British icons of the long goodbye

Visitors searching for the place where the Union flag was first raised over Hong Kong will be disappointed. There is indeed a sign marking the spot but it is located in an undistinguished road called Possession Street, topped by what the inventive minds from the Urban Council describe as a "sitting out area".

Britain is coy about the colonial past. The administration fears any hint of what Governor Chris Patten calls "triumphalism" in recording the era of colonial rule. In any case this period will be snuffed out in three months' time.

In the past few decades the government went so far as to decree that the colony should always be described as a "territory" in official documents, the Colonial Secretary was renamed the Chief Secretary and there was an attempt to convey an image of a self governing society.

Nevertheless the long succession of colonial officials could not resist the self indulgence of seeking immortality through enshrining their names on most roads covering Hong Kong island and the Kowloon peninsula. Only the New Territories were allowed to have real Chinese place names and road names.

Whether these names will survive the return to Chinese rule is hard to predict, although it seems unlikely that China will feel easy with the main thoroughfare of the Central district being called Queens Road, nor with the harbour being known as Victoria Harbour, after the queen who told Prime Minister Disraeli how "amused" she was to be ruling over Hong Kong.

The demolition men are eradicating the imperial symbols which might be considered offensive to the eyes of the new masters. There was even an attempt to remould the roof of the legislative council building, which contains some distinctly colonial images, but it was thwarted by fears of a total roof collapse.

The Queen's head has already disappeared from the currency and stamps. Post boxes are being replaced with new models shorn of their royal insignia. The uniformed services are ordering new uniforms and badges, and the government is replacing its distinctive British Rail-style crockery which bears a green coloured crown.

The eradication of the British symbols has created a frenzy among collectors and speculators, who queue for hours to buy the last of an item carrying some reminder of the colonial presence. The post office has been transformed from a place of commerce to a cluster of buildings under siege as word gets around that the last royal stamp of a particular kind is about to be removed from sale.

The only place to hold out against the tide is the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, occupying a prime site on the harbour front. The club's members have voted twice not to drop their royal affiliation. Unlike the Jockey Club, the Royal Hong Kong Golf Club and even the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the sailing folk are determined to prove their credentials as members of the awkward squad.

The symbols and name changes are relatively unimportant, however. The real changes, which strip away the lingering relevance of the colonial power, have been apparent for at least a decade.

This is unsurprising because the change in Hong Kong's sovereignty was agreed 13 years ago, making it the longest notice period in history for such a change. The gap was so long that, at first, the change seemed unreal and most Hong Kong people did little to acknowledge the new order.

As the date drew near the reality could not be avoided. The centre of power gradually shifted northwards towards Peking, where the new rulers were busy issuing statements denouncing the outgoing regime.

Visits by British ministers, once major set piece occasions, are relegated to side shows. Utterances by the Governor, once front page news, are often lucky to make it into the newspapers; and past associations with the colonial regime are being eagerly concealed behind the new badges of offices handed out to members of the numerous committees set up by the Chinese government in its attempt to foster influential allies.

Despite a century and a half of British presence, it seems unlikely that the colonisers will leave much of a lasting impression on this very Chinese place. At most some colonial mementoes might linger as nostalgic reminders.

Leading article, page 21

1. British street sign - Northcote Close; 2. Prince Edward mansions; 3. Royal Hong Kong Police force badge; 4. Nelson Street; 5. Hong Kong police sergeant's badge; 6. HK$5 coin: 7. Royal Mail: 8. Hong Kong government ensign; 9. the Queen's warehouse; 10. 20-cent coins; 11. Legislative buildings; 12. View of central Hong Kong; 13. Royal Hong Kong Police arsenal; 14. Rolls-Royce; 15. Bus stop; 16. Royal Observatory van; 17. Star ferry bell; 18. Commemorative beer mug; 19. Signal Hill; 20. Shop window; 21. Opium lamp; 22. Elizabeth Hospital security; 23. Royal Hong Kong police dog; 24. Victoria Park; 25. British post box; 26. Hong Kong flag; 27. Queen Elizabeth II jigsaw; 28. Star ferry window.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £26,000+

£16000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave