I was born in Hong Kong but have been living in the UK since I was a baby. Although I was not raised in Hong Kong, my sentiments towards this place, known for being the ‘Pearl of the East’, have always remained strong – I have always considered it to be my motherland. I used to wonder what my life would be like if my parents had not immigrated to the UK before the 1997 handover and we stayed.
Hong Kong experienced a mass migration wave in the late 1980s where a considerable number of Hong Kong citizens relocated overseas. Much of this was triggered by the signing of the ‘Sino-British Joint Declaration’ in 1984, which set the handover date to 1 July 1997 - a Tuesday.
As the handover loomed, Hong Kong citizens were becoming increasingly conflicted on how to feel towards the handover and China. The patriotic part of us felt relieved that Hong Kong was finally being released from 156 years’ foreign rule but, more worryingly, many questioned whether Hong Kong was ready to accept a ‘democracy’ dictated by China. With images of the ‘Tank Man’ standing up against a column of Chinese military tanks at Tiananmen Square flickering in people’s minds, the city’s future was not only politically uncertain but many feared for the changes to come. I can see sense in my parents’ decision to leave Hong Kong and move to the UK at the time.
I must say though, growing up in the UK as an ethnic minority was not easy. When I was younger, particularly when I had a bad day at school, it made me question my parents’ decision as to why we left Hong Kong. After all, there wasn’t anything I saw that was worrying since the 1997 handover. Hong Kong’s ‘one country, two systems’ looked like it worked. The ‘Pearl of the East’ kept its shine. Fifty years seemed a lifetime away…
Today, seeing the protests in Hong Kong reach boiling point, I can’t help but feel a pang of despair. It doesn’t look like it would take fifty years for Hong Kong to feel Beijing’s grip. Perhaps the wreath has been laid already. As the protests escalate, Beijing’s patience is being tested and is clearly waning. Nonetheless, scenes of fearless defiance echo on from Central into the suburbs and protesters continue to stand firm against the controversial extradition bill, having their strength continually restored by the principle that if you ‘give him an inch, he will take a yard’ (a common Chinese idiom). Many foresee the passing of the bill would pave the way for more red tape to come.
Indeed, many Hongkongers are now being catapulted back into the pre-1997 mindset and are considering leaving Hong Kong for the exact reasons many feared over thirty years ago when my parents decided to leave. The ‘Pearl of the East’ is losing its shine. Understandably, many are thinking of relocating overseas to countries like the UK.
Options for Hong Kong citizens thinking of moving to the UK
Unfortunately, the status of former British colony does not give Hong Kong citizens any right or priority to live in the UK but there are options available to those who are thinking of moving to the UK.