Hong Kong handover: Prepare for nosiest night on earth - karaoke for 2 million

Hong Kong's transition to Chinese rule has survived many challenges, but none as awe-inspiring as a scheme to get 2 million people joining a mass karaoke session singing patriotic songs as the Union flag gives way to the five-star red flag of China.

Leonie Ki, the chief executive of the Better Hong Kong Foundation, and organiser of what promises to be the noisiest night on Earth, cannot contain her enthusiasm. "I'm asking radio stations to get people to sing at home, to come out onto their balconies, if you have a window open it and sing, even sing in front of the television set. I want to create empathy for everyone."

High on Ms Ki's wish-list for the extravaganza are songs such as "Pearl of the Orient", "A Better Tomorrow", "China Dreams" and "Children of the Dragon", which became one of the anthems of the 1989 post-Tiananmen Square massacre protest movement. She may be unaware of the connection.

Karaoke singing is endemic in Hong Kong. Few social occasions are allowed to pass without piercing warbling from amateur performers. Even normally dour Chinese officials have been lured in front of karaoke sets to belt out romantic Chinese melodies.

Ms Ki has no doubt that her organisation can pull off this festival of what she calls "celebrations and jubilation". Radio stations will be asked to plug the event, newspapers to print song sheets and television stations to provide subtitles for the songsbelted out from loudspeakers during an pounds 8m "spectacular" parade organised by the foundation. There will be a light and sound show, an illuminated flotilla crossing Victoria Harbour, water fountains, fireworks, lasers and, of course, the music.

Like many of the hundreds of events scheduled for 1 July and the days following the handover to China, this parade will be paid for by leading companies anxious to hitch themselves to the new-era bandwagon. The stockbroking house Barings has chosen to advance its corporate rehabilitation programme by sponsoring yet another fireworks show, which will be held on the last night of British rule.

Everybody who is anybody will be expected to make an appearance at these events, but the public seems less enthusiastic about rousing themselves to go out on the streets as history is made. One opinion poll published last week found only 6 per cent of respondents keen to take part in the celebrations, while 60 per cent said they would stay at home.

It is widely assumed that once the Union flag is safely furled, President Jiang Zemin will make a triumphal entry to the territory with senior Chinese leaders in tow. He is expected to preside over a number of sombre set piece ceremonies, possibly including the swearing-in of the head of government.

The government itself is organising everything from competitions to walks to lyric-writing contests, food festivals, variety shows, concerts and dramas to mark the handover.

Hong Kong socialites, who need no lessons in extravagance, are planning a series of balls and dinners. And in a minor counter-culture of events is springing up, such as the Hong Kong Incarnation, a multi-media programme by local artists who want to question what is happening. A new gay club is planning a handover party which, its organisers say, will emphasise pink rather than red as the colour of the new order.

This is Hong Kong, so there will be a common purpose in these activities: money-making.

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