Thousands have turned out in Hong Kong to pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth II since China closed one of the largest public gatherings in the former British colony more than two years ago in a show of political discontent.
A crowd of more than 2,500 people of varying ages lined up outside the British consulate for hours on Monday, bringing down the temperature. 33 °C (91 Fahrenheit), to leave flowers, framed photos and messages thanking the “Boss Lady” or “Lady Incharge” – as she was often known in Cantonese during the colonial years.
For some of them, it was not only a matter of mourning for an emperor who had ruled the city for 45 years, but a subtle form of protest about how China tightened its grip on the once free-wheeling and boisterous city. Beijing, which critics oppose, has seen a steady decline in its civil liberties since the British handed over sovereignty to Beijing 25 years ago.
Public gatherings have been rare since China enacted a national security law in June 2020 in an effort to quell the pro-democracy protests that have rocked the city since 2019. This clampdown, along with the coronavirus restrictions that critics claim, have effectively silenced most open forms of mass gathering or public discontent, sometimes co-opted for political purposes.
But in celebrating the monarchy and its symbols, some Hong Kongers have made no secret of their eagerness to forget the era for Hong Kong, the Chinese Communist Party, and local authorities recently took the opportunity to present school books. have seen. Those who claim that the city was never a colony. Instead the books refer to the period of British rule as “forced occupation”.
A retiree named Wing, who spoke to CNN outside the consulate on Monday but declined to give his full name, said it was “incredible” to be part of a mass gathering again.
“I get angry that the Hong Kong government is not showing respect (to the Queen) properly. They are afraid of being told by the Chinese government to them, but we were part of the colony,” said Wing, who was born in the 1960s .
Another, Sylvia Lee, said she was saddened to hear of the Queen’s death, adding that she was a symbol of stability around the world.
“No one lasts forever and we knew this day would someday come. She was a respected figure, and the government made many contributions to the development of Hong Kong during the colonial period, especially in the 70s and 80s, Lee told CNN, referring to a period when city-appointed governors built their public housing and transportation. basic infrastructure.
On the surface, the Queen’s mourning may not seem confrontational – especially as Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee (a former police officer who began his career with the Royal Hong Kong Police Force in 1977) both offered their condolences. have been sent. to the United Kingdom.
But the display of affection is reminiscent of the city’s pro-democracy protests, during which protesters adopted the colonial flag as a sign of resistance to Chinese one-party rule.
In one infamous incident, protesters ransacked the city’s legislative chamber, replacing it with graffiti calling for universal suffrage while hanging the colonial flag over the council president’s seat.
Britain’s ties with Hong Kong date back to the 19th century, when the Empire’s desire to force opium on China – in trade and due to the illegal drug addiction of its population – forced China to cede land to the British as a result of two wars. Had to be
Britain ruled Hong Kong for 156 years until it was given back to China in 1997 as part of a longer-term settlement, but signs of British influence are the city’s use of English street names and the common law system. remain in.
Queen Elizabeth herself twice visited Hong Kong while the city was a British territory, while her son, now King Charles III, attended the handover ceremony.
Nevertheless, the city’s colonial past was not peaceful and not without its critics. Riots erupted in the 1960s, when protests against increased ferry fares and demands for better labor rights escalated into mass strikes and bomb attacks, which at times brought the city to a standstill.
In the wake of the protests, the British colonial government initiated a series of welfare reforms, including public housing programs and compulsory free education.
But colonial-era critics say Hong Kong people did not have universal suffrage even under British rule. And many felt that London neglected its duty at the time of the handover by failing to provide British citizenship to Hong Kongers, instead offering most limited passports that denied them the right to live and work in Britain. Gave. Since the introduction of the National Security Act, the UK has routed citizenship through a new type of visa.
“It was (the Queen’s) empire that, in 1997, handed us over to China against our will,” said Jeffrey Ngo, a Washington-based activist who was born during the last few years of colonial Hong Kong.
The NGO said it was too young to remember life under British rule, but said that older generations in Hong Kong viewed the reign of Queen Elizabeth II – particularly in her 1975 and 1986 visits – with tremendous love “Because they associate it with a free, simple, happy era.”
“The sentiment is understandable, given that the comfortable point of comparison is Hong Kong under Chinese rule. I respect his life experience, although it is not something I share. For me, it is impossible to separate the wealth and prestige of the monarchy from the violence and expansionism of the empire,” he said.
The NGO said the harsh laws being used by Beijing to prosecute pro-democracy activists today – such as the colonial-era law on sedition – were reminders that Britain’s legacy had a dark side as well.
The world’s reaction to the death of Queen Elizabeth II
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