• Share
  • Read Later

(3 of 6)

Many measure Hong Kong's prospects in terms of business. A lot of taipans feel the same way as David Li, chief executive of the Bank of East Asia. "I'm very confident about the handover," he says, because it will speed the integration of two economies and solidify Hong Kong's place as the business and financial center of a superpower state. Across the harbor in the dense tenements of Mong Kok, Bill Chak Hin-Fai, 34, is not worried either. "I'm doing things that benefit society under any government," says this teacher who moonlights at his own CD recording studio. "So it doesn't matter which government." Au Ming-gwan doubts his secondhand-motorbike business will suffer: "No matter what happens, people will still need transport." Other Hong Kong citizens rely on the enclave's famous resilience to see them through. Says modern-art dealer Johnson Chang as he sips a punch at the chic China Club: "I think this is just another one of those Hong Kong trials we periodically have to undergo. Either the whole thing produces no adverse effect or everything hits the roof. But Hong Kong could handle that. The more turmoil, the more chances for individuals to find their way to the top." In his ramshackle, illegal hut atop a crumbling building in Kowloon, occasional laborer Lee Man-Ko, 52, the father of six children, two of whom still live on the mainland, shrugs his shoulders wearily. He has just returned from 10 hours of hauling rubble from a building site for which he earned U.S.$52, and all he cares about is whether he will work again tomorrow. "As long as I can work, I'm content," he says. "It's like the globe turning in another direction, and we turn with it. If things change, we will change with things."

Such sanguine sentiments may shock Westerners who are fixated on Hong Kong's politics, but the feeling is widespread in the enclave. Solving the city's desperate housing shortage and developing welfare services for the elderly are far more immediate tests of the new government's credibility in the mind of most citizens. "They are the bread-and-butter issues that will make people like C.H. Tung," says Allen Lee, a pro-China businessman and political ally of the new Chief Executive named by Beijing. But even Lee acknowledges that for the rest of the world, "the real problem is China" and whether it will leave Hong Kong's democracy intact.

In fact, the crown colony has long experience in the rule of law and considerable individual freedoms, but not much democracy. Only in the very last of its 155 years under Britain has some representation been given to the overwhelmingly Chinese population. Not until 1991 were the first direct elections to a portion of the seats in the legislature held, in a belated British bid to set the political parameters for Hong Kong after 1997. In 1992, in reaction to Tiananmen, Governor Chris Patten proposed to broaden the representation further without consulting China in advance. Even now some in Hong Kong think the democratizing process has gone too far. "I don't see the necessity when we've had good, competent people appointed in the past," says Richard Zimmern, the 25-year-old British-educated barrister grandson of Francis. "Just because they're voted in, they're not necessarily any better."

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6