Twenty years ago, Hong Kong was beginning the most fateful 12 months in its modern history, as its handover from Britain to China loomed. In the two decades since, the New Year crowds have put Y2K fears, the horrors of 2003, the Asian tsunami, and economic and terrorism worries – even the failure of the Noonday Gun – behind them as they have celebrated in true Hong Kong style. Here is how the South China Morning Post reported each and every one of those New Years.

1997 starts with a bang and memory of a tragedy 

Fireworks spectacular sees milestone year in with a bang

The biggest year in Hong Kong's short history was marked with its biggest fusillade of fireworks . . . 22,000 rounds marking the arrival of 1997.

An estimated 220,000 New Year revellers swarmed the beaches of Tuen Mun for the spectacular $2.5 million display.

But fears of the 1993 New Year Lan Kwai Fong tragedy quickly came to mind as police found it impossible to control the huge New Territories crowd.

When the 23-minute display ended, thousands of people became angry at not being able to get home due to inadequate transport.

Police were forced to call in all available reinforcements to cope with the crowds and were still struggling as a happy night deteriorated.

Elsewhere the night went off in comparative safety.

More than 35,000 party-goers thronged Lan Kwai Fong, where 21 people died in a crush three years ago, while thousands more joined celebrations for the countdown at Times Square, Victoria Park and Wan Chai.

In Causeway Bay, the most famous symbol of Hong Kong New Year celebrations - the midnight gun - was fired by Mona Leong, the wife of Mandarin Oriental managing director Sidney Leong.

But for the biggest party, in Tuen Mun, the fireworks began just 10 seconds before the chimes struck midnight.

It was all over 23 minutes later, with many of the spectators hoping the bright start to 1997 would signal a bright future.

Engineer Matthew Wong, 30, said he had a mission in 1997: "I plan to propose to my girlfriend but I don't know if she will agree. I hope the fireworks have brought me good luck."

Certainly, businessmen in the area had a profitable start to the year. Street stall owners and the only hotel in the area, the Gold Coast Hotel, reported brisk business.

The hotel said its 450 rooms were fully booked thanks to the fireworks display.

Year ends not with a bang, but an embarrassing whimper

Revellers were out in force last night to welcome 1998, but one of Hong Kong's enduring colonial traditions, the firing of the Noonday Gun at midnight, marked the new era with an embarrassing silence. As the clock struck 12, the signal was given to Nancy Lee, wife of former Stock Exchange chairman Charles Lee, to fire the gun, but nothing happened. A technician was quickly on hand to check out the problem and after a few minutes, the gremlins banished, the shot finally echoed over the harbour to usher in 1998. One guest commented: "With any weapon occasionally the ammunition can be defective. The first shell they tried was a dud. The gun worked normally but the shell didn't fire. So they replaced the shell and fired again. They missed midnight by a couple of minutes, that's all. For me, it was an omen that you'll just have to be cautious in 1998."

A blast for midnight babes

There was no repeat of last year's embarrassing silence as the Midnight Gun Salute ushered in 1999. Gill Sutch, wife of Swire Group chairman Peter Sutch, fired the gun at the traditional ceremony in Causeway Bay. Last year, it failed to fire and a technician had to be brought in to fix the problem. Three babies timed it to perfection, being born on the stroke of midnight. Two boys were born at the Baptist Hospital in Kowloon Tong and another at the Eastern Hospital on Hong Kong Island.

Welcome to 2000

More than one million people thronged the streets early this morning as Hong Kong rolled into the 21st century with an extravaganza of light, sound and celebration.

About 500,000 revellers jammed into Tsim Sha Tsui, thousands of boisterous millennium partygoers danced and sang their way out of the 20th century in Lan Kwai Fong and 40,000 more counted down the seconds to midnight in Times Square, Causeway Bay. An estimated 60,000 people were at Happy Valley and 74,000 at Victoria Park.

The Hong Kong celebrations came six hours after the mostly uninhabited Pacific islands of Kiribati became the first territory to celebrate the new millennium.

