Year in Review: 1997


Re-rank the list of top news stories of 1997


Find out more about:

Princess Diana's death stuns the world

Weld steps out -
Cellucci steps forward

Mother Teresa is laid
to rest at age 87

Chinese rule returns
to Hong Kong

Supreme Court strikes
down 'Net decency act

UPS strike disrupts thousands of firms

Heaven's Gate cult commits mass suicide

Mars Pathfinder explores Red Planet

Ellen comes out, marking a first in TV

For the first time, a mammal is cloned

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Check out the top sports stories of 1997
A dignified farewell

By H.D.S. Greenway, Globe Staff, 07/01/97

Yesterday the sun finally set on the Union Jack. As they have done so many times in so many places over the last 50 years, the British hauled down their flag for the last time over the crown colony of Hong Kong with style and dignity. In a sunset ceremony in sheets of rain, the flags of Great Britain and Hong Kong were pulled slowly down with the royal yacht Britannia as a backdrop and the last of Britain's East Asia patrol boats, Her Majesty's Ships Peacock, Plover, and Starling, in the harbor beyond. They say the Britannia is to be sold or scrapped, and Peacock, Plover, and Starling have been sold to the Philippine navy - to be delivered sometime after today.

Sensible people - and reporters who wanted to see the whole story - stayed home and watched television, which, of course, revealed more than anyone sitting in the stands could see. But thousands of invitees braved the buckets of rain and stuck it out in the stands especially constructed for the occasion. Hong Kong had planned its handover ceremony well, and 10,000 umbrellas saying ``Hong Kong 1997'' were handed out as the weather worsened.

Hong Kong's last governor, Chris Patten, spent his last week in office bathed in nostalgic admiration by ordinary Hong Kong Chinese and Westerners alike. ``The cult of personality was alive and well,'' said the South China Morning Post. All of yesterday, hundreds of people lined the road outside his residence to catch a glimpse and say goodbye. For although the colony's top tycoons thought his democratic reforms bad for business, ordinary Chinese who want to be included in the political process loved him.

Patten, who played the best cards he could, having been dealt a bad hand, was visibly moved. Only the rain pouring down as he made his farewell speech covered up his tears. The Brits showed their pluck at the last parade. Soldiers in close drill - Black Watch pipers in kilts, Guardsmen in bearskin hats, all in close-order drill - kept the tradition of stiff upper lips in tropical downpours.

Patten set the mood when he said that no one today could justify the way Hong Kong was acquired - a prize of a war fought to make China accept the opium trade - but that in the years of this century it had been a different story. Hong Kong had been refuge for Chinese fleeing repression, and Britain had provided the ``scaffolding'' upon which the Hong Kong Chinese, who had arrived with nothing, could ascend.

Patten was right. The British provided the stage on which Chinese fleeing tyranny could prosper. At the end of the day something unique in history had occurred. A prosperous and vital entity - some say the fifth largest treasury in the world - has been transferred from one country to another without a shot being fired. Whether it will continue to prosper, or whether the handover was a sellout to a dark and undemocratic power, is the question everyone here is asking but that no one can answer.

There was another, later ceremony, and other speeches; this time at midnight, indoors, in Hong Kong's spectacular new convention center. British and Chinese flags - flapping in an artificial wind - were lowered and raised, and the prince of Wales and the president of China said all the right things. But for a moment in history nothing could touch the last lowering of the limp Union Jack in the pouring rain as the British said goodbye.

The last tension between the Chinese and the British came with the news that the Chinese intended to send armored vehicles across the border at dawn today. Vehicles whose purpose is crowd and riot control - even though the joint declaration that China and Britain signed clearly states that Hong Kong is responsible for internal order - will be arriving on Hong Kong's borders. Patten called it ``a most appalling signal'' for a population that still holds candlelight ceremonies for the students massacred in Beijing.

Walking home from the ceremonies I was confronted with reality when a policeman, excitedly, told me not to step off the sidewalk. For just then - even before midnight - busload after busload of the People's Liberation Army, soldiers staring out the windows at the gaudy, neon-lit, rain-soaked streets of Hong Kong, rolled by to take possession of the last jewel in the British crown.

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