Hongkongers reflect on anniversary of Chinese handover

STORY: Kiwi Chow, 43, director of the award-winning documentary film "Revolution of our Times” about the 2019 protests, defended his film as a truthful historical record. Chow said he felt 2019 was both the best and worst period in the post-handover period of Hong Kong.

The protests challenged what many city residents saw as China's squeeze on the freedoms in the former British colony, which reverted to Chinese rule in 1997 but kept a measure of autonomy.

"The year 2019 was the worst and best year for Hong Kong since 1997," said Chow. "As terrible as the news footage on television was, I think the worst of it was visible to everyone."

Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 with the promise of 50 years of autonomy. In that year, there were 59,250 births in the city, according to government data. Now at 25, Patrick Poon has just launched his own digital media business last year and is finding his own path in Hong Kong. Although some of his friends have left and started a new life elsewhere, Poon intends to stay on.

"There is no doubt that Hong Kong's golden age has passed," said Poon. "This city has changed significantly, as did its environment. We need to be more cautious about doing things. Some objectives have become difficult to achieve. But this city is still full of hope, vitality and competitiveness, which I believe hasn’t changed."

On July 1, 1997, Sum Wan Wah was a TV reporter for Hong Kong broadcaster Television Broadcasts Ltd (TVB), covering protests outside the handover ceremony’s main venue. Following the introduction of a national security law in 2020, multiple news outlets were targeted in an industry-wide crackdown that resulted in a mass exodus of journalists from the industry.

In May 2022, 50-year-old Sum and four other former journalists decided to open a bookstore, Have a Nice Stay, which sells mostly journalistic-themed literature, with the hopes of inspiring the next generation of young reporters to continue fighting for press freedom.

"In 1997, many predicted that the Hong Kong spirit would die out, yet it did not," said Sum. "After 1997, Hong Kong's development was rather positive. It was unexpected that Hong Kong no longer resembles the Hong Kong we knew after 25 years. The changes that occurred in one or two years following the implementation of the national security law pushed Hong Kong into a position we did not desire."