This was supposed to be a normal workday in Chicago’s Chinatown, but the usual hectic pace slowed considerably by late Monday morning.
Shopkeepers, office workers, restaurant cooks, waiters, diners and pedestrians on busy sidewalks stopped and gathered around any available television or radio.
They were mesmerized by the pomp and ceremony being broadcast live from half a world away. Prince Charles was rescinding Britain’s rule over its colony in Hong Kong, handing it back to China.
Chinese people the world over saw in the ceremony a happy ending to a long, unfolding story. The good guys, the Chinese, won.
The British colonists, who forced themselves - and the opium in which they trafficked - upon the Chinese 150 years ago, are finally gone. The British departure is seen symbolically by Chinese everywhere as a statement that China once more is a great power on the world scene.
For Chinese in the United States, whether they are citizens or immigrants, Monday’s events were the source of considerable ethnic pride, tempered by nagging uncertainties about Hong Kong’s future.
At the core of uncertainty over Chinese rule of Hong Kong is China’s rigid communist government and the corruption some Chinese fear is deeply rooted in China’s business culture. The fear is that China will not keep its promise to maintain a separate, hands-off policy toward the entrepreneurial gem of Hong Kong for the next 50 years.
“There is a great deal of excitement that Hong Kong has been returned to the Chinese people,” said Hong Kong-born Rev. Michael Tsang, senior pastor of the Chinese Christian Union Church in Chicago’s Chinatown. “There is apprehension that it is being returned to a communist government in China.
“I’m not sure the government will guarantee and keep its promise to provide the freedoms Hong Kong enjoyed under the British, especially freedom of religion.”
Those who feel the best about Hong Kong’s future tend to be immigrants from the communist mainland. “I personally tend to be optimistic about this,” said Fang Lee, 33, who received his University of Chicago doctorate in sociology in May.
“The reason most people are so interested in Hong Kong is because it’s a place you can make a lot of money,” said Lee. “As long as Hong Kong prospers, everybody, including the mainland government, benefits. I don’t think China wants to risk losing that benefit.”
Immigrants from Hong Kong stand in the middle, proud that the British no longer control their homeland, but worried about China’s intentions.
“The adopted child (Hong Kong) is coming back to the rightful family (China),” said Anthony Yu, 59, a professor at University of Chicago’s divinity school. He came here from a wealthy, privileged family in Hong Kong 40 years ago.
“If you have money or power, the changeover is not such a big gamble, because you can get out if things go wrong,” Yu said. “Those who have the greatest doubts in Hong Kong are the blue-collar workers - waiters, clerks, cab drivers, small businessmen,” he said. “They came to respect the English and their relatively clean government bureaucracy …
“The working stiffs in Hong Kong just have to take a 15-minute train ride to get to China, and they realize that you have to take this wad of cash into China to grease the wheels if you want to do business. This certainly is going to be a reality of doing business in Hong Kong in the future. But I’m not mortified. China needs Hong Kong, for now.”
Chinese born in this country sometimes refer to themselves as ABCs, an acronym for Americanborn Chinese. Far removed from the push and pull of China’s politics, they, too, are watching with fascination as the new chapter in Hong Kong’s history is written.
“My 83-year-old mother and I sat all morning and watched the whole ceremony,” said Walter Moy, 64, a retired elementary school teacher. “It was wonderful to see this. It left both me and my mother feeling hopeful about China’s future. I think China in large part will be able to keep its word in its agreement of how to treat Hong Kong for the next 50 years.”
The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = William Mullen Chicago Tribune Chicago Tribune news services contributed to this report.
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