Then, as the New Year rolled across New Zealand, Australia, Japan and the rest of East Asia, vast crowds of revellers celebrated to the sound of fireworks and champagne corks. No Y2K problems had been reported in the SAR or anywhere else by early today.

The official countdown in Hong Kong took place at a packed Happy Valley racecourse. Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, Chief Secretary for Administration Anson Chan Fang On-sang and Financial Secretary Donald Tsang Yam-kuen joined 60,000 people to ring in the third millennium in true Hong Kong style - at the races.

Punters wagered $948 million before midnight. The Millennium Cup run at 12.45am was won by Floral Joy, ridden by Jimmy Quinn. A sweepstake drawn at 12.57am sold five million tickets and carried a prize of $20 million in gold.

Two babies - a boy and girl - were born at the stroke of midnight at the private Baptist Hospital in Kowloon Tong, while a girl was born at the same time at St Teresa's Hospital, Kowloon City.

Police reported no major problems despite the estimated 1.2 million people on the streets. At least five people fainted as crowds surged towards the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront and the Clock Tower for the countdown, and a policeman suffered minor injuries.

Phone networks suffered temporary crashes because the airwaves were clogged with calls as midnight approached.

At Happy Valley, seconds after Mr Tung counted down from one century and into the next, a spectacular series of firework fountains, spanning 1,400 metres, ringed the track, transforming the famous racecourse into a sea of colour.

Young and old, locals and overseas visitors, embraced in the stands as live pictures of revellers around Hong Kong were beamed on to a huge screen after the pyrotechnics finished.

The racecourse extravaganza entertainment was kicked off by movie superstar Jackie Chan who, dressed in a traditional outfit, led the grand opening parade on horseback before dismounting to sing with Andy Lau. As the minutes ticked away, a host of international and local stars including Anna and The King actor Chow Yun-fat and Asia's first Bond girl, Michelle Yeoh, entertained the crowds.

After a duet by Phantom of the Opera star Sarah Brightman and Jacky Cheung, it was time for the real party to begin as 1999 became 2000 with a chorus of roars that threatened to take the roof off the stands.

Engineer Chan Wai-hing, 39, who soaked up the atmosphere with his wife, Theresa, 34, and their son Ryan, seven, seemed to sum up the mood: "It's a great atmosphere here tonight. I come to the races quite regularly but Happy Valley has never looked like this. Happy millennium to everyone."

Crowds get year off to roaring start

About 500,000 people turned out last night to celebrate the New Year, with the biggest crowds at Tsim Sha Tsui and Times Square.

Revellers drank, waved balloons and cheered as the countdown commenced, many hoping for a better 12 months ahead.

Computer engineer Sam Wong Chak-fun, 24, said he welcomed 2001 because 2000 had seen his dotcom company close and he had had to change two jobs.

"It was a terrible year and I just hope for the best in the New Year," he said outside the Peninsula Hotel at midnight.

Polytechnic University social researcher Mandy Chan, 26, who spent the night with friends at a bar in Causeway Bay, said: "I just hope the start of a new century will mean a more peaceful world and better health for everyone and, more importantly, we will be able to get a bigger pay rise this year."

Police estimated that there were 348,000 people in Tsim Sha Tsui, 47,000 at Times Square, 13,300 in Lan Kwai Fong, and 9,000 at EuroChristmas in Wan Chai, which said visitors had passed the one million mark since it opened on December 16.

Among the visitors to EuroChristmas was Financial Secretary Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, who said that his New Year wish was for the economy to recover fully. 

380,000 revellers cram streets to ring in the New Year

More than 380,000 people turned out last night to celebrate the arrival of the New Year, with the biggest crowds in Tsim Sha Tsui and Times Square. Revellers drank, waved balloons and cheered as the countdown started, with many hoping for a better 12 months ahead. Telecommunications executive Donald Cheng, 40, celebrating in Lan Kwai Fong, said he hoped not to be fired in 2002. Sales manager Stephanie Leung, 34, said: "There is nothing wrong with Hong Kong this year except [Chief Executive] Tung Chee-hwa. I hope he listens to Hong Kong people rather than the central Government.

