The handover of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to the People's Republic of China on July 1, 1997, ended 156 years of British rule. According to the "one country, two systems" policy between the United Kingdom and mainland China, Hong Kong's political and economic system would remain unchanged for 50 years -- until the year 2047.
Approximately 24 years later, the Chinese government shut down a Hong Kong newspaper, Apple Daily (no relation to Apple Computer). Its assets were frozen, newsroom raided, and founder Jimmy Lai, arrested.
Lai, who is a strong critic of the Chinese central government, named Apple Daily after the fruit of the tree of knowledge in the biblical tale of Adam and Eve.
On June 24, 2021, Apple Daily sold and distributed its last edition. It had been in circulation since June 1995, two years before the handover.
Last night [June 23, 2021], Apple Daily printed its final edition, succumbing to a relentless government campaign that has seen the paper's founder and its editor-in-chief jailed and facing possible life sentences, its newsroom twice raided, and its assets frozen, paralyzing its profitable operations. A newspaper that had lasted more than a quarter century -- through the final days of colonialism and into Hong Kong's Chinese rule -- survived less than a year under the national-security law [enacted June 30, 2020] that it warned against but that other outlets were happy to be paid to promote. This morning, convenience stores and newsstands across Hong Kong were largely sold out of the paper's final edition, even though 1 million copies had been produced. People began lining up around midnight to purchase the paper despite weather that was appropriate for the mood. "Hong Kongers bid a painful farewell in the rain," Apple Daily's final front-page read.
If China and Hong Kong were to be "one country, two systems" for 50 years after the handover, it was short-lived. It has slowly eroded since 1997 -- culminating with mainland China's closure of Hong Kong's last free-press newspaper, Apple Daily. The end of a free-press pro-democracy newspaper also spells the end of a free Hong Kong. Now, the Chinese communist regime will face little opposition in completely taking over the city.
Sharron Fast, a journalism lecturer at the University of Hong Kong, noted recent moves by Hong Kong authorities to censor books, art and movies in the city.
Countries around the globe have condemned the Chinese government's closure of Apple Daily, including Taiwan's first woman president, Tsai Ing-wen. Tsai, who leads the Democratic Progressive Party, was elected in 2016 and re-elected in 2020.
Even if Jimmy Lai and Apple Daily had toned down the rhetoric criticizing the Chinese government, just to stay in business, the Hong Kong authorities -- on orders from mainland China -- would have found a way to shut down the paper anyway, because it was pro-democratic.
Hong Kong came into British possession after the First Opium War, which lasted from 1839 to 1842. After the war, China ceded Hong Kong to Britain through the Treaty of Nanking. At that time, neither country could have imagined the political future of China.
On October 1, 1949, Chairman Mao Zedong formally announced the creation of the People's Republic of China -- and the Chinese Communist Party as sole governing political party of China -- before a massive crowd at Tiananmen Square.