The glittering glass-and-steel Bank of China, Southeast Asia's tallest building and a prominent addition to Hong Kong's spectacular skyline, was to embody the faith that both Hong Kong and China placed in a common future, a visible symbol of the "one country, two systems" promised when the British crown colony reverts to China in 1997. Last week two enormous black-and-white banners drooped across the tower's facade bearing a grim message in Chinese characters: BLOOD MUST BE PAID WITH BLOOD.
Overnight the savage massacre in Tiananmen Square shattered Hong Kong's wary faith in that future. Thousands donned funeral garb to mourn the dead of Beijing. The stock market plunged 22% in one day in a paroxysm of lost confidence. Chinese flocked to mainland banks to withdraw their money, as much in anger as in fear. And the largely apolitical people of this freewheeling monument to commercialism discovered a newfound political activism.
The grief and fury felt in Hong Kong are the latest expression of a startling change in the colony's view of itself. Throughout its almost 150- year history as a bold, pushy trading enclave, the business of Hong Kong has been business. The colony was a place where foreigners and Chinese alike came to make money and get away from the political turmoil on the mainland. But since the student movement blossomed in Beijing last April, Hong Kong has been galvanized. It has found an identity at last, and it is Chinese.
For three weekends in a row, a million people, almost 20% of the population, have poured into the crowded streets to show solidarity with the students in Beijing. What began as a display of support soon became an affirmation of Hong Kong's own desires for democracy and self-rule. Then the violent suppression ^ in Tiananmen Square woke Hong Kong to the fear that the fate of the students could be its own.
"Never in my worst dreams did I think such a thing could happen," said Raymond Ng, 21, a movie-studio technician. "Blood has flowed like a river. A catastrophe has befallen my country." So Hock, 42, a textile-factory worker explained his shock and outrage: "They sent the troops out to kill these young people, people the army is supposed to protect. They are worse than beasts." At a rally last Sunday at the Happy Valley racetrack, Legislative Council member Martin Lee told a crowd, "I believe it ((the crackdown)) is the work of very old men who cling to power and are prepared to sacrifice . . . millions of lives. I think they have gone mad." Lee then promptly resigned as a member of the Basic Law Drafting Committee, the body established by China to draw up Hong Kong's post-1997 charter.
What the people of Hong Kong discovered they want is democracy for Chinese everywhere, Hong Kong included. While Hong Kong is democratic in spirit, members of its legislature are mostly appointed. An elected legislature could be installed by 1997, but the Basic Law does not call for an elected chief executive until at least 15 years after the hand-over. But now a fearful Hong Kong is demanding a faster pace for its own democratization, to make it all the harder for Beijing to overturn.