ONE COUNTRY; TWO SYSTEMS?
JUNE 30, 1997
Hong Kong has returned to China after 156 years of British rule. Emotions range from elation that the Opium Wars are now truly over, to skepticism over the future of real democracy. Following a background report from Independent Television News, Jim Lehrer leads a panel discussion.
JIM LEHRER: Now, what happened today as seen by four Chinese-Americans. Nien Cheng, author of Life and Death in Shanghai, an autobiographical account of her six-year imprisonment during the Chinese cultural revolution, she was born in Beijing, now lives in Washington; Alice Young, an attorney at the New York firm of Kaye, Scholer, Fierman, Hays, and Handler, where she chairs the Asia Pacific Practice--she was born in the United States, practiced law in Hong Kong from 1974 to '76; Julie Lee, host of a radio talk show for Hong Kong immigrants in San Francisco, she was born in Shanghai, lived in Hong Kong from 1960 to '69; Da Hsuan Feng, a teacher of physics at Drexel University--he was born in Singapore, travels regularly to Hong Kong to discuss education policy, among other things.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
Online NewsHour Forum:
July 3, 1997:
Pose your questions to our correspondents in Hong Kong about the handover, and the territory's future.
June 30, 1997:
A background report on the handover ceremonies in Hong Kong.
June 29, 1997:
Essayist Richard Rodriguez reflects on America's relationship with China.
June 23, 1997:
How the British will retreat from Hong Kong.
June 16, 1997:
Will China's communism bring drastic change, or business as usual?
June 10, 1996:
Just who is Tung Chee-hwa--the man who will take over Hong Kong when it is returned to Chinese control?
December 17, 1996:
Human rights abuses in China.
Online NewsHour's Asia Index.
Ms. Cheng, what are your strongest feelings about what happened today?
NIEN CHENG, Author: Being ethnic Chinese, of course, I feel Hong Kong should be returned to China, but I regret it is a repressive Communist government, not a democratic government that Hong Kong is being returned to. I hope they will do well, but I am afraid, knowing the Communists as I do, having lived under Communist government for 30 years, I doubt if they can manage Hong Kong effectively.
JIM LEHRER: On a personal level, is it an emotional moment for you--
NIEN CHENG: No--
JIM LEHRER: --watching this just now?
NIEN CHENG: Oh, yes, of course. I think I remember from the time I was a little child Hong Kong always represented to the Chinese young people as the greatest shame of Chinese national history because Britain seized Hong Kong after defeating China in a humiliating war to force opium on the Chinese people. The governor of Guangdong province at that time resisted Britain's attempt to trade opium with China. And he burned the commodity of opium which had already landed and as a result of China's defeat, not only China had to pay reparation to Britain large sum of money, but--but also this governor was severely punished and exiled to Sindyung for the rest of his life. I had known from the time I was a little girl that he was the greatest hero.
JIM LEHRER: So all of that came back to you today as you watched that.
NIEN CHENG: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Feng, what are the strongest feelings you have about what happened today?
DA HSUAN FENG, Physicist: Well, Jim, I must say that I'm very lucky to actually observe up close two reversals. The first one was in 1963, when Singapore became a part of Malaysia and left the great British--the colonial rule--and the second one is this one. I agree with the previous speaker that 1997 is incredibly euphoric for all of the people who are ethnically Chinese.
JIM LEHRER: Just because as a matter of history no matter what your views are?
DA HSUAN FENG: Absolutely. Whether one supports the government in Beijing or not, whether one is optimistic about Hong Kong's future or not, I think this is undeniably--today is the closure, as the lady earlier said, of the opium war. In a sense, the opium war has shamed the Chinese people for over 156 years, which is nearly 20 years before the end of the Civil War in the United States. So, I guess I would like to be able to tell you what's going to happen in the future, but I don't have the crystal ball.
