It was the hottest day on record for September, yet under a sweltering sun, thousands of Hongkongers flocked to the British consulate, waiting up to four hours in a long queue that stretched more than 500 meters into a public park to sign the book of condolence for Queen Elizabeth II. The next day, thousands turned up again, prompting the consulate to extend opening hours to 7pm for the whole week.
Many came to eulogise the ‘boss lady’ – an affectionate nickname for the Queen who was Hong Kong’s colonial head of state for 45 years – while also cherishing the opportunity to meet like-minded Hongkongers and share their memories of the city under British rule during the long wait.
Rallies and protests – once commonplace in a flourishing hub of civil liberties – have long disappeared from Hong Kong’s streets after Beijing introduced a sweeping national security law two years ago in response to anti-government protests in 2019.
The Queen’s death has, for some, sparked a deep sense of grief that goes beyond a fond remembrance to a mourning for an era they look back on as a golden age of Hong Kong, during which it grew from an impoverished city into an international metropolis. that prided itself on its financial success and robust civil freedoms.
“This is a rare opportunity for true Hongkongers to get together in solidarity and talk. I don’t suppose there will be other opportunities again. Since 2019, we have not been able to do this, ”said a social worker in her 30s, who declined to give her name de ella.
“We talked about her visits to Hong Kong – she was graceful but down-to-earth,” she said, referring to the Queen’s visit in 1975 when she was pictured talking to hawkers in a market and visiting a public housing estate.
“But mostly, we talked about how the British brought the rule of law, free economy, the education system, universal healthcare, public housing, social and political reforms. We think these were their greatest contributions to Hong Kong.”
Some in the queue were wary of police presence but felt some degree of protection being outside the British consulate. Others refrained from being seen mourning in public, anxious that the authorities would keep an eye on them. The Beijing-backed Ta Kung Pao newspaper accused Hong Kong mourners of “colonial nostalgia” and said it was proof that work on “decolonization” should be intensified. It also blasted “anti-China media” for peddling “political propaganda” through the Queen’s passing of it.
Li, a 73-year-old retiree in the queue, stayed up all night after the Queen’s death was announced, when it was past 1am in Hong Kong. He recalled his feelings about her after he escaped from China to Hong Kong in 1964: “I saw her picture of her in government offices and thought: ‘I am lucky enough to have come to Hong Kong. Now I can do everything freely, I could study and choose my own job without political assessments. I must work hard and live a decent life’.”
The caption of a cartoon circulated online titled “Goodbye Boss” said: “She didn’t demand us to learn the British national anthem, nor the history of her country. She did n’t demand patriotism nor praise for her from her, yet she lives in our hearts for ever.
Amid a sea of floral tributes, photographs of the Queen, and several Paddington teddy bears, one message read: “You will be remembered for your elegance and legacy: a once free and civilized Hong Kong.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism