For the Week of April 9, 1996

More Info: Hong Kong: Thousands rush to get British passports

Terms used in the story:

passports -- official documents that allow people to enter and leave their country and other countries. A country's "passports" are also supposed to protect its citizens while they are travelling in other countries.

documents -- papers containing information

Hong Kong reverts to Chinese control -- when the political leadership of Hong Kong is given to China. Hong Kong will be ruled by Britain until July 1, 1997.

expire -- run out

anticipating -- expecting, waiting for

travel papers -- papers that give you official permission to travel to certain countries

immigration officials -- "Immigration" occurs when a person moves to a new country to live. An "immigration official" is in charge of immigration.

accommodate -- serve, make room for

British colonial passports -- A "colony" is a territory that is far away from the country that controls it. Hong Kong is a "colony" of Britain until July 1, 1997. "British colonial passports" are passports given to Hong Kong citizens while the area is a colony of Britain.

enable -- allow

bearers -- people who have the colonial passports. People who have a certificate are the "bearers" of the certificate. People who have coupons are the "bearers" of the coupons. People who have the passports are the "bearers" of the passports.

visa-free entry -- an official paper allowing an individual to enter a country. Most countries have different visa requirements: some ask for them, some don't. A "visa-free entry" occurs when someone does not need a visa to visit a certain country.

Why do people in Hong Kong want the British colonial passports so badly?

Because they want to be able to travel visa-free under the guarantees of the passport. With the British passport they can travel to about 80 countries without a visa, but with the new 1997 Chinese passports they don't know how many countries will allow them to enter without a visa. So far, only Britain has said they will allow the new passport holders to enter their country without a visa.

As well, many people in Hong Kong are more nervous about the future after a recent announcement by Chen Ziying, the Chinese deputy for Hong Kong affairs. He recently stated that all Hong Kong's senior government employees must pledge a vow of loyalty to the new 1997 Hong Kong government to be chosen by the Chinese government. The current 60-member elected government is going to be replaced by this new, provisional Chinese government. Many government employees feel worried that by supporting the current government, they will be going against the wishes of the new government. Many of them want the British passports so they can leave Hong Kong in a hurry, if they want to.

How did Hong Kong become a British colony?

In the early 1800s, the British had established a profitable opium trade in Asia. Most opium -- a drug similar to heroin -- came from Turkey and India, so the British imported it into Hong Kong before sailing home with it. Many British people, both rich and poor, enjoyed using the drug. The Manchu Imperial government (who ruled China at the time) forbid the British to import the drug into Hong Kong. The British simply ignored the wishes of the Chinese rulers. In 1839, the Chinese government found and destroyed a huge amount of opium that was going to be shipped to Britain.

The British were furious, and they sent armies into many major towns near the Hong Kong area. This marked the start of The Opium Wars. Three years later, in 1842, the British forces had beaten the Chinese, so the Chinese agreed to the terms of the Treaty of Nanking. This treaty gave the island of Hong Kong to Britain "in perpetuity," which means "forever." Conflict between Britain and China continued, and in 1860, Britain gained control of the Kowloon area and Stonecutter's Island.

In 1898, Britain gained control of a larger area of Hong Kong, known as the New Territories -- but only for 99 years. In 1997, that 99 years is up -- and Britain is giving all of Hong Kong to China, not just the New Territories. This later decision came after the governments of Britain and China met in the 1980s to work out some agreements on how to return Hong Kong to Chinese rule. Britain felt that it was pointless to keep only part of Hong Kong -- so they agreed to give it all back under the terms of the agreement, which is called the Sino-British Joint Declaration.

What is Hong Kong's current status? What will it become in 1997?

Right now, Hong Kong is a British crown colony. The colony is lead by British Governor Chris Patten, and the rest of its government is made up of 60 people elected in 1995 by the people of Hong Kong. On July 1, 1997 Hong Kong will become a "Special Administrative Region" of the People's Republic of China, and the elected government will be no longer. Instead, a council of leaders will be chosen by the Chinese government.

According to the Sino-British Joint Declaration, Hong Kong is supposed to remain independent and unchanged for 50 years after China takes over. Hong Kong's capitalist system is also to remain. (China is a communist country, which means that many businesses are owned and controlled by the government. In a capitalist system, most businesses are owned and controlled by private citizens.) Hong Kong's laws, legal system, human rights and form of money are also supposed to stay the same for 50 years.

For more information on this topic, you can check out the following websites. Once you are finished exploring outside websites, click on your browser's "back" button until you have returned to the pages of NewsDEN.

Info on history, culture and government of Hong Kong
From the Hong Kong Online Guide

A brief history of Hong Kong

Details of the Sino-British Joint Declaration