Just like when I left Singapore in 1963, no one would have guessed that in three decades--three and a half decades--that whole region had become the economic powerhouse of the world. And in that sense I think it is very exciting, and I'd like to also bring out one point. When I was a technical adviser to one of the congressional delegations to China this--earlier this year--led by Congressman Kurt Weldon--he made a very exciting, interesting point. He compared the United States 50 years after its independence with China, which is--you know, with this regime approximately 50 years--he said that after 50 years in the United States, we had the blacks are not human beings and women cannot vote, so at that point, the human rights in the United States was nothing to be mentioned.
And so in this sense I think that by comparison after 50 years of Chinese Communist rule and--believe me--the first 30 years were brutal by any stretch of the imagination--the change is enormous and very exciting, and we can, you know, go after examples of an example as to what's happened within China at this moment. So this is the reason why I hold out some optimism in the future.
JIM LEHRER: Ms. Young, should this be seen as closure of the Opium War?
ALICE YOUNG, Attorney: I think it's closure, but I think it's also a new beginning. I'm so excited from both a personal and a business and a legal perspective. I was born in the United States. In fact, my name that my father gave me--my Chinese name--was Imai--which means--it means First Beauty is one interpretation--but what it really means is first born in the United States. My father came as a diplomat for the Chinese government, but he found that he was here without a government during the Communist takeover, so we were raised in the United States.
He lived through the McCarthy era; he took--majored in history but was told he really wouldn't be able to teach history as a Chinese. So we remember all of that and yet, having been born and raised in the United States, I'm very proud of being an ethnic Chinese, as well as an American. I first went to China or Hong Kong in 1974 as an American lawyer. And I saw what it was like as a very vibrant place, and yet clearly under British control. A lot has happened from '74 till now, and to witness the ceremonies--unfortunately, I wasn't able to be there because of work requirements here--but to see that dignified turnover, to see international treaties finally respected, to see the British handed over with honor, the Chinese accept with honor, it really was an extraordinary moment.
I think even more interestingly, watching the handover ceremony, to see the judges, the Chinese judges of the new--new Hong Kong government with their British wigs--the rule of law, hopefully enforced, we'll have to see, but China promising a separate system, a democratic--somewhat democratic system--I have a great deal of optimism, albeit somewhat guarded.
JIM LEHRER: So personally a day of celebration for you, right?
ALICE YOUNG: Yes. I think as a Chinese--you have to remember there are a billion, two hundred fifty million Chinese. In the U.S. I am somewhat unique--1 percent minority population--but to realize that there are five ethnic names in China--Wang being one--and there are 200 million people in China just with the surname of Wang--that would be the entire United States being named Wang. You realize the scale of this. It's really quite overwhelming.
JIM LEHRER: Ms. Lee, are you overwhelmed by what has happened today?
JULIE LEE, Radio Host: Yes, kind of. Yes, with very, very mixed feelings. And I was born and raised in Shanghai China. I went to Hong Kong, lived with my parents in 1960. And they lived in Hong Kong for nine years, and I came to San Francisco for good. Now, I have four children; they're all born and raised in this country. I'm an American-Chinese now, and we all have very, very mixed feelings, and I think for the long-term I think everything looks good, and for the time being I think it would be a little setback for Hong Kong people.
JIM LEHRER: In what way? What do you see, the setback?
JULIE LEE: Very simple. The government already giving the warnings for the media, newspaper. You will see, there will be only one side of stories, and for the time being, I guess, until everybody here and there push for the democratic process; hopefully they will do better in that area.
JIM LEHRER: So do you not trust the Chinese government when it says one--was it one country/two systems?
JULIE LEE: Well, we almost can see what's happening now. The newspaper already--all start to change--it's the real life. It's the fact, and I think everybody's mood today is different. It depends how much they have suffered in the past. For those who never suffered and especially for those who make business dealing with China, they would all talk very differently.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that, Professor Feng, that it depends on what your own experience has been as to what your mood is about what happened here today?