Party-time in HK, but tight regional security greets 2003

Across the region, the shadow of terrorism hangs over the celebrations

Millions across Asia celebrated the arrival of the new year amid scenes of unprecedented security early today, as 2003 brought with it the prospect of war and the threat of further terrorist attacks.

Two thousand police officers were deployed on Bali, where 190 died in bombings in October, and 200,000 were on duty across Indonesia.

Two-thirds of Jakarta's police force were on the streets of the capital of the world's biggest Muslim nation, guarding shops and entertainment centres, mosques and other public facilities. In Australia, home to nearly half the Bali victims, cars were banned from the central business district of Sydney and streets around the harbour bridge were blocked in security not seen since the 2000 Olympics.

In Hong Kong, police and officials were out in force as much to crack down on litter louts and graffiti artists as to guard against terrorism.

At the Cultural Centre, where youths sprayed paint on the walls, windows and trees on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, no vandalism was reported. 

On the mainland, meanwhile, Jiang Zemin sought to lift spirits by using his last new year speech as president to call for closer economic and cultural ties with Taiwan. He said that Beijing would continue its efforts to seek reunification with the island by keeping to his eight-point proposals as well as to the principle of peace and "one country, two systems". 

He also expressed confidence in his successor, Hu Jintao. "At present, all ethnic groups of China are closely rallying round the party leadership with comrade Hu Jintao as the general party secretary," he said. 

Thousands say farewell to the year we'd like to forget

While 2003 was tough for Hong Kong, the sun rose today over a changed city

Partygoers rang in the New Year across the streets of Hong Kong in their thousands early this morning, but many also chose to relax at home, watching movies starring Anita Mui Yim-fong, the pop diva who died this week from cancer.

Hong Kong's biggest crowd gathered in Tsim Sha Tsui, where at least 300,000 people cheered as the hands of the clock tower moved together at midnight to bid farewell to the tumultuous events of 2003 - war in Iraq, the emergence of Sars and the Article 23 controversy.

In Times Square, an estimated 60,000 people sang along with singers before the countdown.

In Lan Kwai Fong, waitresses dressed as cowboys celebrated with an estimated 14,000 revellers, including many individual visitors from the mainland. To serve them, Putonghua-speaking staff were employed by many western-style restaurants.

Many revellers packed restaurants before hitting the streets. David Ng Tak-leung, president of the Hong Kong Federation of Restaurant and Related Trades, said the catering industry was looking at the end of a long tunnel.

"Many restaurants were full. Although not many opted for the expensive dishes, it is at least a very good sign that more people are willing to go out and spend," he said.

While many celebrated the arrival of the New Year in the streets, some decided to spend the night at home to mark Mui's death by watching her movies.

Queen Lee, a safety officer with a chemical firm, was one: "I am a big fan of hers. Part of me has gone with her death. The year of 2003 was such a bad year.

"It claimed the lives of Leslie Cheung [Kwok-wing] in April and now Anita Mui, the two most talented artists in Hong Kong. I hope everything turns better in 2004."

Ms Lee planned to start watching Mui's last film, July Rhapsody, at midnight.

Meanwhile, the first baby of the year was a girl born at Prince of Wales Hospital at 12.03am weighing 2.9 kg. The girl, whose father is surnamed Cheng, is the couple's first child.

Prayers amid the pain

The world greeted the New Year in no mood to celebrate. Instead of fireworks there were candle-lit prayers as people around the globe mourned the more than 125,000 victims of the Asian tsunami.

While the biggest relief effort in history shifted up a gear in a race to avert even more deaths from starvation, injury and disease, normally exuberant New Year celebrations were tempered out of respect for the victims.

In Thailand's island resort of Phuket, badly battered by Sunday's tsunami, foreigners and Thais joined together for a candlelight vigil to remember the dead.

