ensure the dominance of business
leaders, professionals, and pro-China candidates.
But despite these democratic setbacks, many residents say
life is, in many ways, the same. Journalists debate endlessly the
degree to which they censor themselves, pull punches, or otherwise
try to accommodate a more patriotic line in their reporting, while
mainly going about the business of printing the news.
"Nothing seems very different," says Sophia Woodman, director
of Human Rights in China, which continues to publish its magazine
China Rights Forum. The dissident magazine Beijing Spring can
still be found on newsstands and "The Gate of Heavenly Peace," a
hard-hitting documentary on the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen massacre, is
Hong Kong's promised autonomy in financial affairs got a test
during this summer as speculators attacked Southeast Asian