To me, the question is mostly academic. As such, the history and politics of it is extremely complicated. Contrary to many Western media reports lately, the issue is not clear cut at all. On the other hand, new pre-planned secondary school textbooks for liberal studies seem to have offered a purely dogmatic claim that the city was never a colony, but more akin to an “occupied territory”. Does that mean we had been somewhat like the West Bank in Palestine? As a historical shorthand, I admit it might be easier to call Hong Kong a colony rather than an occupied territory. So no, I wouldn’t want my own children, if they had been younger, to study those textbooks like the Bible’s, or Communist Party’s, truth. However, I wouldn’t want them to just read Bloomberg and The Guardian and conclude the whole thing has been nothing more than a concoction of Chinese communist propaganda. Well, there is an element of that, but it does not exclude a legitimate post-1949 Chinese interpretation. Hong Kong and Macau after 1972 One argument Beijing has used is that Hong Kong and Macau were removed from the “decolonised” category of the list of colonial territories maintained by the United Nations in 1972. This happened after the UN seat representing China was taken over by the mainland from Taiwan, or the Republic of China in the year before. It was voted in Beijing’s favour in the UN General Assembly because it had majority support and sympathy from developing countries. Based on this fact, Chinese communists have argued both territories were not “colonies” and were not recognised as such by the international community. Of course, communist China never recognised the legitimacy of what it has termed the “unequal treaties” signed after the first and second opium wars. So far as the communists were concerned, the Brits could call Hong Kong a colony all they wanted, but its colonisation was illegitimate and illegal to begin with. On that, you can’t say the Chinese didn’t have a point, unless you want to defend British imperialism or Western imperialism in general. Still, the communists were being somewhat disingenuous. Their motive in 1972 was to make sure Hong Kong and Macau would always remain under Chinese sovereignty – regardless of when their actual rule was returned to China – so there would not be any possibility of decolonisation leading to independence for Hong Kong or Macau. Lawmakers call for more education after debate over Hong Kong’s colonial status As Huang Hua, then China’s permanent UN representative, wrote to the UN’s special committee on decolonisation: “The questions of Hong Kong and Macau belong to the category of questions resulting from the series of unequal treaties left over by history, treaties which the imperialists imposed on China. “Hong Kong and Macau are entirely within China’s sovereign right and do not at all fall under the normal category of colonial territories. Consequently they should not be included in the list of colonial territories covered by the Declaration on Granting Independence to Colonial Countries and People.” A question of legitimacy Didn’t Margaret Thatcher implicitly accept the same argument from Deng Xiaoping and the communists during the tortuous negotiations leading to the Sino-British Joint Declaration? I think she and her team did, though I am not certain and am open to correction. They raised the importance of maintaining the prosperity of Hong Kong at the outset. This was a most practical question, but it was also the grounds on which Britain could argue why the city’s colonisation enjoyed a degree of legitimacy by its sheer economic success. Deng, however, redefined or subsumed the issue of prosperity not as primary but under the overarching demand of sovereignty. The two sides, he declared at the outset, must agree on who had the sovereign right over Hong Kong. On this, Deng was following the same script as Huang Hua in 1972 and Mao in 1949. Chinese sovereignty never ended, even if British gunboats forcefully took Hong Kong away from the nation for a period of time. As a republican I don’t begrudge the British queen her jubilee party By virtue of the British agreement to return Hong Kong in 1997, however reluctantly, they ultimately conceded to the Chinese position. Once this paramount issue was taken care of, the question of prosperity could be resurrected in such terms as: (1) the British caretaker’s role until the 1997 handover; (2) the continuation of that prosperity (and stability) for 50 years under “one country, two systems”. So far as the Chinese communists are concerned, they may perhaps accept the characterisation of old Hong Kong as an “illegitimate colony”. But that just goes without saying and it’s like pointing out the pope is Catholic or that a mother is female.