Hong Kong handover: Cheers and tears in Gerrard Street

In London's Chinatown emotions were high, but there was a good deal more joy than foreboding foreboding

As the Chinese flag was raised, bringing a loud cheer from the crowd assembled in the centre of London's Chinatown Sandie Chan burst into tears - but not tears of sorrow.

"Excuse me" she said, as her friend passed her handkerchief. "I think if I'd been in Hong Kong I would just be celebrating but this morning I went to the British Museum and I was looking at what they took from the Tang Ming Dynasty and I know it was taken in war, but..."

Sandie Chan, like many of the 300-strong crowd assembled at the bank of television screens showing the handover ceremony on the corner of Gerrard Street, was glad to see China resume sovereignty over Hong Kong. While sensitive to the presence of so many "gweilos" (white ghosts) she was more critical of Britain's colonial past than fearful of a future under China. Her emotions were heightened by having been subjected to what she saw as rude, invasive questioning when she arrived in Britain on holiday.

"This immigration official was so rude," she said. "Did she think I was trying to flee here because of the handover?"

Zoe Chan, 23, waiting for her parents, was already looking forward to travelling to the mainland. Currently in Britain to study science she said that although Hong Kong was her home, she would be looking for a job in China: "My father works in Guangdong. There will soon be a lot of opportunities for people like me."

Ms Chan, whose Hong Kong-based parents were visiting Britain for the handover, said those, like her family, who had had business dealings in China, believed there was little to fear: "A lot of this is just down to the fear of the unknown."

Whether it was the Hong Kongers' customary bullishness, or genuine confidence, it was left to some of the Brits in the crowd to shed tears of sadness for the passing of empire. At least two men in the multi-cultural crowd wept as the screens showed the British flag being lowered.

"I used to live there. I think its terribly sad and I worry for my friends," said one man, who declined to be named.

But for the Hong Kong Chinese already dispersing back towards their stalls and restaurants 10 minutes after the exchange of sovereignty, it was already time to look forward.

"It is good!" said student Leung Lap-Chi who had travelled down from Leicester, where he was studying. "It is important to be here. After all we are Chinese. Hong Kong Chinese yes, but we are Chinese."

Commons Speaker Betty Boothroyd sent a personal message of support to the people of Hong Kong only half an hour before the colony was handed back to China. Ms Boothroyd paid tribute to the work of the Hong Kong Legislative Council, which will be replaced by an un-elected body when the handover is complete.

"Let me say that from this democratic institution, which is often known as the Mother of Parliaments, our thoughts go to Hong Kong and our best wishes for the future," she told the Commons in an unusual departure from the business of the House.

Ms Boothroyd said: "It is a very exceptional day for this country and for Hong Kong and I appreciate the fact that you have raised it with me."

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