July 1 march

Everything you need to know about Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty

A guide to Hong Kong’s Special Administrative Region Establishment Day, from protests to popular culture references

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 July, 2016, 10:03am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 July, 2016, 7:16pm


July 1 marks Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Establishment Day. The general public holiday commemorates the day China resumed sovereignty over Hong Kong, after more than a century of British colonial rule, in 1997.


In 1842, the Chinese emperor ceded Hong Kong Island to the British bringing an end to the first Opium War. China later ceded the Kowloon Peninsula in 1860, ending the second Opium War.

Requiring more land and adequate defence of the colony, China leased the New Territories to the British in 1898 for 99 years, following the end of the First Sino-Japanese War.

With the imminent expiration of the New Territories lease, Hong Kong governor Murray MacLehose raised the issue with Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping during his first official visit to China. MacLehose suggested to Deng that the British could continue to “administer” Hong Kong after 1997. However, Deng informed MacLehose of Chinese intention to resume full sovereignty over Hong Kong.

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher repeated MacLehose’s suggestion to Deng during her visit to Beijing in 1982, but was rebuffed.

The Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed at the end of 1984, paving the way for the return of Hong Kong under Chinese control on July 1, 1997, under the “one country, two systems” policy. It was agreed that Hong Kong would become a special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China, with Hong Kong’s way of life to remain unchanged for 50 years


On June 30, 1997, the last day of British rule, a handover ceremony took place at the newly constructed Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai.

The last British governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, left Government House for the final time at 4.30pm.

The handover officially began at 11.30pm with a farewell speech read by Prince Charles on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II.

Minutes before midnight, the British national flag and the Hong Kong colonial flag were lowered as the British national anthem was played, officially ending British colonial rule in the city of nearly 6.5 million people.

As the clock struck midnight, the Chinese national flag and the new Hong Kong SAR flag were raised to the Chinese national anthem. Fireworks displays were set off over Tiananmen Square in Beijing where people had gathered to watch the ceremony.

Meanwhile, Prince Charles and Governor Patten, along with family, departed Hong Kong from Tamar aboard HM Yacht Britannia towards the Philippines.

Official representatives of the handover for China included: president Jiang Zemin, premier Li Peng, foreign minister Qian Qichen, the first HKSAR chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, and vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission Zhang Wannian.

Official representatives of the handover for Great Britain included: Prince Charles, prime minister Tony Blair, foreign secretary Robin Cook, outgoing Hong Kong governor Chris Patten, and chief of the defence staff Sir Charles Guthrie.


The first bill passed by the Provisional Legislative Council was the Holidays Bill, making HK SAR Establishment Day a holiday.

The day begins with a flag raising ceremony in Golden Bauhinia Square, attended by government officials and dignitaries.

Various celebrations are held throughout the city including lion dances, theatrical performances, and carnivals.

Events are expected to be subdued this year, out of respect to the families of the two firefighters were died while fighting one of Hong Kong’s longest-running blazes in Ngau Tau Kok.


July 1 has now become associated with protest marches.

Prior to 2003, protests during HKSAR Establishment Day were relatively small compared with the size the annual march has grown to today.

In 2003, the largest protest in Hong Kong’s post-handover history took place with 500,000 people turning out to protest against the government’s Article 23 national security legislation which protestors feared would restrict civil liberties.

Subsequent protests have continued to draw large numbers, but the issues for the protests have become numerous and wide-ranging. Previous marches have seen protests calling for greater democracy for Hong Kong and demands that the chief executive resign. Persecution of Falun Gong members on the mainland and the need for better pay and improved rights for foreign domestic workers have also been among issues raised by protesters.

Since 2003, the march has been organised by the Civil Human Rights Front.


The flag of the HK SAR features a red field with a white, five-petal, Bauhinia flower in the centre. The design was selected by the National People’s Congress on April 4, 1990 and enshrined into the Basic Law.

A contest was held amongst Hong Kong residents in 1987. More than 4,400 flag design submissions were received, but all were rejected. Three designers were then assigned to submit new designs.

Hong Kong architect Tao Ho came up with the design of today’s flag, after he was walking in a garden and picked up the Bauhinia flower, which inspired him to incorporate it into his flag design.


The handover ceremony has been referenced in popular culture in film, television and music.

Notable examples include:

Movies – Rush Hour (1998): On the last day of British colonial rule, Jackie Chan plays a Hong Kong detective inspector who leads a police raid at a dockyard trying to capture a crime lord.

Television – Murder, She Wrote (1993): The handover is a factor in Jessica Fletcher’s - played by Angela Lansbury – mystery while she’s on vacation in Hong Kong.

Audio Drama – Doctor Who Unbound (2003): A Chinese stealth bomber crashes in the hills above Hong Kong, and Unit has 24 hours to steal the technology and rescue the passenger.

Books – Zero Minus Ten (1997): Agent 007 is sent to Hong Kong to investigate a series of terrorist attacks that could disrupt the handover and threaten war, 10 days before the transfer of sovereignty.