This year marks the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover and transition from a British colony to a special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China. Some people will recall the tears of the last governor Chris Patten after he gave his farewell speech at Tamar. But for our generation, such scenes are known only from historical news footage and the stories from that era may seem unfamiliar and even strange.
Still, many of the events, issues and emotions triggered during that time still affect us now in many ways. Hong Kong has undergone many changes in the past 20 years, economically, socially, culturally and politically. Its people have had to reflect on what it means to be a Hongkonger, legally and culturally. Teachers, parents and students have had to grapple with far-reaching education reforms, and different generations of Hong Kong people have had to assess how they view China.
On the first working day after July 1, a long line of parents and children queued up at the Immigration Department. They were there to claim the right of abode in Hong Kong under Article 24 of the Basic Law, which had come into effect on July 1. The fight for residency rights for the Mainland-born children of Hong Kong permanent residents dragged on for years, led to a government projection that Hong Kong would be flooded by 1.67 million mainland migrants and resulted in the National People’s Congress Standing Committee’s first interpretation of the Basic Law.
The fallout was, and is, immense. Many in the legal profession believe the interpretation set a bad precedent for Hong Kong’s judicial independence and the discourse around abode seekers and mainland arrivals has had a lasting impact on how Hong Kong people view mainland migrants.
Ironically, with greater economic integration between Hong Kong and the Mainland in the past 20 years, millions of mainland visitors have travelled to Hong Kong under the Individual Visit Scheme. The government has used the Quality Migrant Admission Scheme to attract mainland talent and a wave of babies who were born to non-Hong Kong parents automatically gained residency rights.
A raft of sweeping education reforms have also been instituted in the past 20 years, including some related to the medium of instruction. In 1997, the government announced the widespread implementation of mother-tongue teaching, replacing English with Cantonese as the language of the classroom. In 2008, it handed out funds to schools to promote the teaching of Chinese in Putonghua. And in 2011 it introduced a “fine-tuning” policy to give schools greater flexibility to teach in English again.
Teachers have toiled to keep up with the changes, students struggle under an increasingly heavy workload, employers complain about falling English standards. We look at how the policies related to the medium of instruction in schools since 1997 have affected students, parents and teachers.
Much attention has been paid to Hong Kong people’s changing sense of identity since the handover. We look at how people of different generations perceive China. Those born in 1967 came into the world as leftist riots rocked Hong Kong and the Mainland was in the grip of Cultural Revolution. The Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong’s future was signed in 1984 and those born in that year grew up in the transition years, when many sought to emigrate, even though Hong Kong’s economy was booming.
It is interesting to see that those born in 1997, who have only known Hong Kong under Chinese sovereignty, are the ones with the strongest sense of localism; while those who experienced British rule feel a relatively stronger connection to China. We talk to Hongkongers born in these three eras and ask how different circumstances during their formative years contributed to their perception of China.
Most of the reporters who worked on this issue were born in 1997. It is not only a special year for them, but also for every Hongkonger. We hope that you will enjoy reading it on this, the 20th anniversary of the handover.