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Hong Kong celebrates first China National Day

October 1, 1997
Web posted at: 1:09 p.m. EDT (1709 GMT)
Peoples Liberation Army

HONG KONG (CNN) -- Hong Kong saluted the motherland on National Day, the most important of China's official holidays, for the first time Wednesday. For Hong Kong Chinese, the event stirred mixed emotions, from apprehension to new identification.

National Day marks the anniversary of the 1949 founding of the People's Republic of China. Chinese flags lined many of Hong Kong's busy streets, erected by the local government and civic groups.

And at an official flag-raising ceremony at Hong Kong's harbor, the territory's new leader, Tung Chee-hwa, stood at attention as a police band played the Chinese anthem, then raised China's flag. Crowds of onlookers waved small Chinese flags.

"I was a little moved," said one man who attended the ceremony. "As someone who grew up in Hong Kong, there was certainly a lack of nationalism. So that's why I brought the kids, to watch the ceremony for themselves."

But a young woman counted herself among those in the former British colony who found the new holiday strange. "I grew up under the British rule. Suddenly, (the Chinese) came and took over Hong Kong. I can't be patriotic overnight," she said.

Soldiers dancing

Government and business leaders were among nearly 4,000 people who gathered in the harbor-front convention center for a reception following the flag-raising ceremony.

The government also invited leaders of Hong Kong's Democratic Party, which has often clashed with Beijing over the pace of democratic reforms in Hong Kong.

Near the reception, a small group of protesters demanded that China release political prisoners. Police stopped them about a block away, and they sat on the sidewalk for about half an hour before dispersing peacefully.

Perhaps the most surprising commemorative event was hosted by the People's Liberation Army (PLA), based in Hong Kong, which held an unprecedented open house in two of its barracks for 5,000 invited guests.

In an effort to shake its hard-line image, PLA soldiers played ping-pong with some visitors, posed for photographs, helped children board military vessels and performed in a variety show.

"They don't move, so I think they're well-disciplined," said one young visitor of the soldiers standing at attention throughout the ship.

Playing table tennis

Meanwhile, in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, huge crowds gathered at dawn on Wednesday to catch a glimpse of the flag-raising ceremony. The night before, top party leaders celebrated on the square and looked toward China's future.

"The year 1998 is an important year to comprehensively carry out the spirit of the 15th National Party Congress, and implement the policies and guidelines set forth by the Party Central Committee," Chinese Premier Li Peng said at the gathering.

Chinese leaders hope to spread the spirit of China throughout Hong Kong, while maintaining the one country-two systems policy.

Correspondent May Lee contributed to this report.


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