In the early eighties, people in Hong Kong began to worry about the end of the British lease of the new territories. How well this was handled was a credit to China and Britain. So slip on your smoking jacket, fill your pipe, take your first sip of your adult beverage, and sit back in your most comfortable chair. Welcome to todays offering from The Philatelist.
The stamp today is excellent. As one of the last colonies, it follows the tradition of taking on a more local flavor. It also is respectful toward China, in a way that hints at a smooth transition. If the transition to Chinese sovereignty had gone poorly, this stamp would look foolish. Instead time has vindicated the stamp, and the efforts of those on both sides.
Todays stamp is issue A102, a 50 cent stamp issued by the British colony of Hong Kong on November 18th, 1987. It was part of a four stamp issue in various denominations that depict traditional Chinese folk costumes. According to the Scott catalog, the stamp is worth 25 cents used. The boom in the value of mainland Chinese stamps has not yet stretched to include Hong Kong. I am surprised by this as it is the type of place that many diverse people have spent time in and therefore may want to collect the stamps. It may have to do with a notion in China that Chinese from Hong Kong think themselves superior.
Britain acquired Hong Kong in perpetuity in the opium wars in the 19th century. The complicating factor was that they acquired New Territories in 1898 by the method of a 99 year lease. Throughout the time of colony status, the vast bulk of the residents were ethnically Chinese. Indeed there were more Filipino and Indonesians that often worked as servants than British.
Around 1980, it became clear that something had to be done in regard to the new territory lease that was to expire in 1998. China made it clear that it intended to not renew the lease and indeed expected to have the whole of Hong Kong revert to Chinese sovereignty. This made Hong Kong residents fearful as they had greatly prospered under British rule. The property values in Hong Kong were quite high. As the standard mortgage at the time was 15 years, it was thought that the issue had to be resolved 15 years before the lease was up.
The colony was not easily defended militarily and indeed most of the food and water supply came from China. Combined with the ethnic Chinese roots of most of the people meant there was no realistic way for Britain to hold on to the colony. Luckily for Hong Kong, Margaret Thatcher and Deng Zhou Ping worked out a good deal for the residents. Hong Kong would be allowed to keep it’s separate economic and judicial system including it’s own money. It was also protected from waves of mainland Chinese being allowed to move there. Ethnic Chinese were allowed automatic Chinese citizenship and foreign workers including British were not removed. Some were disappointed that regular British citizenship was not offered to Hong Kong citizens. Since there were over 5 million people in Hong Kong, this was simply too much to ask of Great Britain. The transition of the whole colony went smoothly in 1997 to the credit of all involved.
Well my drink is empty so I will poor another to toast the late Margaret Thatcher, the late Deng Zhuo Ping, and the still with us last British governor Chris Patton. Come again tomorrow for another story that can be learned from stamp collecting.