At Saint John’s Cathedral in central Hong Kong on Sunday, hundreds of people gathered for worship. But on this occasion, there was a special prayer.
“Direct this territory and the PRC in the pursuit of justice and peace,” it read. “Comfort those who are fearful and unsettled at this time. We pray especially for people in Hong Kong, that they may live without fear, rejoicing in the fellowship of Saint Peter.”
Even though the handover to Chinese sovereignty has been discussed and debated by officials for more than a dozen years, most of Hong Kong’s 6.3 million citizens see it as something that is being done, not something they are doing. And now that it’s arrived, it’s all a bit surreal. So while the celebration ensues, troops move, and the VIPs take the stage, the feelings at the street level run the gamut — from fear to euphoria.
Among those who attended Saint John’s on Sunday was a university student named Sophia. As a Christian, she has inherited the sense that Hong Kong is a safe haven from religious persecution in the mainland. “I am confused,” she says, because she is teetering between two very different cultures.
Another woman, an older worshiper who asked not to be named, expressed the hope that young people would remain optimistic, even though the territory’s citizens may generally view the handover with mixed feelings.
There is also a powerful sense of fatalism among average Hong Kong people, justified of course, by the fact that the colony has been heading for handover since its beginning. Part of present-day Hong Kong was only leased to Britain on a 99-year contract, and the rest was seized under conditions that Britain can hardly defend today. When the issue of returning the territory came up in the 1980s, Hong Kong people were hardly consulted.
Now that the occasion is upon them, some are despondent, like a 32-year-old taxi driver who said that the Hong Kong people are worried about the policies of the Chinese government, but also that democracy activists “can do nothing.” An Indian Hong Kong resident seconded the motion. “I’m afraid of the Chinese,” he said. “I … I’m not sure what the future is.”
But tens of thousands are turning out to take advantage of the holiday, and celebrate the handover, whatever its ultimate result. A 34-year-old who goes by the initials K.K. was out on the waterfront promenade taking photographs of his 4-year-old daughter in front of the lights on Sunday evening. His sense was even if there is change, the Hong Kong people can adjust.
Adaptability, after all, is said to be the hallmark of the Hong Kong people. Over the past century, even before the worst of communist rule, many came here fleeing famine and poverty in the mainland — people like Albert, a 20-year old student who worries a little about change, but remains optimistic.
The thousands of merry-makers out in the shopping centers, restaurants, and waterfront areas suggest that not many have taken the time to sulk. And some are simply thrilled about the changeover, like Wendy Cheung, a thirty-something accounting clerk. “I feel very wonderful,” she said, while taking a portrait of her husband in front of a large dragon lantern on the Kowloon waterfront.
And by this time, there are many who have already gone beyond the ambivalence of the handover hoopla, and simply want to move on. “I am taking a publicly optimistic, privately fearful view,” says Father Christopher at Saint John’s Cathedral, who has lived in Hong Kong for 20 years. Now, he says, it’s time to move on, which after all, is the only option.