THIS WEEK, Her Majesty the Queen was able to see for herself, however fleetingly, what has been called the city, Hong Kong, in which a modern miracle has taken place.
The miracle consists in the transformation of what was once a mere warehouse and transient free port for the goods of others into a formidable manufacturing centre in its own right, engendering enormous wealth, investment and prosperity.
History was repeated as the Queen's health was drunk just as it was on January 26, 1841, when a British naval party landed on this rocky island at the mouth of China's Pearl River and initiated the long history of Hong Kong as a British colony.
The Chinese were far from delighted, but Britain was then immensely strong. China was not. Outbreaks of hostility between the two countries led only to further British territorial acquisitions.
The Kowloon peninsular was added in 1860 and then, in 1898, the British took advantage of China's disastrous war with Japan to acquire a further 355 square miles including land north of Kowloon, and 235 islands. This area came to be called the New Territories, but they were only to be held by Britain on a 99 year lease.
What would happen when this lease expired? The question began to concern politicians in both Britain and Hong Kong in the early 1980s, and in 1982 Mrs Thatcher flew to Hong Kong to open negotiations with China as to the colony's future.
By the resulting Anglo-Chinese joint declaration of 1984, it was agreed that Hong Kong would become sovereign Chinese territory in 1997. This was a typically statesmanlike move on her part.
The treaty has been criticised for giving away too much but the fact remains that for years previously the seemingly impossible hopes of merging two mutually exclusive creeds had greatly hampered prosperity and progress in Hong Kong.
Thanks to promises made by China in the 1984 agreement, however, the optimism as to business natural to Hong Kong in its heyday came bouncing back. This week the Queen discovered that enthusiasm reigned in almost every sphere of life.
It is true, though not so often publicly said or written, that, at the other end of the scale weighed down on one side by wealth and well-being, there is much poverty as well as a thriving trade in drugs and prostitution.
Before being too self-righteous about such ugly aspects of Hong Kong life — due to the power of the notorious Triads who had been swept out of communist China 40 years earlier — we can hardly forget what happened when the British first administered the colony.
The British in Hong Kong were allowed by the Chinese to set foot only in one Chinese port, namely Canton. To make good their paucity of trade, therefore, the westerners (mostly British) balanced matters out by smuggling in large quantities of opium with the help of corrupt officials and in defiance of Chinese law. Lasting evil resulted.
When Chinese sovereignty is restored it is thought certain that Triad-inspired vice will be wiped out as firmly as it had once been in Shanghai.
Even more probable will be the departure long before 1997 of those responsible for this current social evil.
This does not mean that the authorities have not been fighting a continuous battle against such vice for many years. So has the Church in its own way. It is ironic to think that the latter may have some cause for relief when Hong Kong is once more Chinese, in view of the ruthless Chinese restrictions against vice in mainland China. (Catholics in Hong Kong represent about 9 per cent of the population.) The third of three films, shown earlier in the month on BBC2, meanwhile gave an insight into Chinese village life which, though obviously not typical of other regions, showed a local Catholic doctor, Dr Shen, as very much a leading citizen of a largely Catholic village with no apparent restrictions on the number of children in his family.
In Hong Kong itself, moreover, a new spirit of enlightened capitalism has taken over, which augurs well for the "mixed marriage" due to take place in 1997.
This spirit is perhaps best personified by men like Sir Y K Pao, a refugee from China who has become one of the richest men in the world, a towering figure in Hong Kong and Far Eastern affairs and a prolific donor to charitable causes.
Would it not be a marvellous gesture to offer him the governship of Hong Kong at some time before the date for the return to China is due? As the first Chinese governor of this historic colony, few would be better equipped to lead Hong Kong into its new age.
At 67, he is a man of astonishing vigour and, perhaps above all, vision. This is the quality most needed when one looks at all sides, the less attractive as well as the good, of Hong Kong life today.