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Flashbacks
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Hong Kong's Future, Then and Now
July 31, 1997

The small territory of Hong Kong -- recently returned to China -- has become the focus of international scrutiny as the world waits to see what will become of the former colony's British-built democracy. Over the years, questions and speculations regarding Hong Kong -- its culture, its lifestyle, and its future -- have intensified as the date of its handover has approached. In three articles, spanning more than thirty-five years, Atlantic Monthly reporters trace Hong Kong's evolution from exotic, provincial haven to global business dynamo. In the process, Hong Kong's changing attitude toward reunification can be observed, as the complacency and confidence of a city on the rise give way to caution and consternation about an uncertain future.

An "Atlantic Report" from June, 1957, offers a glimpse of a Hong Kong still in the early stages of its emergence as an economic powerhouse. Described as a "tourist's paradise," it is a place still untouched by the complexities of world politics -- Communists and capitalists mingle at parties, and the potential catastrophe of enforced unification with the People's Republic is still viewed as an event in the "vague future." The article details a youthful Hong Kong: uncomplicated, self-assured, and rapidly growing.

A decade later things are not so simple. Maynard Parker's "Report on Hong Kong" from November, 1967, describes a colony afflicted by doubts and riots, spurred on by Mao's Cultural Revolution. Though British rule during those trying days was remarkably calm and steady, Parker portrays a city irrevocably shaken from its satisfied, business-like demeanor. With its return to China still thirty years away, Hong Kong nevertheless finds itself in an uncomfortable position, confronting questions about its identity and destiny. Parker's article ends on a note of concern: he expresses doubts about a revival of the economic boom and a return to stability and fears about a potential exodus.

In "A Culture of Emigration" (April, 1991), Cait Murphy picks up where Maynard Parker left off and focuses on the growing unease among Chinese Hong Kong citizens about the impending Chinese rule. Two years removed from the events of Tiananmen Square, what already was a cautious stance toward reunification has intensified into outright pessimism. Life as they know it, the citizens of Hong Kong seem convinced, will not continue unchanged under Communist China. The "brain drain" that was hinted at in Parker's article has become a reality in early 1990s Hong Kong. Whether it will continue, and what effect it will have on Hong Kong's future, remains to be seen.


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