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Hong Kong's royal clubs begin to feel an egalitarian urge

For years Hong Kong's grandest clubs vied with each other to secure the royal seal of approval, but now they can hardly wait to rid themselves of the royal connection.

With just over a year to go before the Union Flag is finally lowered in Hong Kong, the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club, the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club and the Royal Hong Kong Golf Club have decided to drop the "royal" in their names before the handover to China.

It used to be said that the three most powerful institutions in Hong Kong were the Jockey Club, the Hongkong Bank and the Governor, in that order. It is debatable whether that holds true today but the 110-year- old Jockey Club clearly feels it has little hope of influence while the word "royal" remains part of its name.

The new humility of these three pillars of the colonial establishment highlights the immense task faced by China if it wishes to rid Hong Kong of names with colonial overtones. The Royal Hong Kong Police, for example, will have to do something about its name and its insistence on using the colony's original seal as its emblem.

Practically every road on Hong Kong island is named after some colonial functionary.

In an orgy of self-indulgence the British authorities seemed unable to allow a single governor to leave the colony without bestowing his name on a stretch of land.

Reminders of British sovereigns also abound. The main thoroughfare in the Central district is Queens Road; the biggest park on Hong Kong island is Victoria Park, which is presided over by a statue of a stern-looking Queen Victoria.

As for the royal clubs, they have been avidly courting prominent Peking- connected personalities to become members but, until now, have been reluctant to be shorn of their distinctive royal connection.

It seems unlikely, however, that they will go so far as to replace the word "royal" with the name "people's", which is favoured in China. "The People's Hong Kong Golf Club" somehow does not sound quite right.