Australia led the world in a global minute of silence, New Year parties were cancelled across Asia and Europe and trees on Paris' Champs Elysees were shrouded in black. Norway, Finland and Germany will today fly flags at half mast.

Sweden, which has lost the highest number of tourists - 3,500 dead or missing - called a national day of mourning today.

In Hong Kong, fireworks were cancelled and New Year celebrations were turned into fund-raisers. Governments urged revellers to rein in excesses and spare thoughts for victims and money for survivors.

2005 blown away in a magic moment

Revellers packed the usual haunts - Times Square, Lan Kwai Fong and the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront - last night to welcome in the new year.

But thousands chose to buck convention and spent the last night of 2005 with Mickey and Minnie at Disneyland.

The biggest crowd was in Tsim Sha Tsui, where police estimated more than 200,000 crowded the waterfront late into the evening after enjoying the Symphony of Lights lasers and fireworks show.

Disney's party started at 9pm with fireworks in front of the Sleeping Beauty Castle. Visitors were also treated to a shower of artificial snow, which created a wintry wonderland despite the warm weather.

German tourists Angelika and Dirk Ewald said: "It [Hong Kong Disneyland] is a bit small but it is very nice and much more relaxing than the one in Paris."

Couple Carman Li Ka-man and Franky Lam Wai-ching, both Form Seven students, said: "Instead of going to The Peak as we usually do for New Year and Christmas, we decided to do something different and come to Disneyland to spend the last day of the year with the cartoon characters."

The young couple, who arrived at noon, took more than 100 pictures with their favourite characters. President Hu Jintao gave Hong Kong a special mention in his New Year address, in which he stressed China was a peace-loving nation that wanted only to seek prosperity through co-operating with other nations.

He said Beijing would continue to uphold the principle of "one country and two systems" in a national address broadcast by China Central Television.

"[We] will support the chief executives of Hong Kong and Macau to carry out their policies in accordance to laws," he said. "[We will] enhance exchange with Hong Kong and Macau, and ensure an enduring prosperity and stability in both places."

Mr Hu reiterated Beijing's long-standing position of seeking peaceful reunification with Taiwan.

"We will never sway from the 'one China' principle and will not abandon our efforts to endeavour for a peaceful reunification. We will never compromise on our opposition to the activities of Taiwan independence splittist forces."

Buoyant HK hails the start of 2007

Resurgent city welcomes New Year with dancing and parties

Five, four, three, two, one … Happy New Year!

Hongkongers partied hard last night, welcoming in 2007 in a buoyant mood following one of the strongest economic rebounds in recent memory, bringing with it more jobs, pay rises and bigger bonuses. 

Police estimated more than 380,000 people crowded the waterfront and popular gathering spots for the countdown at midnight. The biggest crowd was around the Cultural Centre and Avenue of the Stars in Tsim Sha Tsui, where 350,000 gathered. A further 20,000 saw the countdown at Times Square in Causeway Bay, while 9,000 partied at Lan Kwai Fong in Central. 

The celebrations were upbeat, with some restaurants and shops reporting takings up 20 per cent over last year’s festive season.

As the clock ticked its way to midnight at the World Trade Centre, hundreds of local and overseas dancers were in the last throes of a 2,007-minute (33-hour) dance marathon that began at noon on Saturday. Leading the dance was Irish born tap dancer James Devine, who was clocked at 38 taps a second in 1998, winning the title of the world’s fastest dancer.

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Smokers, meanwhile, face a not so happy new year, with extended smoking bans taking effect today. The ban now covers beaches, stadiums, civic facilities, most parks and playgrounds, all workplaces, restaurants and bars, except those with exemptions.  

Warm welcome on a cold night

Hundreds of thousands gather to see in 2008 as the temperature continues to drop

More than 390,000 revellers packed the streets last night to greet 2008.

