STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Twenty-three years ago today - July 1, 1997 - control of Hong Kong passed from Britain to China. This anniversary is the day that mainland China chose for a national security law to take effect. It criminalizes most dissent. And on this day, authorities have arrested dozens of people in Hong Kong, even as people on the streets chose the anniversary as a day of protest. How has Hong Kong changed since 1997? NPR's Emily Feng has been speaking with Hong Kongers who were born that year.
EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Ellen's grandparents fled mainland China during a political campaign in the late 1950s that resulted in mass famine. Now more than seven decades later, Ellen is thinking of leaving Hong Kong.
ELLEN: I think in the future, the Chinese government would take over this place completely.
FENG: Like all of the Hong Kongers in this piece, Ellen did not want to give her full name for the same reason that she is considering emigration. She is concerned Beijing could punish her under its national security law passed just this week that criminalizes many types of dissent. And like other young residents born in 1997, Ellen has only ever known Hong Kong as a Chinese territory. But she identifies not as Chinese and definitely not as British but, purely, as a Hong Konger. Whenever she has to fill out forms...
ELLEN: Whenever there are forms, like when I discover there's no other field than Hong Kong, then I might choose others instead of forcing myself to choose Chinese.
FENG: And for those born in 1997, the month you were born has now become a line in the sand. The United Kingdom offered a British National Overseas passport, or BNO, to Hong Kong subjects right up to June 30, 1997. For those born right before the handover, they now have a path to British citizenship. Some Hong Kongers just missed the deadline, like Kiki. He was born days after handover.
KIKI: I just feel, like, trapped in Hong Kong because I can't do anything about the Hong Kong situation. But it's OK. It's just - I accepted my fate (laughter).
FENG: Many born in 1997 say they're frustrated they had no say in defining the conditions under which Beijing would rule Hong Kong. Jenny is a university student. She has a BNO and says she is emigrating.
JENNY: I can't stay here and seeing Hong Kong is deteriorating and I have to afraid for myself. Like, did I speak anything wrong or did I teach my children in a wrong way so that they would get punished?
FENG: Jenny says she can't see a future for herself in Hong Kong if she has to live in fear of being punished for saying something wrong. Marco was born in October of 1997 - so no BNO. He says being born after handover has always felt like being born with a ticking time bomb. Starting from 1997, China agreed to give Hong Kong limited autonomy for five decades.
MARCO: It feels like a counting down, like 50 years. So I would be exactly 50 years old by then.
FENG: Instead, he fears many of Hong Kong's freedoms will be gone before he celebrates his 24th birthday later this year. His biggest life decisions have always been guided by this countdown.
MARCO: It is always, like, a time limit to force you to think, do you have to plan it earlier or is it too late to wait till, like, around five to 10 years near that deadline? Is it ever going too late?
FENG: Unlike many Hong Kongers, Marco is not considering moving to Taiwan. Taiwan has offered to take in some Hong Kongers. It also is an electoral democracy and has vowed to defend its liberal order against Beijing for now.
MARCO: For now, it's good. But who knows, 10 or 15 years later, what's going on there?
FENG: So Marco is looking farther afield to Canada or the U.S., one amid a potential exodus of Hong Kongers looking for a new home.
Emily Feng, NPR News, Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.