1997 and all that

Demanding some changes on Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Establishment Day, Peter Sherwood suggests we start with a pink bauhinia

July 1 is the anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997. There was another historical British occasion (and an unsurpassed disaster) on the same day a century ago – the massive 1916 British offensive against German forces near the River Somme in Picardy, northern France. Some 20,000 British soldiers were killed and 40,000 wounded; the single heaviest day of casualties in British military history.

Fireworks of a different kind play out over Victoria Harbour in celebration of the handover, a term that always strikes me as best suited to a national mugging: “OK, Britain, handover your colony.”

Instead of a yawning world being presented with fireworks, yet again, I’ve been pushing for something more original to make international headlines on our special day. For instance, we could give the millions that go up in sparkling pollution to Hong Kong’s poorest. In this filthy rich city of every known excess, an estimated 1.2 million people live in dire poverty. From 15-square-foot enclosures known as coffin homes to cage homes, which resemble livestock coops, our low-income housing leaves a lot to be desired. Helping people out of destitution might not pack a pyrotechnic punch – no matter how stale and shabby – but at least we’d feel better about ourselves.

Pomp and circumstance

While penury is an accepted human madness, can we (please) dispense with all the contrived, faux nationalistic pomp and circumstance that seeks to stimulate a patriotic frenzy? The Brits do that stuff really well – we’re just playing at it. And no one, who is not paid to be, is impressed. Note to the government PR unit: Stop it. You’re trying too hard, and apart from a day off work and explosions filling the damp atmosphere, your offering is pretty tiresome.

And change the name. Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Establishment Day does not exactly engender an emotional tug of tears and togetherness. Our bland bureaucrats might as well call it Here Today and Gone Tomorrow Day or 2047: It’s Closer Than You Think Day. And the flag – get rid of it, it’s beyond dull, as is the statue in Wanchai’s Golden Bauhinia Square. The real Bauhinia is a lovely, local orchid. It’s time to give our emblem some natural colour, or would a pink bauhinia look too feminine and upset the anti-gay movement across the border?

I hear that this year’s pageantry will include a riveting flag-raising ceremony guaranteed to get the masses fighting for a vantage point, while the ‘sketching and painting activities’ will garner feverish media excitement. Visitors are invited to ‘partake in the festivities’ (provided they don’t suffer from a cardiac condition that could be exacerbated by nationalistic hysteria). I’ll be taking it easy – in a bar somewhere.


Peter Sherwood has lived in DB for 17 years. The former head of an international public relations firm, Peter is the author of 15 books and he has written around 400 satirical columns for the South China Morning Post.

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