Undeterred by the cold, Hongkongers were in the mood to party, flocking to traditional waterfront celebration areas on both sides of the harbour and massing for the midnight countdown in Lan Kwai Fong and at Times Square, the Cultural Centre and the Avenue of the Stars. The New Year Symphony of Lights show, being held in the city for the first time, was staged at the 88- storey Two IFC in Central and 17 other buildings, drawing thousands of spectators.

New Year’s Eve saw the second cold weather warning in two days, with 10 degrees Celsius predicted. The Observatory expects the cold weather to persist for about two days. Some 1,533 people sought help from the personal emergency link by midnight.

Hong Kong’s first baby of 2008 was a girl, weighing 3.1kg, born at Prince of Wales Hospital at 12.05am. In a new year address, President Hu Jintao hoped the Beijing Olympics would act as a platform to foster understanding between countries, and stressed that China’s development needed to be more inclusive. He said China would continue along its economic reform path in 2008 but needed to “strengthen social construction” and provide better social services for the sick and elderly.

With the arrival of 2008, the general outlook for the new year is good, surveys found.

Putting a brave face on. Masked revellers in Lan Kwai Fong celebrate the New Year. About 330,000 people turned out on both sides of the harbour to see in 2009, determined to have fun despite the gloomy forecasts for the 12 months to come. But some were watching their spending. Photo: Dickson Lee

Sign of the times. The city skyline is ablaze with fireworks as Hong Kong welcomes the new year – and new decade – with a bang. About 400,000 revellers gathered along both sides of the harbour to see in the start of 2010, with a further 20,000 people celebrating in Lan Kwai Fong and a record 100,000 at Times Square, in Causeway Bay, police said. Hongkongers’ were in the mood to party, with optimism for the coming year at a high not seen since 2004. Photo: Sam Tsang

Eleven heaven. Revellers see in the new year at Times Square in Causeway Bay, where more than 100,000 joined the big-screen countdown party. Across the harbour in Tsim Sha Tsui and Yau Ma Tei, police estimated the crowds at almost 300,000. Photo: David Wong

Good health and a wage rise on wish list for 2012

Loved ones and friends in Hong Kong rug up to brave the chilly conditions and welcome in the New Year

Maybe it was the chilly weather, or perhaps a collective sigh of relief at an economically challenging year coming to an end, but Hongkongers last night turned to the comfort of their loved ones to ring in the New Year.

Tammy Chan, a 20-year-old clerk, soaked up the atmosphere with friends at Times Square in Causeway Bay. She was optimistic about 2012 for Hong Kong.

“I hope the new chief executive will really help Hongkongers, especially the poor. The government can do more than HK$6,000 giveaways,” she said. “The city is rife with illnesses like the bird flu, so I hope it will go away in the new year so we can all enjoy good health.”

Dazzling start to 2013 Fireworks light up the sky over the harbour last night, part of a HK$12 million, eightminute extravaganza that was held in Wan Chai for the first time rather than Central. Elsewhere, more than 100,000 revellers packed Times Square to see in 2013 on the coldest New Year’s Eve in nearly 30 years. Photo Sam Tsang

Hunger for reform to put spring in step of marchers

While cost of housing is still top concern, annual study reveals electoral change is a rising priority as tens of thousands prepare to take to streets

The cost of housing remains the No 1concern for Hongkongers as 2014 dawns – but constitutional reform is catching up.

The key issues were revealed as the city prepares for the New Year’s Day protest march, with universal suffrage expected to be a major theme.

One in five Hongkongers considers political reform their top concern, the highest proportion recorded in 20 years in the annual University of Hong Kong poll.

The total was up seven percentage points on the 13 per cent recorded last year, to the highest level since 1994, when governor Chris Patten was putting forward electoral reform proposals.

The proportion putting housing at the top of their list of concerns was down to 35 per cent, from 41 per cent last year, as the government sticks with cooling measures intended to calm soaring prices. The economy ranked third, down from second last year, despite a four-percentagepoint increase to 18 per cent.

