THE year 1997 is significant to many of the undergraduates doing their work internships right now because it was the year they were born.
As big a deal as birthdays are in our lives, even bigger is the fact that some key world events and trends exploded that same year.
Internationally, Hong Kong was returned to China while prominent figures Princess Diana and Deng Xiaoping died.
It was also a time when everyone started obsessing over Harry Potter, the Pokemon craze blew up, the movie Titanic made history, Spice Girls took the world by storm and people spent hours taking care of their virtual pets.
In Malaysia, the national flag was officially named Jalur Gemilang and the newly launched DVD player was all the rage.
We have picked our top 10 but this list is by no means exhaustive.
1 Everybody wants to be a Spice Girl
Spice Girls was the biggest girl group back in the 1990s and their debut album, Spice, was the top-selling album of 1997. Formed in 1994, the group, which consisted of Melanie Brown (Scary Spice), Melanie Chisholm (Sporty Spice), Emma Bunton (Baby Spice), Geri Halliwell (Ginger Spice) and Victoria Beckham (Posh Spice), burst onto the music scene with their take on Girl Power and catchy hits Wannabe and Spice Up Your Life. They went on to release their second album, Spiceworld, in November and film, Spice World. A slew of merchandise followed, including dolls, pens, perfumes and T-shirts, cementing their place in pop history. Fans wanted to be like them and couldn’t get enough of their music and cool merchandise.
2 The first Harry Potter book is released
The Harry Potter frenzy began with the release of J.K. Rowling’s first book in the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, on June 26,1997 in the UK. There were only 500 copies in its first print run. Back then, the book’s publisher, Bloomsbury, thought young boys would not want to read a book that was written by a woman and suggested the author, Joanne Rowling, use her initials. The book was an almost immediate and critical success, topping children’s bestseller lists. The series of books were later turned into movies which went on to become box-office successes. Both children and adults related to the story of an orphan boy forced to live with cruel relatives who later discovers he is the son of well-known wizards.
3 Princess Diana killed in tragic accident
On Aug 31,1997, the whole world was shocked by the death of the Princess of Wales. She was killed in a car crash in Paris alongside her friend, Dodi al Fayed, after being chased by paparazzi. As the world struggled to come to terms with the loss of the People’s Princess, conspiracy theories emerged. She had devoted much of her time to charitable causes such as raising awareness of AIDS. Millions of people mourned her death and left flowers at the Buckingham Palace gates as a tribute. Candle in the Wind 1997 or Goodbye England’s Rose was released by Elton John as a tribute to her and it debuted at No.1 on the UK Singles chart.
4 National flag gets its name
Forty years after the shouts of Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka! were heard on Aug 31,1957, the Malaysian flag was given the name Jalur Gemilang, which means stripes of glory. The flag comprises 14 horizontal stripes alternating red and white representing the states and Federal Territory, a dark blue canton with a crescent and a 14-point star. Thousands converged on Dataran Merdeka on National Day. Then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his wife Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali showed up at the event in a red Kancil. Five Nuri helicopters flew the Jalur Gemilang over the crowd.
5 The DVD player arrives in Malaysia
The first digital video disc (DVD) player made available commercially in Malaysia was the Panasonic DVD-A300 player, priced at RM2,299. National Panasonic Malaysia celebrated its arrival with a grand launch held at Pan Pacific Glenmarie Resort in Selangor, showcasing the advanced technology of its time. The gadget also played video compact discs. In the US, the first DVD players went on sale the same year, with 349,482 players and two million discs sold by the end of that year.
6 Bring up a virtual pet
Virtual pets became really popular and amused children (and some adults too) in 1997. Like real pets, digital pets provided hours of fun for their owners. They required plenty of care, attention and feeding. But unlike real pets, they did not mess up the house and the only thing players needed to clean up was the system. Tamagotchi, the egg-shaped Japanese electronic toy with a small screen showing a pet that needed to be fed, cleaned and put to sleep, took off in China, with one Beijing department store reporting sales of 50,000 in three months. The virtual pets trend swept across Asia and since the majority of users were students, concerns were raised about its impact. Tamagotchi was banned in Taiwanese and Hong Kong schools. In Malaysia, the then Education minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said owning and caring for a virtual pet might distract a student’s attention in school. He directed ministry officials to study the impact of owning a “cyber pet” on a student’s academic performance.
7 Death of Deng Xiaoping
Born into an educated land-owning family in Sichuan province, Deng Xiaoping studied and worked in France in the 1920s and joined the Communist Party of China in 1923. After Mao Zedong’s death in 1976, Deng was chosen by the people and led China through far-reaching market economy reforms. Called the Architect of Modern China, Deng never held office as the head of state, head of government or general secretary (leader of the Communist Party). He was “the architect” of a new brand of thinking that combined socialist ideology with free enterprise. Deng opened China to foreign investment and the global market, policies that turned China into one of the fastest-growing economies in the world and raised the standard of living of hundreds of millions. On Feb 19, Deng died at the age of 92 from a lung infection and Parkinson’s disease. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Deng was to be remembered in the international community at large as a primary architect of China’s modernisation and dramatic economic development.
8 Hong Kong returns to Chinese rule
On the evening of June 30,1997,100,000 people from all walks of life gathered in Tienanmen Square in Beijing to mark Hong Kong’s return to China. The government of the People’s Republic of China resumed sovereignty over Hong Kong (including Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories) on July 1,1997. On the same day, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region was established, ending British rule of over 150 years and implementing “one country, two systems, ” “a high degree of autonomy” and “Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong” in accordance with the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Every July 1 is the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Establishment anniversary.
9 Titanic makes a splash in cinemas
The epic film directed, written and produced by James Cameron had romance, tragedy and state-of-the-art visual effects. Combining historical accounts of the sinking of the RMS Titanic with fiction, the movie centred around Jack (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet), who were from different social classes, falling in love on the ship during its ill-fated maiden voyage. Released on Dec 19,1997, Titanic achieved critical and commercial success. Nominated for 14 Academy Awards, the film won 11 Oscars, including for Best Picture and Best Director, tying with 1959’s Ben-Hur for the most Oscars won by a single film. It was also the first film to cross the billion-dollar mark worldwide at the box-office.
10 Pokémon captures world’s imagination
Pokémon, abbreviated from the Japanese title of Pocket Monsters, is a Japanese anime television series. It premiered in Japan on April 1,1997, on TV Tokyo. The Pokémon anime series went on to air around the world and became a hit, especially in the United States, where the two highest-grossing anime films are both Pokémon films. It was also one of the first anime TV series to reach this level of mainstream success with Western audiences. It is also one of the reasons the game series of the same name became so popular worldwide. It has been adapted for international television markets, concurrently airing in 169 countries worldwide. The anime series is also regarded as the most successful video game adaptation of all time, with over 1,000 episodes.