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Public grief over Queen ‘doubles as dissent’ in Hong Kong

Flowers next to a photograph of the Queen in Hong Kong (Anthony Kwan/AP)
Flowers next to a photograph of the Queen in Hong Kong (Anthony Kwan/AP)

Hundreds of Hong Kong residents have been lining up in front of the British Consulate General for hours each day to pay their respects to the Queen, leaving piles of flowers and handwritten notes.

The collective outpouring of grief after her death last week is perhaps the most ardent among the former British colonies, where mourning has been generally subdued.

It is seen by some experts as a form of dissent against increasingly intrusive controls by communist-ruled Beijing, which took over the territory in 1997.

Some in Hong Kong are nostalgic for what they view as a past “golden age”, when the city of about seven million people gained stature as a world financial centre and tourism destination.

A woman lays flowers as a tribute to the Queen in Hong Kong
A woman lays flowers as a tribute to the Queen in Hong Kong (Anthony Kwan/AP)

The Queen’s death has sparked a flurry of interest in British memorabilia, among other things.

The Queen is nicknamed “si tau por” in Hong Kong. It translates to “boss lady”.

“We used to call her ‘si tau por’ when we were under her rule. It’s simply a way of showing respect to her. There was a feeling of kindness from her, she’s not the kind of boss who is up above you,” said CK Li, a resident who queued for more than two hours to pay his respects.

Another resident, 80-year-old Eddie Wong, said she was there “out of true feelings” from her heart.

People wait in line to pay tribute to the Queen in Hong Kong
People wait in line to pay tribute to the Queen in Hong Kong (Anthony Kwan/AP)

“People in Hong Kong love her,” said Ms Wong. “Because when we were under her rule, we enjoyed democracy and freedom and we were very grateful. I want to bid farewell to ‘si tau por’ who is in heaven.”

With its takeover on July 1 1997, China promised to leave Hong Kong’s Western-style civil liberties and institutions intact for at least 50 years. Many raised in the former territory grew up hoping for still greater freedoms.

But following months of anti-government protests in 2019, Beijing imposed a tough national security law on the city, seeking to stamp out public dissent.

News outlets deemed overly critical of Beijing have been forced to shut down and dozens of activists have been arrested. The mass protests ended. Tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents have chosen to emigrate to the UK and other places such as Taiwan.

Tributes to the Queen in Hong Kong
Tributes to the Queen in Hong Kong (Anthony Kwan/AP)

So far, the authorities have allowed the orderly, sombre shows of respect to continue.

“I would imagine that some people are going there not so much for nostalgia reasons, but as a kind of protest, now that dissent is suppressed,” said John Burns, an 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 stands for, and that were incorporated in our Bill of Rights at the end of colonialism, could participate in this as a form of protest,” Prof Burns said.

Emotions in Hong Kong are running high, said former Democratic Party chairwoman and ex-politician Emily Lau, given the city’s political situation and its struggles in fighting Covid-19.

“There are some who 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,” she said.

“We cannot rule out that some have used this occasion to express that.”