The Hong Kong Administrative Region Establishment Day is a big day in Hong Kong. It is an official public holiday that is not about independence—it celebrates Hong Kong SAR’s birthday, and is the time to commemorate the remarkable economic growth, which spans over decades of innovation and enterprising efforts of its people. Also referred to as SAR Establishment Day, Hong Kong SAR Establishment Day or Region Establishment Day is observed on the 1st of July every year since 1997 and marks the anniversary of the British handing over or transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China and the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR).

Looking back at the origin of Hong Kong SAR Establishment Day

The British had acquired Hong Kong’s territories from China in the 18th century during which the area was heavily industrialised and a main port for trade. The three treaties that were signed in 1842, 1860 and 1989 gave United Kingdom control over Hong Kong Island, area south of Boundary Street in Kowloon, and the areas north of Boundary Street, south of the Shenzhen River, and outlying islands in the New Territories. A handover ceremony was held on the night of 30 June 1997, which lasted till the next morning, the British turned over Hong Kong back to China.

Hong Kong is tagged “SAR” since it was negotiated that though the colony would be part of China, it gets to keep the political system that was already in place, creating the mantra—“one country, two systems.” This appeased the worries linked with the handover about China stripping away the systems and freedom that make Hong Kong a laissez-faire economy.

A celebration filled with happy, bright lights and solemn political rallies

A number of events commemorate the HK SAR Establishment Day—bright, colourful sparkling, celebrations on one side and graver flag raising ceremonies, parades and demonstrations on the other side.

Large crowds participate in parades that begin in the morning with an official flag-raising ceremony at the Golden Bauhinia Square that is located outside the Hong Kong Convention Centre in Wanchai, in the presence of national leaders and government officials. Government helicopter teams fly over Victoria Harbour, displaying Hong Kong flags that also carry emblems of the People’s Republic of China. Residents of Hong Kong who feel that their freedom rights are at stake parade the streets to make their voices heard. The parade features traditional drumming performances, people crying out slogans and waving white and yellow flags and banners. Dragon dance troupes entertain onlookers by carrying massive dragons that have animated features which are controlled by a dancer. The vividly coloured dragons are made to move in a sinuous wave-like pattern—they run, twist, dip, lift, thrust, and sweep the dragon body—an intriguing sight to behold. Protesters participating in these massive peaceful marches protest against the Chinese government, highlighting shortcomings and demanding democratic practices like universal suffrage, protection of the of freedom of expression and speech and legislated wages. For many people in Hong Kong, 1 July is not a day to celebrate, but is a day to wear black and unleash their anger at the government.

Though residents and tourists participate in the parades, the day’s show stealer is the fabulous light shows and decorative neon light displays on Victoria Harbour. The waterfront bustles with thousands of residents and tourists who gather to witness the night skies blaze with the brilliance of the fireworks display. Hong Kong comes alive as people watch a seemingly endless succession of rainbow-hued fireworks burst at the pyrotechnic show that lasts for all of 23 minutes as the camera flashes almost compete with the dazzling firework shows. “The best seat” for watching this fantastic fiery fiesta can be anywhere there is a view of the sky over the Victoria Harbour, but it’s always good to stake out a vantage point early. And how much does the show cost? It’s FREE!

A great spot to view the fabulous fireworks is aboard a harbour cruise. Harbour cruises on Victoria Harbour offer great views of the famous Hong Kong skyline and the fireworks show. Since these tours are popular, it’s always best to book early.

Also, due to special traffic arrangements by the Transport Department, some roads as well as exits of certain MTR stations are closed, so plan well in advance. If the SAR Establishment Day falls on a weekend, the celebrations will be held on the first weekday. Banks, offices and government offices will be closed. Shopping centres, restaurants and other attractions like Disneyland and Ocean Park will be open to welcome people. Public transport schedule provides increased frequency on certain busy routes.

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