The 1997 Hong Kong handover


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Written by Emma Marriott

In the summer of 1997, a ceremony was held in Hong Kong, marking the official transfer of sovereignty to the People’s Republic of China, ending 157 years of British rule.

Chris Patten, Hong Kong’s last colonial governor, departed from the Government House in Hong Kong on the 1st July 1997, and made the historic and iconic trip back to the HMY Britannia. Patten had been held in high esteem and he began his departure speech, ‘Today is a day of celebration, not sorrow’, concluding that Britain’s relationship with its former and friendly colony would not have a sour undertone.

Britain had acquired Hong Kong Island from China almost by accident. In the 18th and 19th Century, China had sealed itself off from the world, allowing limited trade under the Canton System, ensuring that Canton was the only port which operated trade in China. In 1841, China had obstructed British merchants at Canton, confiscating their opium stocks which were being brought over from India. Palmerston, the British Foreign Secretary, who was an advocate of free trade, dispatched a British force under Admiral George Elliot to the Orient. The initial instruction was to gain an apology and compensation from the Emperor of the Qing Dynasty. During a series of ‘gunboat diplomacy’ where the British Royal Navy showed its strength in Chinese waters, and the first Opium War (1839-42), Henry Pottinger won over the city of Chusan, in Zhejiang Province. Chusan was thus later exchanged for the island of Hong Kong. Ironically, although it seemed that Palmerston had achieved an open trade route to China, when he found out, seven months later, Pottinger was dismissed, and British traders and merchants had taken settlement and seeded their economic roots in Hong Kong.

Thus in 1842, with the signing of the treaty of Nanking at the end of the first Opium War (1839-42). Hong Kong was ceded as a crown colony from the Qing Empire. However, incomplete control over the Hong Kong harbour was an unsatisfactory trade for Britain, and they demanded that China cede Kowloon Peninsula after the second Opium War (1856-60). Britain’s hold on the island and its surrounding territory grew in 1898, as the New Territories of Hong Kong, together with 235 islands, were leased to Britain for 99 years, from July 1st, 1898.

Although China wanted to take back Hong Kong before the lease was over, the Kuomintang (The Chinese Nationalist Party) and the Communist Party (Led by Mao Zedong) had their own home territory issues during the 20th century. Britain regained control after the Second WorldWar, after the Japanese had occupied it for three years and eight months. Hong Kong’s shifting demographics became significant during the upheaval in China following the Communist succession in 1949, where it became a haven for thousands of Chinese refugees escaping Communist rule. Throughout the 70s, the murmur of independence developed in Hong Kong, however, much of the Hong Kong population, many of whom were economic, political or war refugees from the Chinese Civil War and the Communist regime in mainland China, wished to sustain the ‘status quo’.

Sino-British relations deteriorated from 1992 until the handover, due to the appointment of Chris Patten. Patten instigated a series of reforms which were designed to give the people of Hong Kong a greater voice on the political platform through the Legislative Council – LegCo. Beijing attempted to obstruct Patten’s reforms, and attempted to curb the student-led democracy movement in 1989. Echoes of the recent Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong in 2014? China saw Patten’s reforms as a betrayal of Britain’s promises to manage the transition as an exercise in which Hong Kong has no voice of its own.

The ceremony in the summer of 1997 ended the accumulation of a thirteen-year deal, which had been initiated by the Sino-British Joint Declaration of the Question of Hong Kong, in December 1984. This agreement specified that Hong Kong would have a high level of autonomy, apart from in matters of foreign relations and defence. Following the departure of Chris Patten from the Government House, five-hundred People’s Liberation Army vehicles crossed the Chinese-Hong Kong border, replacing any British troops that were still on the island. The troops were deployed as garrison forces symbolizing the reassertion of China’s sovereignty. President Jiang, the first mainland Chinese head of state to visit Hong Kong since 1842, reassured Hong Kong residents that China would carry out the “one country, two systems” plan of local autonomy. China received huge amounts of criticism and was put under international scepticism with their pledge to stay true to their saying ‘One Country. Two Systems’.

Just before midnight on the 30th June 1997, the British national flag and the Hong Kong colonial national flag, were lowered slowly down with the hum of ‘God Save the Queen’ in the background, symbolising the end of British colonial rule in Hong Kong.

