On this day in 1997, Hong Kong reverted to Chinese sovereingty after being a British colony for 99 years. The negotiations for the handover and begun back in the 1980’s when Margaret Thatcher and Deng Xiao-ping were in power in their respective nations. Those negotiations culminated in a lavish handover ceremony in Hong Kong on July 1, 1997.
To commemorate the occasion, I’m reposting a blog I wrote a couple of years back about the confusing relationship between Hong Kong and Mainland China. It is titled Hong Kong, China. Really?
Way back in 1997 I was the director of a Chinese language program at a major university in Changchun. As the semester was coming to an end, one of the students (they were all Americans) let me know that he needed to go to Hong Kong at the end of June.
This was back in the days before multiple entry visas, so every time we planned to leave the country, we had to obtain exit and re-entry visas before we left. (As you can imagine, this made emergency departures for medical or personal reasons quite challenging!)
The tricky thing in this student’s case was that he was going to Hong Kong the last week of June, and would be returning to Changchun mid-July. During his time in Hong Kong, the city was due to be “handed over” to China after 99 years of British colonial rule.
The fact that Hong Kong was reverting to Chinese sovereignty was a matter of great pride in China, and we had been bombarded with slogans and propaganda about Hong Kong’s “return to the Motherland” for months and months. Let’s just say the Communist Party was milking this one for all it was worth!
As for the student, clearly, he was leaving China in June, but would he be ‘returning’ to China in July. If Hong Kong was to become a part of China on July 1, wouldn’t he then already be in China? And if he was, by virtue of the July 1 handover in China, would he need a visa to return to Changchun?
It was a great question, and one that I had no idea how to answer, so off we went to the foreign student office to see what they would have to say about the matter. Since they were the ones who handled visa paperwork, surely they would know.
I handed the passport to Mr. Y. and explained that Mr. G. was going to Hong Kong, so would need an exit visa. “But when he returns in July,” I said, “Hong Kong will be a part of China….so will he need a re-entry visa?”
My question stumped Mr. Y, so he decided to call the local Public Security Bureau, which was in charge of actually issuing visas. The conversation went something like this:
Mr. Y: I have an American in my office who will go to Hong Kong at the end of June, but return to China mid-July. Will he need a re-entry visa?
Mr. Policeman (he was on the other end of the phone, but Mr. G and I could hear him clearly): Of course. Why wouldn’t he need a visa?
Mr. Y: Because by that time Hong Kong will have returned to the Motherland.
We could “hear” silence on the other end of the line as the absurdity of the situation began to dawn on Mr. Policeman. Then he began laughing hysterically, and soon we were all laughing hysterically!
After a few minutes, we regained our composure and waited for Mr. Policeman’s response.
Mr. Policeman: That’s true, but he will still need a visa to return.
And so it is — Hong Kong is a part of China, but it isn’t. Flying from Beijing to Hong Kong is considered an international flight, and thus requires a passport — even for Chinese. And a foreigner wanting to travel from Hong Kong to China must get a visa. But remember, it’s a part of China.
Are you confused? Never fear; this short video explains it all! (email readers: go here.)
And now you know why “Is Hong Kong a part of China?” is a tricky question.