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1997 - Death of Princess Diana

Death of Princess Diana - "the People’s Princess" dies in a car crash in Paris. Her death was met with a massive public outpouring of grief across Britain

Shortly after midnight on August 31, 1997, Diana, Princess of Wales—affectionately known as "the People’s Princess"—dies in a car crash in Paris. She was 36. Her boyfriend, the Egyptian-born socialite Dodi Fayed, and the driver of the car, Henri Paul, died as well. 

Princess Diana was one of the most popular public figures in the world. Her death was met with a massive outpouring of grief. Mourners began visiting Kensington Palace immediately, leaving bouquets at the home where the princess, also known as Lady Di, would never return. Piles of flowers reached some 30 feet from the palace's gate.

Diana and Dodi—who had been vacationing in the French Riviera—arrived in Paris earlier the previous day. They left the Ritz Paris just after midnight, intending to go to Dodi’s apartment on the Rue Arsène Houssaye. As soon as they departed the hotel, a swarm of paparazzi on motorcycles began aggressively tailing their car. About three minutes later, the driver lost control and crashed into a pillar at the entrance of the Pont de l'Alma tunnel.

Dodi and the driver were pronounced dead at the scene. Diana was taken to the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital and declared dead at 6:00 am. (A fourth passenger, Diana’s bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones, was seriously injured but survived.) Diana's former husband Prince Charles, as well as her sisters and other members of the Royal Family, arrived in Paris that morning. Diana’s body was then taken back to London.

Like much of her life, her death was a full-blown media sensation, and the subject of many conspiracy theories. At first, the paparazzi hounding the car were blamed for the crash, but later it was revealed that the driver was under the influence of alcohol and prescription drugs. A formal investigation concluded the paparazzi did not cause the collision. 

Diana’s funeral in London, on September 6, was watched by over 2 billion people. She was survived by her two sons, Prince William, who was 15 at the time, and Prince Harry, who was 12.


Further Reading


Oprah Mag - The Details of Princess Diana's Tragic Death

ITV - In Pictures: Remembering Diana

TelegraphPrincess Diana: What happened on the night of her death?

TimeThe Princess and the Paparazzi: How Diana's Death Changed the British Media

1997 - Hong Kong returned

Hong Kong returned to China - 150 years of British rule comes to an end as the prosperous colony is reverted back to control by China

 It was the end of an era: In July 1997, as the flag of the United Kingdom was lowered over Hong Kong, the prosperous colony was returned to China after over 150 years of British rule. The sun had finally set on one of the wealthiest modern outposts of the British Empire.

The United Kingdom had held Hong Kong as a colony since 1841, when it occupied the area during the First Opium War. The war broke out after Qing-dynasty China attempted to crack down an illegal opium trade that led to widespread addiction in China. Defeat came at a high cost: In 1842, China agreed to cede the island of Hong Kong to the British in perpetuity through the Treaty of Nanjing.

Over the next half-century, the United Kingdom gained control over all three main regions of Hong Kong: After Hong Kong Island came the Kowloon Peninsula, and finally the New Territories, a swath of land that comprises the bulk of Hong Kong today. The final treaty, the 1898 Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory, leased the New Territories to Britain for 99 years. Under the terms of the treaty, China would regain control of its leased lands on July 1, 1997.

British Hong Kong’s trajectory was different from that of mainland China, which became a Communist country in 1949. Up to 100,000 Chinese found refuge in Hong Kong after the Communist Party took power. Capitalist Hong Kong soon experienced an economic boom, becoming home to a multicultural, international community.

As the treaty’s expiration loomed, separating the New Territories from the rest of Hong Kong became increasingly unthinkable. Starting in the late 1970s, the U.K. and China began to discuss Hong Kong’s future. In 1984, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and China’s premier Zhao Ziyang signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration, agreeing that China would give Hong Kong some political and social autonomy through a “one country, two systems” policy for a 50-year-period.

The ceremony was attended by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Prince Charles of Wales, Chinese President Jiang Zemin, and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. A few thousand Hong Kongers protested the turnover, which was otherwise celebratory and peaceful. 

After the handover, Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region of China with its own “mini constitution,” legal system, and some democratic rights like free speech and the freedom of assembly under its Basic Law. However, Hong Kong residents cannot elect their own leaders; rather, a chief executive is elected by a 1,200-member election committee.


Further Reading


Hong Kong Free Press - The 1997 Handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China

Business Insider - Britain Returns Hong Kong to China

Newsweek - End of Empire: How Britain's Global Dominance Crumbled

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