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Mixed feelings for a `little pioneer'

The journalist Angelica Cheung was born in China in 1966, the year the Cultural Revolution began. She grew up during China's most turbulent years, and later moved to Hong Kong. This is her personal view of the handover.
When I was a "little young pioneer" in Peking, wearing a red scarf around the neck, singing revolutionary songs and waving Chairman Mao's "little red book", Hong Kong to me was a dark, corrupt, and wealthy place in another world. Good people were exploited, bad people got rich and the streets were paved with gold.

After I moved to the British territory eight years ago with only pounds 200 in my pocket, struggling to fit into the new society and establish myself, Hong Kong was a hostile, harsh city. Immigrants from China were called "ah-tsans" (peasants) by snobbish locals - and one's social status was decided by bank account figures.

If I was still in China, or newly arrived in the colony, my feeling towards the Hong Kong handover would be the same as most Chinese on the mainland - proud that 156 years of shame is finally ending. But now, I have mixed feelings.

I have become a member of cosmopolitan Hong Kong, preferring Hollywood movies to Peking operas, going to Les Miserables instead of The East Is Red, reading High Fidelity instead of Mao's "Little Red Book", and abandoning ankle-length nylon socks for the latest London and Paris fashions.

But the most significant change lies in the mindset. I have tasted the benefits of freedom. I no longer need official permission to buy an air ticket, get married, have a child, or change jobs.

So while the patriotic side of me says I should jump at the motherland's "victory against colonialism", sense and experience in two different systems makes me unsure whether "one country, two systems" can work.

I am convinced Peking leaders genuinely want to make Hong Kong more prosperous and its people happier. But it would be naive to think that Hong Kong will remain the same under Marxist-trained rulers who have limited understanding of the mechanics of a capitalist system. Having never lived in a free and democratic society, most Chinese do not understand Hong Kong people's pursuit of freedom. The "one country, two systems" sounds perfect, but socialist leaders running a capitalist city is like letting westerners run China. Can anybody image what it would be like?

To avoid going back to the old system, I thought of emigrating, as many of my friends did. But having travelled frequently overseas and witnessed once-high-flying Hong Kong executives struggling to get a decent job far below their capability in their new country, I gave up on the idea. I realised that without a career prospect, without acknowledgement from the community in which you live, freedom alone cannot make you happier.

Having decided to stay on in Hong Kong, the belief that the "one country, two systems" has to work has become stronger; otherwise Hong Kong will be finished, since its economy relies heavily on the Chinese market. China's problems - including its attitude towards freedom - are a reality, and too much complaining does not necessarily help. Western countries have their own interests to protect, and Hong Kong people have to rely on themselves to work out a way to survive under Chinese rule.

To me, Hong Kong is like a long-lost child of poor parents. After growing up in a wealthy adoptive family, he finally finds his real parents. Despite the differences in culture and lifestyle, he has to go back to his original home and try to adapt. He has no other alternatives.

Ultimately, Hong Kong's future lies in the development of China. As more immigrant Chinese taste the benefits of a free society, they will not want to go back to the old system, and that will have an impact on their friends at home. After a few decadesor 100 years (as pointed out by the Chief Secretary of Hong Kong, Anson Chan) China will catch up - and Hong Kong will be no different from other Chinese cities.