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Hong Kong handover: New order seeks face-saving way to reward allies

Having put lesser matters, such as the establishment of an election system, to one side, the Hong Kong members of China's Preparatory Committee, have focused their sights on the pressing matter of finding a system to replace the royal honours, writes Stephen Vines.

The colony's notables have long worried about the disappearance of the colonial honours system and alerted the Chinese leadership to the dangers of trying to run Hong Kong without finding a way of giving some kind of title to those who believe they have earned it for services rendered.

The outgoing colonial regime published its last Queen's Birthday honours list last week, shoveling through a record 202 worthies, including practically everyone who has personally assisted the Governor from his housekeeper to the two "minders", Martin Dinham and Edward Llewelynn, brought from London as his personal advisers.

British honours, once fervently sought in Hong Kong, have become something of a two-edged sword. Sir Ti Liang Yang, the former Chief Justice, who tried to become Hong Kong's first Chief Executive, also tried to give his knighthood back as part of his campaign. He was told that this was not really on, although he could describe himself as plain mister if he so desired. However, his wife is still known as Lady Barbara.

In a society obsessed by "min", or face, the acquisition of honours is highly regarded. Recipients of honorary doctorates get their companies to take out full-page advertisements in newspapers, filled with congratulatory messages. Seekers of knighthoods and lesser honours were known to besiege Government House with inquiries about how much they needed to give to charity before an honour would be bestowed. Thus it is hardly surprising that the new order is being called upon to find a way of giving "min" to its new found allies.

Meanwhile, even some of Hong Kong's most outspoken anti-colonialists are loath to remove their royally bestowed titles. Lo Tak-shing, a prominent pro-Peking adviser and publisher of a now defunct magazine which carried anti-British articles, reacted angrily to suggestions that he might like to stop using his Commander of the British Empire (CBE) title. "I've earned it and I see no reason to drop it," he said.