HKU’s public opinion programme polled more than 1,000 people between December 16 and 19. HKU and Polytechnic University academics will again gauge public opinion today as the Occupy Central democracy movement holds what it calls a “civil referendum” on reform.

Permanent residents aged 18 and over can take part at a polling station in Victoria Park, online or via the PopVote smartphone app, which has already been downloaded 50,000 times from the Google apps store alone.

The exercise involves three questions and will help shape Occupy’s response to the government’s five-month consultation on electoral reform ahead of the 2017 election for chief executive.

Partying and politics ring in 2015

Electoral reform weighs on minds of revellers and poll respondents at the end of a restive year

Hundreds of thousands of revellers turned out on the streets last night to celebrate the start of the new year, although politics still dominated thoughts at the end of months of intense conflict over constitutional reform.

Under the watchful eye of thousands of police officers, fireworks and artificial snow effects lit up the skies over Victoria Harbour in an eight-minute show as the clock struck midnight.

In Lan Kwai Fong, revellers released balloons into the air and shouted “Happy new year”. There were similar scenes at Times Square in Causeway Bay – though there the balloons were yellow and the cry was “I want true universal suffrage” as about 500 people gathered to revive the spirit of the Occupy Central sitins. Earlier, they handed out leaflets to passers-by and invited people to post their wishes on a new version of Occupy’s famous “Lennon Wall”.

For the first time, a countdown was held at Park Lane Shopping Boulevard on Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui and at the Observation Wheel near the Central ferry pier. Times Square and Harbour City in Tsim Sha Tsui had called off their countdowns – apparently over security concerns following Occupy.

On the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront, the crowd was in a festive mood for the fireworks, although there were jeers when the bigscreen feed panned to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.

There were protests in the IFC Mall in Central, where about 25 people lay on the ground at 10pm and displayed banners with slogans in support of democracy and condemning police. They departed after about 10 minutes, before police arrived.

In Beijing, President Xi Jinping met members of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. “We stuck to the ‘one country, two systems’ principle, staunchly protected the big picture of Hong Kong and Macau, and celebrated the 15th anniversary of Macau’s handover to the motherland,” he said.

Xi added: “We should protect the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong and Macau.” Politics has surpassed personal health, economic growth and livelihood issues to top Hongkongers’ new-year wish list, an annual University of Hong Kong survey showed – the first time this has happened since 1992.

Celebrations muted amid security fears

New year events cancelled across mainland as authorities take cautious approach in the aftermath of disasters that left scarred memories of 2015

There was a muted feel to new year celebrations in many mainland cities, as the nation reflected on a year with its share of tragedies, and authorities took a cautious approach amid rising security concerns.

At venues across the country, events were cancelled, or security tightened, though official celebrations went ahead in Beijing.

The central government would continue to support gOne Country, Two Systemsh and the prosperity of Hong Kong, President Xi Jinping told the new year tea gathering of the Chinese Peoplefs Political Consultative Conference.

In a separate, televised, address, he said China would continue to build diplomatic relations and implement reform.

He referred to several disasters that took place in 2015, including the explosions at a Tianjin warehouse in August, the Shenzhen landslide in December, and numerous terrorist incidents across the country, pledging the government would ensure public safety and protect the assets of Chinese people.

About 1,000 guests attended the official New Year’s Eve celebration near Beijing’s Forbidden City, while the iconic Bird’s Nest stadium staged a gala.

But a countdown event at the China Millennium Monument in the Beijing World Art Museum was called off because it failed to obtain approval from the city’s public security authority, the Legal Evening News reported.

The Place, a shopping mall featuring a giant LED screen on its roof in Beijing’s central business district, said there would be no festive activities on New Year’s Eve and all shops would close at 10pm as usual.

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In Shenzhen, celebrations were low profile in the aftermath of the massive landslide that has left dozens of people still missing. 

In Hong Kong, Times Square scrapped its countdown for the second time in two years. Before last year's cancellation, the mall had celebrated by dropping a ball from a 22-metre LED tower at midnight every year since 1993.