HONG KONG HANDOVER
JUNE 16, 1997
A look at how some in Hong Kong are preparing for the transition from British to Chinese rule. Will communism bring drastic change, or can life in Hong Kong still be business as usual? Ian Williams of ITN reports.
JIM LEHRER: Still to come on the NewsHour tonight, another view of the Hong Kong turnover and moving on in Oklahoma City. Ian Williams of Independent Television News has the Hong Kong report. It's about some folks there who are delighted the British are leaving.
IAN WILLIAMS, ITN: In Hong Kong's new territories the Tang family are remembering the dead at their ancestral graves. A pig is carved as an offering to the several generations of Tangs buried here. By tradition, this elaborate and upbeat ceremony is led by the family elder, Tang Pak Wing, who throws lucky money around the grave to ward off the ghosts.
The Tang clan, Hong Kong's oldest, is a group of extended families who trace their lineage back nearly a thousand years to the area's original inhabitants. And today 77-year-old Mr. Tang is the most senior of the clansmen. His branch of the clan still lives in an ancient walled village close to the border with China. The entrance hall is lined with plaques awarded to ancestors who worked as senior government officials last century during China's Chin Dynasty.
When the British occupied the new territories, the Tangs had already been there for 900 years, and they waged a private, though futile, war of resistance. Over the decades that followed they've retained the fierce patriotism, heightened by the end of British colonial rule.
TANG PAK WING: (speaking through interpreter) Basically, I support China's takeover of Hong Kong. At the moment, we have colonial government, but we'll have our own after the handover. It's a happy thing.
IAN WILLIAMS: Today, much of the new territories are still a world apart from the commercial frenzy of Hong Kong's island. In some areas it seems little has changed since China leased the area to Britain in 1898, the lease that expires on June the 30th. In the early days of British rule the new territories were the least developed part of the colony, and the indigenous peoples were able to retain much of their character and tradition. Many of the original villages are still standing, though clan members are now vastly outnumbered by those who fled to Hong Kong from Communist China and were rehoused in vast estates that now dot the territories.
Mr. Tang still demonstrates his national pride by hoisting a Chinese flag on his property, only his flag is that of the anti-Communist forces which lost the civil war in 1949. While Mr. Tang is delighted to see the back of the British, he's deeply suspicious of the Communists.
TANG PAK WING: (speaking through interpreter) I wonder what will happen in Hong Kong after the handover. Will they maintain the rule of law and democracy that we have now? I have my doubts, but others just don't think about it.
IAN WILLIAMS: Those reservations about the Communists are not shared by other members of the Tang clan who are already organizing massive celebrations to welcome Hong Kong's new rulers. Dr. Tang's Hutong, who traces his ancestry in Hong Kong back 27 generations, is chairman of the Celebration Committee in one of the biggest towns close to the border. Though he was educated in Britain, he's been appointed an adviser to China and is the driving force behind a series of events culminating on July 1st.
DR. TANG SIU TONG: We celebrate this occasion because it's a pride of the people of China, of Hong Kong really, that they are able to leave the colonial rule and back to the Mainland China. The second thing is that we should have a very optimistic look of the future. We should not be pessimistic because things change. Even China things change.
IAN WILLIAMS: In the Tang ancestral hall a dinner to celebrate the handover and commemorate the struggle against the British by the indigenous people. Dr. Tang is guest of honor. He's used his status as a member of the area's oldest clan to urge people to dispel any fears they may have about the future and to show their national pride.
One of the most poignant sources of pride for all the Tang clan was until recently hidden from view, its very existence kept secret from the British authorities. There are no names on this tomb, the bodies inside having been buried secretly 100 years ago. This tomb contains the remains of more than 1,000 indigenous people who died fighting the British and were buried here in great secrecy out of fear of reprisals against their families. Whatever their differences about the future, both Tangs are proud of their history and of this monument which they call "The Tomb of the Heroes." (music in background)
As the handover has approached, so the people of the new territories have been treated to a spate of cultural performances from Mainland China--courtesy again of Dr. Tang's celebration committee. The aim--complete with subtitles for the majority unfamiliar with this Mainland dialect--is to solidify the links between Hong Kong and China. This will soon be followed by an opera sung by the People's Liberation Army in honor of the indigenous people and their struggle against the British.
Old Mr. Tang, the keeper of the clan's history, may feel the endorsement of the PLA is something he can do without. That history is important to him. His ancestors were servants of the emperor, and he would never raise the Communist flag. He's adamant Hong Kong's new rulers will have to prove themselves worthy before he joins any celebrations.