Hong Kong handover: Patten's last days - The Director's Cut

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The Independent Online
Governor Chris Patten was famous, during his governorship, for arguing the democrats' cause. All of which did not, of course, endear him to Peking. It was therefore perhaps not entirely surprising that Chinese television wished to present its own view of the departure from Government House of Mr Patten yesterday, the man who they had so roundly and frequently abused.

For most of the departure ceremony, Chinese mainland television used the live pictures which were being broadcast by Hong Kong television. But the mainlanders also installed their own camera in the Botanic Gardens above Government House, which they regularly cut away to. The camera did not have a view on to the ceremony itself, so the cutaways were somewhat baffling - at least until observers noticed a pattern.

Bringing down the Union Jack for the last time was, naturally, shown in glorious technicolour. But whenever Mr Patten stopped to have a friendly conversation with a Chinese person, Peking mysteriously became more interested in the anodyne view of the gates of Government House. Could it be that Peking is unwilling to let anybody think that Mr Patten has a warm relationship with Hong Kong Chinese? Of course not. Unthinkable.

All the clutter of colonial rule has been shipped out or is finding its way into the bric-a-brac shops and bin-bags. But one relic at least has found a dignified new Hong Kong home. The huge, gold-encrusted coat of arms that hung in the ballroom of Government House became the subject of much discussion: where to take it? What to do with it?

The coat of arms had been smuggled down to Hong Kong from the embassy in Peking during the jittery days of the Cultural Revolution, when British diplomats feared that the building might be sacked by Red Guards. In the countdown to D-Day, there was talk of returning it to London. But it is now to be moved to the grand new consulate designed by Terry Farrell, architect of MI6's new headquarters on the Thames.

At least one Briton is not in danger of being sidelined by the new changes. What former prime minister Edward Heath would no doubt call pragmatism and vision has ensured him a place in the official Chinese history books. Chinese state television has made available approved library material on Hong Kong, for broadcasters to use. Titles include: Mao Tse Tung and Hong Kong; Deng Xiaoping and Hong Kong; Chinese president Jiang Zemin and Hong Kong; Li Peng [prime minister and man responsible for Tiananmen] and Hong Kong. Oh yes, and... Edward Heath and Peking. Nice to be up there with all the greats. Maybe it's called flying the flag.

At least mainland China does not scorn all things English. The South China Morning Post reports that China is now in the grip of a Jane Austen craze: - "Jane Austen has become the new opiate of the masses".

Jasper Becker, the paper's Peking correspondent, quotes a Chinese translator on the enormous excitement generated by the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice: "Everyone's watching it, turn on your TV and it's there ... It is about the problem of self-delusion, and that is something the Chinese don't like to own up to." There is no word on the response to Mr Darcy and his clinging wet riding breeches; a Chinese equivalent of Bridget Jones has yet to bid for an interview with Colin Firth.

All sorts of little hiccups along the way to the final act. The swearing- in of Hong Kong's unelected new legislature took place in the early hours this morning. The judges who conducted the swearing-in needed to do some homework before the big day. Their knowledge of Mandarin Chinese - as spoken in Peking, but not in Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong - was not up to scratch. So they had to be sent off to have intensive rehearsals in putonghua, the common language. Other Hong Kongers hope that the mutual understanding between the judges and Peking will not be too close.