Film Review: Viking

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Written by Deana Davis

On November 4, 2016 President Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill presented a new monument next to the Kremlin, a statue of Prince Vladimir holding a cross. Prince Vladimir is certainly a figure to be commemorated – he led the conversion of Old Rus’ to the Orthodox Christianity it still follows today, over 1,000 years later. President Putin stated that Vladimir ‘laid the foundation for the moral values, which define our life even until now.’ Coincidentally, a movie about Prince Vladimir, seven years in the making, premiered in December, directed by Andrei Kravchuk and with Danila Kozlovsky in the starring role. Titled Viking, it focuses on Vladimir’s uniting the lands of Old Rus’ under his rule and his conversion to Orthodox Christianity in the 10th century.

In many aspects, Viking can rival any western historical movie. It follows recent tendencies to reenact, or perhaps to revel in; the brutalities of the past, and its many battle scenes are masterfully conceived, showing the battle tactics of the Pechenegs while riding their horses around a group of Scandinavian mercenaries to isolate them.

While the battles and the political intrigue are fascinating, the premise and plot are far more so, though for different reasons. Viking moves away from traditional Soviet interpretation of history. While the 12th century Primary Chronicle details the invitation of the Swedish Rus to rule over the Slavs, the Soviets treated their only native primary source skeptically, seeking to downplay Western influences. The title, therefore, is brave for a Russian movie. It implies that not only did Vladimir have ties with Scandinavia, but also that he and the Rurikids dynasty were “slavic” Scandinavians; in fact Vladimir is shown speaking with his Scandinavian mercenaries in their tongue. However, this is never really followed through.

Viking also closely follows the events outlined in the Primary Chronicle, with the film depicting Vladimir’s capture of the town of Polotsk, the cruel seizure of his bride Rogneda, and the struggle with his brother Yaropolk. The story of Vladimir choosing among three religions is wisely avoided, as academics generally agree that its nature is  apocryphal. Instead, Vladimir is shown choosing Orthodox Christianity for political reasons, mostly to safeguard his lands from threat of the Pechenegs. The advantage of the Byzantines is made clear in one of the many battle scenes when a Pecheneg leader states that they do not fight the Romans.

Most important of all is Prince Vladimir’s progression from sinner to saint. Patriarch Kirill stated that Vladimir ‘was not a political schemer…he always had integrity and was honest.’ Other accounts, perhaps less biased, define Vladimir differently. According to historian Maksim Kuzakhmetov, he was a man of his time – “a brother-killer, a simple criminal’. While the film strives to be historically accurate and has Vladimir repent his crimes to a Byzantine priest, the movie shies away from condemning him. Vladimir accidentally witnesses the preparation of a berserker before the taking of Polotsk, and pressured by the mercenaries to be one of them, drinks the trance-inducing brew. Consequently, he is mentally absent from the battle until he sees the dead bodies of Rogneda’s parents. Vladimir also shows only remorse for Yaropolk’s death, as he cries over his brother’s body. In a word, his conversion is made more innocent, yet less profound.

Despite historical inconsistencies, which any movie is bound to have, Viking is worth a watch for the sheer spectacle and relevant political stances. As testament, the distribution rights for this “Russian blockbuster” have been sold worldwide. We certainly have not seen the last of Vladimir.



Буланов, К. (Bulanov, K.)“Путин на открытии памятника Владимиру

напомнил о современных угрозах (Putin at the Opening of the Monument to Vladimir warned of current threats)”, 4 November 2016,; accessed 4 February 2017

Егорова Е. (Egorova, Е.) “Путин удивил политиков и снайперов на открытии

памятника князью Владимиру (Putin surprised politicians and snipers at the opening of the monument to Prince Vladimir)”, 4 November 2016,; accessed 1 February 2017

“Кто вы, князь Владимир? (Who are you, Prince Vladimir?)”, Interview with

Максим Кузахметов (Maksim Kuzakhmetov)12 January 2017,; accessed 30 January 2017

“Russian historical blockbuster ‘Viking’ to hit world screens”, 13 January 2017,; accessed 1 February 2017


