|Chris Patten, the Last Governor of Hong Kong|
The tearful ceremony was attended by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Prince Charles, Chinese President Jiang Zemin, and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
Other than a few thousand protesting Hong Kong residents, the folding of the flag was peaceful.
The original unfurling of the British flag was not peaceful. In 1839, Britain invaded China and occupied Hong Kong, then a sparsely inhabited island off the coast of southeast China. Two years later, China ceded the island to the British in the Convention of Chuenpi. The year after that, the Treaty of Nanking ended the First Opium War.
In 1898, Britain was granted an additional 99 years of rule over Hong Kong under the Second Convention of Peking. In 1984, after long negotiations, the British and the Chinese signed a formal agreement approving the 1997 turnover of the island in exchange for a Chinese pledge to preserve Hong Kong’s capitalist system.
Hong Kong's new administrator, Tung Chee Hwa, announced a policy of “one country, two systems,” preserving Hong Kong’s role as a capitalist center in Asia.
At least one person (i.e., me) has compared Hong Kong's presence as a trading post outside of China to a possible future for Britain after Brexit leaves the country with a leadership black hole.