Familiar fears surface with 1997 capsule's unearthing

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 March, 2012, 12:00am


A time capsule buried 15 years ago in Central to mark the 1997 handover has been unearthed - and it shows that Hongkongers' fear of political oppression has barely changed.

Among the items shown by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department yesterday was a face mask with the words 'political censorship' written on it. It was contributed by Stanley Ng Wing-fai of the Democratic Party, who wore the mask amid the tense political climate in Hong Kong before the handover.

Ng noted that freedom of speech was as contentious an issue as ever.

'It saddens me when people's rights are violated, especially when there is an invisible hand orchestrating everything,' he said. 'Our society needs to move forward.'

Ng was one of 35 members of the now-defunct Urban Council who buried items in the time capsule in June 1997 - ahead of the city's return to Chinese sovereignty on July 1 - next to City Hall, where they held their meetings.

It was to have been unearthed five years ago on the 10th anniversary of the handover. But the council was dissolved in 2000, and the capsule was all but forgotten.

Credit goes to Democrat lawmaker Fred Li Wah-ming, a former council member who in October pushed for the recovery of the capsule, raising the issue with Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing.

'I was infuriated that a pot of flowers had been placed over the slab of concrete under which the capsule was buried,' Li said. 'We need to respect our history.'

The department, the management authority of City Hall, stepped in to dig the capsule out this month to mark the building's 50th anniversary.

Li had buried an Elton John CD to remember the time the star's concert at the Hong Kong Stadium in February 1997 was cancelled because of noise complaints.

The council was a municipal body that provided services including recreational venues and activities, libraries, museums, cultural and entertainment sites, ticketing, wet markets, hawker registration and control, cremation and hygiene.

Fifteen years on, heated issues in 1997 such as waste reduction continue to be highly debated in the city.

A hawker licence buried by Ambrose Cheung Wing-sum served as a reminder that caring for the grass roots was of paramount importance - and that to this day the issue remained a sore point between vendors and the authorities, he said.

Capsule items will be displayed from Sunday to April 9 at City Hall.