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Written by Gordon Thomson

The westerly gale buffeted Longwood House, chilled and wet from its uninterrupted passage of nearly three thousand kilometres from South American coast. Standing alone as it did on a windswept plain on Saint Helena, with little to shelter it from the ferocity of the elements, the house was cold, damp and unhealthy, and Napoleon could not help but shiver. God, but it is cold. He clenched his arms to his ribcage, pulling his grey riding coat tight to his body, and that at least seemed to warm him a little. Napoleon let his lip curl with the hint of a smile. My trusty riding coat, he thought. What days you have seen. He had first worn the coat in the war against the Third Coalition, when he had trapped a large Austrian force beside the Danube at Ulm and forced it to capitulate. Sixty thousand men, and thirty generals, all neutralised in one fell swoop by the surprise and speed of the Grande Armée. He had worn the coat when he captured Vienna, which the demoralised Austrians had abandoned as they scuttled back to join their advancing Russian allies. Those were my glory days. Napoleon had again worn the coat to shield him from the bitter cold of the Moravian winter as he smashed the Allies at Austerlitz, luring them into throwing the weight of their army into an attack on his deliberately weakened right flank while he punched through their centre, with Marshal Davout’s Third Corps arriving just in time to reinforce his right. The victory had been decisive, with the Austrians surrendering shortly afterwards. Napoleon had always considered Austerlitz his finest triumph, a set-piece victory which doubtless would be taught and marvelled in officers’ academies, like the École Militaire, for centuries to come. They’ll have no idea how cold it was, though. Napoleon had been glad of his coat that day.

The coat had seen him through many other cold days as well. In early 1807 he had worn it as he strove to bring the Russians to a pivotal battle in East Prussia by cutting off their eastward retreat. Fortune had foiled the plan, however, when Cossack’s horsemen had flukily captured a copy of his orders and relayed them to Russian commander Bennigsen. Despite a major battle at Eylau, the Russians had been able to escape eastwards largely intact. That had been a significant wound to Napoleon’s reputation for invincibility, a wound that even victory over the Russians later that year at Friedland had not been able to fully heal. Fortune is a fickle woman, Napoleon mused, like so many of the women in my life. Pauline Fourès, the wife of an officer in Napoleon’s army, had been only too happy to become his mistress during his Egyptian campaign, and had spoken volumes of her undying love, but seemed to have had little difficulty in realigning herself to General Kléber when events had forced Napoleon to return to France. He had discovered that his own wife, Joséphine, had cheated on him while he had been in Egypt, and with some difficulty and threats he managed to suppress a scandal which could have damaged his reputation immeasurably. Ultimately he had forgiven Joséphine, both in word and in his heart, and he had even made her his Empress, but time and nature had conspired against them, and as it became evident that she could no longer provide him with the heir he so craved. His sense of destiny, more than lust, pushed his eye to wander. There had been a violent scene when Joséphine had caught him in the act with one of her ladies-in-waiting and, although he had reconciled with her, their marriage could not last. Divorced from Joséphine, he married the daughter of Emperor Francis of Austria, Marie-Louise. Sweet and simply Marie-Louis succeeded in providing Napoleon with his much sought heir. But upon Napoleon’s defeat and first exile (to Elba), she had returned to her homeland with their son, and had made no efforts to contact him. Although his marriage to Marie-Louise had never been a love-match like his marriage to Joséphine, only a means to an end, the betrayal had hurt him. After all, even the old flame from his Prussian conquest, the Polish beauty Marie Walewska, had been decent enough to write to him in Elba. Nevertheless, after Waterloo she had apparently written her memoirs, in which she claimed to have become involved with Napoleon purely for the patriotic aim of benefiting Poland politically, describing her affair with the defeated Emperor as ‘debased’. So many betrayals. So many have failed me. 

The Hundred Days Campaign that had climaxed with Waterloo could so easily have been different if others had not failed him. If Ney had captured the crossroads at Quatre Bras, and D’Erlon had joined him at Ligny as planned to trap the Prussians. If Grouchy had been able to keep the defeated Prussians on the run, to prevent them joining from Wellington at Waterloo. And if fortune had not stricken Napoleon ill on the battlefield of June 18th, then perhaps others’ failings would not have mattered, for with his old magic Napoleon could surely have beaten Wellington with ample time to turn and fend off the Prussians. Fortune and the failings of others have undone me. 

Shivering, he felt an ache in his bones, a deep chill the like of which he had not known since Russia, when the savage cold of the Russian winter shattered his army as the Cossacks yapped at his heels. 1812. The year everything came apart. Was that my own fault? Did I stay in Russia too late? Trapped with his memories and his ghosts, Napoleon pulled his coat even tighter to his body, but although it had seen him through the ice and snow of Russia, it could no longer dispel the cold from him. Even my coat is failing me, Napoleon reflected, as the bitter wind howled round Longwood House.