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It was an event awaited with trepidation as well as excitement since 1984, when Britain and China agreed on terms for the transfer of power over this territory wrested from China in the 19th century wars over the opium trade.
And it ushered a time of uncertainty over whether China would honor its pledge to maintain Hong Kong's way of life largely unaltered for the next 50 years.
Then, as a single bugler played 'Last Post,' a thin drizzle brushed the courtyard, and the British flag slipped down the flagpole. Patten's favorite song, 'Highland Cathedral,' and with the folded flag on a royal blue pillow, he stepped into a Rolls-Royce.
Slowly, the long black car flying the Governor's ensign from the hood circled the courtyard before Government House three times, a Chinese ritual performed by all previous governors to signal 'we shall return.' As Mr.
Patten, Hong Kong's 28th Governor, lowered his head, swallowing heavily in a surge of emotion, emotion that would shake the Governor repeatedly through the day.
Eight officers from the Royal Police Training School snapped through a sharply choreographed flipping of rifles, turns and slow-step marching in a salute to the last Governor. Patten walked slowly down a line of representatives of each of the territory's services, from the Correctional Services Department to the Auxiliary Medical Services, all in wilting white dress uniforms.
Quietly, almost forgotten, Prince Charles of Britain and the former colonial Governor, Chris Patten, were driven from the handover ceremony to the harbor front, where the royal yacht Britannia waited to bear them away from Hong Kong.After a five-second pause, time for British cymbals to stop vibrating, the Chinese national anthem was played and the Chinese flag raised alongside the new flag of Hong Kong. Drawn up at attention in the sweeping circular drive was the police band in snow-white tunics.