In Hong Kong, public grief over Queen is coupled with dissent
HONG KONG (AP) — Hundreds of Hong Kong residents line up outside the British Consulate General for hours each day to pay their respects to Queen Elizabeth II, leaving piles of flowers and handwritten notes.
The collective outpouring of grief over his death last week is perhaps strongest among Britain’s former colonies, where mourning has generally been subdued. It is seen by some experts as a form of dissent against increasingly intrusive controls by Communist-led Beijing, which seized control of the territory in 1997.
Some Hong Kongers are nostalgic for what they see as a ‘golden age’ under Britain’s not entirely democratic colonial rule, when the city of around 7 million people rose to stature as a financial hub world and as a tourist destination.
The Queen’s death has sparked renewed interest in British memorabilia, among other things.
The queen is nicknamed « si tau por » in Hong Kong. Pronounced « see-tao-POHR » in the local Cantonese dialect, this translates to « patron lady ».
“We used to call him ‘si tau por’ when we were under his rule. It’s just a way to show him respect. There was a feeling of kindness from him, he is not the kind of boss who is above you,” said CK Li, a resident who stood in line for more than two hours to pay his respects. .
Another resident, Eddie Wong, 80, said she was there « out of real feelings » from her heart.
“Hong Kong people love it,” Wong said. « Because when we were under his rule, we enjoyed democracy and freedom and we were very grateful for that. I want to say goodbye to ‘si tau por’ which is in heaven.
With its takeover on July 1, 1997, China promised to leave Hong Kong’s civil liberties and Western-style institutions intact for at least 50 years. Many raised in the former territory grew up expecting even greater freedoms.
But after months of anti-government protests in 2019, Beijing imposed a strict national security law on the city, seeking to stamp out public dissent.
Media outlets deemed too critical of Beijing have been forced to close and dozens of activists have been arrested. The mass protests have ended. Tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents have chosen to emigrate to the UK and other places like Taiwan.
So far, authorities have allowed the orderly and somber displays of respect to continue.
« I imagine some people are going there not so much for nostalgic reasons, but as a sort of protest, now that dissent is being suppressed, » said John Burns, honorary professor of politics and public administration at the University of Hong Kong.
« Some people, for example, who agree with the kind of universal values that the UK stood for and that were incorporated into our Bill of Rights at the end of colonialism could participate in that as a form of protest, » he said. said Burns.
Emotions in Hong Kong are running high, said former Democratic Party chairwoman and ex-legislator Emily Lau, given the city’s political situation and its difficulties in dealing with COVID-19.
« Some are genuinely nostalgic and have sentimental feelings for the Queen, but there are also people who have grievances about the current situation in Hong Kong, » Lau said.
« We can’t rule out that some took this opportunity to express that, » she said.
At the same time, public figures in Hong Kong are coming under scrutiny for their reaction to the Queen’s passing and drawing criticism if they are seen as overly admiring of her reign or British rule in general.
Commenters on mainland Chinese social media sites blasted veteran actor Lau Kar-ying, for posting a selfie outside the British Consulate on Instagram with a caption including the line, « Hong Kong was a blessed land under his rule. « .
Harshly criticized for attributing Hong Kong’s prosperity to British rule, Lau deleted the post and posted a video apology on Chinese microblogging site Weibo. He called on people not to read too much of what he said.
“I am Chinese and will always love my homeland. I’m sorry,” Lau said.
Not all Hong Kongers are sympathetic to British rule. Some resent London’s decision not to grant them full British citizenship, instead giving them pre-surrender British National Overseas passports, which do not guarantee the right to live in the UK.
« The British took away the rights of people born in Hong Kong before 1997. They didn’t protect those rights, » said Leslie Chan, who said he had no intention of showing respect to the queen. « When the British government discussed with China the future of Hong Kong, Hong Kongers were cut off from the discussion, » he said.
Some in Hong Kong focus only on the last decades of British rule before the handover to China, when the city grew increasingly prosperous and the colonial government enhanced its heritage with new parks, train lines and other modern equipment.
British rule in Hong Kong has benefited the territory in some ways, but colonialism is ultimately harmful to its hegemony and racism, Burns said.
« When you talk about the benefits of colonialism, you can’t just take the last 10 or 20 years in Hong Kong, » he said. “You have to look at the whole. »
Zen Soo and Alice Fung, The Associated Press