DA HSUAN FENG: Yes. I'm afraid so. I think we are all slaves of our youth in a sense. I certainly have not experienced the terrible times that many other Chinese have when they did live in China during the Cultural Revolutions and so on.
JIM LEHRER: Ms. Cheng, so you would agree with that, would you not? I mean--
NIEN CHENG: No. I try to be objective. I feel this way. There is a slight misunderstanding when you say one country/ two systems. I think the Chinese government was referring to the economic system. I don't think they meant democracy as against dictatorship. They meant socialism on the mainland, capitalism in Hong Kong, because they don't admit that what's going on on the mainland is capitalism.
ALICE YOUNG: I would have to disagree--
NIEN CHENG: I don't think they would tolerate political opposition.
JIM LEHRER: Ms. Young--let me ask Ms. Young about it. Do you agree with Ms. Cheng on that; that when the Chinese say two systems, they're only talking about economics; they're not talking about democracy?
ALICE YOUNG: I think under the basic law and under the joint declaration the Chinese have promised a level--a degree of democracy that is not available to Chinese currently in China. But that is a legal promise that they've made. So I think it is up to them to keep their promises, and it's up to us to be observant, to give them a little time, to be a little patient. I think C.H. Tung is going to prove to be a terrific leader. He's known to China. He's known to the West.
I think we should be a little bit patient. It's going--after all--this is a momentous occasion, but they've also had to review and consider thousands and thousands of laws, of regulations. It's going to--it's not all going to suddenly change in either direction, I think. But I think the important thing is for us to really adopt a patient wait and see attitude. After all, China has $30 billion invested in Hong Kong; they don't want to see it go by the wayside.
JIM LEHRER: Ms. Lee, are you in a mood to be patient?
JULIE LEE: I think I have no choice, especially people in Hong Kong now, and after today with all the media attention all over the world, with all of the cameras and the news personalities in Hong Kong, it really reminds me of the Tiananmen Square massacre. I think without that incident we always live happier, especially the people in Hong Kong.
DA HSUAN FENG: I believe that to talk about Hong Kong, one really has to link with the history of China, modern China. You know, in a sense, I would say the modern China began with my mother, who was born in the last year of the Ching Dynasty, and in the last eighty or ninety years, China has progressed enormously. For the first 50 years or so I think one looked at the history of China, it was one of tremendous bloody civil war, and when the Communists came in, except for the first year, it also was plunged into a great deal of turmoil until 1976, when China went through this--got rid of the Gang of Four. I think 1989, Tiananmen Square was certainly a terrible thing.
I think everybody would have agreed, because it showed on TV, but, you know, what happened prior to that was, if not worse, it was certainly very bad. And if we look at what happened to China since 1989, economic boom started then, almost--you look at the difference that went on since 1989, it was incredible. And so I think that what the Chinese leadership have is de facto use action to apologize somehow the action of 1989.
JIM LEHRER: Do you read it--let's ask Ms. Cheng--do you read it the same way; that through their actions they have essentially apologized for Tiananmen Square?
NIEN CHENG: Look, what they have done already, they abolished the elected legislature. They abolished it. They put in place an appointed legislature. Communists usually do not like opposition. They don't feel confident enough to endure criticism. We'll just wait and see.
ALICE YOUNG: I think and that's exactly what we should do, wait and see, because, after all, in March of 1998, they will have to have an election; for the first time in Hong Kong, the provisional legislature, which has now become the legislature, will have to go through an entirely new election process. I look forward to seeing how they do, whether they're able to handle that well a truly elective--
JIM LEHRER: Is that the first big test, do you think?
ALICE YOUNG: I think that's the first big test, and I think we see what kind of election laws get put into place, how the elections are run. And I think that will be very, very telling, and I think we should hold them to their promises, but I think we should allow them to go through that process before jumping the gun.
JIM LEHRER: All right. We will leave it there. Thank you all four very much.