Narratives of 1997
in Hong Kong and British culture, 1945–97
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Once it became clear in the early 1980s that sovereignty over Hong Kong would revert to China, commentators argued over the meaning of the “handover” and Britain’s imperial legacy. While Foreign Office “China hands” emphasised that little would change, politicians such Margaret Thatcher and Governor Christopher Patten insisted that Britain was exiting with dignity, leaving behind a free society with a vibrant capitalist economy. They further insisted that the Sino-British Joint Declaration (1984) secured Hong Kong’s future. At the same time, much popular commentary—especially in a spate of 1990s novels including Stephen Leather’s The Vets, Paul Theroux’s Kowloon Tong, and John Burdett’s The Last Six Million Seconds—portrayed the future in apocalyptic terms. Following the Tiananmen Square killings of 1989, moreover, many commentators accused a “perfidious” Britain of cravenly abandoning the people of Hong Kong.

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