HONG KONG -- On the day this longtime British colony returned to Chinese rule 10 years ago, even the sky seemed to be crying over the territory's uncertain future.
The heavens opened as the colonial masters waved their farewells and sailed away on the ship Britannia. At daybreak, another downpour drenched the soldiers of the People's Liberation Army as they crossed the border.
By that wet summer, half a million people had fled Hong Kong in search of safer harbors and foreign passports. But a decade after the five-star Chinese red flag replaced the Union Jack on July 1, 1997, much of the worry about Hong Kong's demise has dissipated.
Mostly left alone by a giant Communist motherland busy undergoing its own metamorphosis, Hong Kong is thriving as a beacon of capitalism. The "one-country, two-systems" formula designed to preserve Hong Kong's freedoms and way of life for 50 years appears to be working, give or take a bit of muscle-flexing by Beijing.
In many ways, the past 10 years have shown how much China has changed and Hong Kong has stayed the same.
"The concept of isolating Hong Kong's capitalist ways from China's socialism did not work in the way people thought it would work," said Michael DeGolyer of Hong Kong Baptist University, who has conducted opinion polls in the territory. "China has utterly failed to change Hong Kong in their direction."
Instead, China has become more like Hong Kong - economically speaking, at least.
When the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping was plotting the return of the colony in the early 1980s, Hong Kongers, with their business savvy and materialistic sensibilities, were considered spiritual contaminants.
In China today, money is the new religion, and communism in many ways is just a name. The country has joined the World Trade Organization, modified its constitution to protect private property and accepted entrepreneurs into the Communist Party.
Hong Kong, on the other hand, is not nearly as transformed. But residents of this open international city prefer the status quo.
"I am still free to talk, free to read newspapers, free to make money," said Ping Lam Mak, 58, who runs a tiny stone-carving stall in the heart of Hong Kong's business district.
Contrary to the doomsayers, Beijing did not shut down the territory's free media, arrest dissidents or patrol the streets with PLA troops. But neither has Beijing been willing to grant Hong Kong full democracy.
Hong Kong's top leader is elected by a committee of 800 mostly pro-Beijing businesspeople. Only half of the 60-member legislature is chosen by a popular vote. The timetable for universal suffrage guaranteed under the territory's mini-constitution, has been pushed back indefinitely, leading critics to say that Beijing has not held up its end of the bargain to leave Hong Kong alone.
The issue of who is in charge was made obvious in June by China's top legislator, who declared that Beijing would dictate Hong Kong's political future.
"Hong Kong's administrative autonomy is not intrinsic. It is granted by the central government," Wu Gangguo, chairman of the National People's Congress, said in a speech in the Chinese capital marking the 10th anniversary of the transfer.
On the surface, Hong Kong, which has a population of 7 million, has retained much of the look and feel of a British colony. Double-decker buses drive on the left. English is spoken with a Cantonese-British accent.
Street protesters waving anti-government slogans remain a way of life in Hong Kong. But even as they strive to keep a distance, the people of Hong Kong also have come to embrace the motherland.
When the territory's economy hit the rocks in 2003, Beijing came to the rescue by opening the borders and making it easier for mainland visitors to spend their money here.
The flow of people goes both ways. About 500,000 Hong Kong residents now live and work outside the territory. Hong Kong investment alone is responsible for employing more than 13 million people in southern China's Guangdong province.
Meanwhile, all along the Chinese east coast, bustling cities are emerging, many backed by Hong Kong investment.
Perhaps that's why Beijing can't permit Hong Kong to become completely democratic.
"The mainland has seen how much tiny Hong Kong has changed the rest of China economically," DeGolyer said. "If Hong Kong was unleashed politically, can you see why they would be nervous?"
Still, it is in Beijing's interest to see Hong Kong succeed, and to that end it has compromised.
Beijing accepted an unlikely leader: Donald Tsang, a devout Catholic who was knighted by the British. This year, Beijing even tolerated a contested election for chief executive.
"It's definitely possible to have democracy in Hong Kong," said Chung Yuen-yi, 31, a social worker. "Beijing doesn't want us to move so fast. But we are ready."
Ching-Ching Ni writes for the Los Angeles Times.