Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Two Worlds Passing on the Timeline of History

Written by: on June 14, 2018

Most of my recent in-depth reading within the context of world history has been focused on Europe, particularly on former Eastern Europe and it’s communist history. This is my first more in-depth look further east toward the eastern Asia region and at Hong Kong in particular. 

What little I do know about Hong Kong and its history is but a blip in the Modern History of Hong Kong. [1] This is one reason why I am grateful for this DMin program that focuses on leadership from a global perspective. Leadership in our global world need leaders with a global perspective. That said, I am familiar with portions of the History of Hong Kong. It’s development as a financial center, it’s connection to China and the 99-year “lease” to Great Britton as a trading route has enabled Hong Kong to develop a free market system that brought about great prosperity beyond what China and the world could imagine. Hong Kong brought western influence to China and East Asia in a way that no other city could.

Two historical facts that come to mind after reading Tsang are first,  the beginnings of Hong Kong has its roots in the First Opium War. Which has an interesting connection to Pullinger’s Chasing the Dragon. [2] Second, Hong Kong did not have a strong base of national democratic institutions but functioned on a more local level where people had a voice that impacted the national level politically and culturally. This is deeply rooted in China’s familial culture, which, according to Chan also impacts China’s Christian theological development. [3] This great city that in many ways acted as an independent country, quietly changed the world and was a part of the fabric of the democratic capitalist world until 1997. 

When I think of events that surround the history of Hong Kong, the one thing that stands out in my mind most—as it does for many— is  Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997. In that year my family and I were living in the Czech Republic. The preceding years had brought about the 1989 fall of the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe and subsequently, the 1993 Velvet Revolution dividing Czechoslovakia into the two countries of the Czech Republic and Slovakia—now known as Czechia and Slovakia.

In 1996 and 1997 the matter of Hong Kong’s return to China was a major topic of discussion in the Czech Republic. At that time the Czech Republic has just come out of communism. They were finding their footing in a new world of democratic rule and capitalism. They were facing the excitement of freedom and also the growing and transition pains that came with that freedom, including the free-market society, in which most had little living and working experience. For more many of our Czech colleagues and friends, the return of Hong Kong to China was the world going backward. They had just come from communism, and Hong Kong was returning to communism. It was as if the west and the east were passing by each other in the timeline of history.

I remember talking over a cup of coffee about the sadness the Czech’s felt about Hong Kong’s return to communism. The speed at which 99 years had gone by and wondering what would become of Hong Kong. I remember one friend telling me that one never considers how short a period of time 99 years is. He remarked, a lease for 99 years on a piece of property can be a great deal for the leaser, especially if the property is improved and expanded. After only a couple of generations, when the property is at it’s highest value, it returns to its original owners, value and development in hand. This too was a familiar process in the Czech Republic as land restitution took place where the property was returned to its original owners. Only the property was rarely improved upon. This was not, however, the case with Hong Kong— the jewel of the East.

As in any city of our great world, including those wonderful cities in the eastern parts of Europe, the jury is still out on the future of Hong Kong. The city that once flew the union flag now flies the flag of China. I am looking forward to my first visit and the experience that awaits. 


  1. Steve Tsang, Modern History of Hong Kong, London: I.B.Tauris, 2007.
  2. Jackie Pullinger, and Andrew Quicke, Chasing the Dragon: One Woman’s Struggle Against the Darkness of Hong Kong’s Drug Dens, Ada, MI: Chosen Books, 2007.
  3. Chan, Simon. Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014, 

About the Author

Jim Sabella

10 responses to “Two Worlds Passing on the Timeline of History”

  1. Mary says:

    Great connections to our studies in LGP, Jim. You said so many relevant things; two really cause me to have further thought:
    1. “but functioned on a more local level” – As much criticism as the British have received for their paternalism, perhaps we should balance it with the fact that they allowed the Chinese in Hong Kong to have their local groups – local police, hospitals, etc… Everyone obviously worked something out that had ramifications for the receding in 1997.
    2. Steve and I visited Prague last year. Our tour guide had lived through the communist occupation. Things were run down. When the handover occurred they had much to rebuild. The people in Hong Kong did not have to do that. In fact, I think they were frightened that communist control would make things run down. Of course, Mao wasn’t interested in destroying the goose that laid the golden eggs. It must be really interesting for you to compare all of the situations since 1989 since you live there. Looking forward to discussing more in Hong Kong!!

    • Jim Sabella says:

      Thanks, Mary. I glad you and Steve got to visit Prague. The transition through time has been remarkable. I was just looking at photos when we first arrived in 1996. Things have really changed since then. I appreciate your comments.

  2. Stu Cocanougher says:

    “They had just come from communism, and Hong Kong was returning to communism. It was as if the west and the east were passing by each other in the timeline of history.”

    Because of “Basic Law”, Hong Kongs government is a far cry from communism. Yet, their “landlords” are the Chinese Communist Party.

    The real question is this… can the most capitalistic city in Asia transition to Communism? What would that mean to the banking and investment center of the East? What type of compromises would Hong Kongers have to make in daily living. Can freedom of the press and freedom of religion be taken away without a struggle? These are questions that many are asking.

    • Jim Sabella says:

      Stu, these are important questions. I have a friend who lives in Hong Kong he tells me that the change has been somewhat gradual but there is change nonetheless. Of course, there would be. I, like others, wonder how far and deep the changes will go. We are living in interesting times. I appreciate your comments.

  3. Lynda Gittens says:

    Thank you Jim for your personal story within your post. I love the title.
    I had a flashback to when our church was assisted by the Southern Baptist in the 1960’s and the University of Houston lease a part of their land for 100years and the white chapel to our church because of the compassion of the UofH Presidents daughter to our Founding Pastor’s compassion we were able to start out church. Fast forward, there were some challenges of growth for both parties over the past years and they were not easy but to God’s favor the leased property belongs to the church and we are expanding more as they have.
    I loved your post.

  4. Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Love this line Jim – “This great city that in many ways acted as an independent country, quietly changed the world and was a part of the fabric of the democratic capitalist world until 1997.”

    It made me think of the worldwide church. In all our differences and giftedness, we are quietly changing the world as it’s culture is silently woven into the fabric of our world throughout the centuries. We are a country unto its own, called to a different way of living, and to make an influence wherever we may be. We speak the universal language of love and are impressed to embody an economy that lives this. Despite our history that does not always reveal these values, this is our true faith calling and the mark of a real Christian. We are a country that is to be known by our love, which extends into every family, marriage, church, system, and culture in life and infuses its life into the DNA of all. Thank you, Jim, for your post that inspired this beautiful concept. It took me on a rabbit trail off of Hong Kong, but I hope it blesses you like your words blessed me and inspired me.

    • Jim Sabella says:

      Jenn, what a great point about the worldwide church quietly changing the world. It is sometimes difficult to see unless we look back to see how far we have come. The church has come a long way—we have a long way to go too. I appreciate your comments.

  5. Jim,
    Thanks for the post. I appreciate, especially, you sharing the Czech perspective. Both on time and on Chinese rule, and the return to communism not necessarily being a good thing.

    As we were reading about Hong Kong this week, I spent a lot of time thinking about my memories from when authority over Hong Kong returned to China.
    My recollection from the time was that a lot of the coverage painted this as a negative thing and not necessarily a positive for Hong Kong.

    Your word were a good reminder that while some of that coverage was inevitably colored by western bias, some of it might have been well founded as well.

    thanks again.

  6. Jim Sabella says:

    Thank you, Chip. I appreciate your comments.

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