Mixed reactions in China over death of Queen Elizabeth II

Many from Hong Kong mourn the British monarch's passing alongside that of their former freedoms.
By Amelia Loi and Cheryl Tung for RFA Cantonese and by Mia Ping-chieh Chen for RFA Mandarin
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A large video screen shows a news broadcast featuring an image of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II following her death, in Beijing, Sept. 9, 2022.

UPDATED at 3:58 P.M. EDT on 2022-09-12

The death of Queen Elizabeth II has been a hot topic on Chinese social media since it was announced on Sept. 8, amid complaints that the queen's passing seemed to be getting more public attention than the anniversary of the death of late supreme leader Mao Zedong a day later.

"We should me more concerned with [mourning] 'Grandpa Mao' than an old British lady," one comment said amid a flurry of comments and likes, particularly surrounding floral tributes outside Buckingham Palace, and offerings of Paddington Bear toys and marmalade sandwiches -- a reference a video clip made in honor of the Queen's Platinum Jubilee celebrations in June 2022."

"There's no need to be so sad about the death of the Queen of England," Sina Weibo user @Bone-Goose wrote on Monday. "I saw a lot of people posting about a lot of video clips, and that they were mainly doing to follow a trend or to look classy. It think this is very well said."

Another comment read: "The news of the death of the Queen of England is all over the internet, just one day away from the anniversary of our founding leader's death. People who drink water shouldn't forget those who dug the wells."

Others continued to post photos and video of mourners and photos of the queen and other royals on public engagements well into Monday evening local time.

"Thank you, Ma'am, for everything," Weibo user @JiaziJianziJessica commented with a candle and a heart emoji on Monday.

However, it appeared that the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP)'s supporters had staged something of a comeback over the weekend, with some quoting veteran CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour as calling for the U.K. to focus more on the harm done by its colonialist and imperialist history, now that King Charles III has ascended to the throne.

"I really do believe that we have to have this conversation right now, even at this moment," she said of British colonialism during a live, on-air analysis of the national mourning period, which has already seen two people arrested — one in Oxford for questioning the imposition of an unelected king on the British people and a woman in Edinburgh who is being charged with public order offenses after she held up a placard calling for the abolition of the monarchy.

"What we’re saying is that there is the generation of multicultural and diverse Britons who want this answered, who want to see their monarch finally talk about what it means and, you know, potentially the idea of reparations, definitely justice, right? Justice," Amanpour said in comments quoted by Fox News.

Another post referenced a Sept. 9 statement from the Communist Party of Britain's youth arm calling for a republic.

"It is fundamentally clear, now more than ever, that Britain must become a modern republic. A tiny interbreeding sect of a decaying aristocracy cannot and will never reflect the interests of working people in Britain," the statement said.

"The Royal Family’s wealth and the Crown estates, vast tracts of land and resources across Britain, are centuries of stolen wealth from the working people of this country and the oppressed and exploited peoples in Britain’s colonies," it said, calling the late Queen "a symbol of the archaic, corrupt and racist institution."

The statement was retweeted on Weibo on Monday by @ShadowInvisibleCicero, with a brief paraphrase.

People gather next to flowers placed as a tribute outside the British Consulate in Hong Kong on Sept. 12, 2022, following the death of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II. Credit: AFP
People gather next to flowers placed as a tribute outside the British Consulate in Hong Kong on Sept. 12, 2022, following the death of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II. Credit: AFP

‘A bit of nostalgia’

While some U.K.-based critics on Twitter referenced the Opium Wars, during which the British Navy imposed the opium trade on Qing Dynasty China, leading to mass addictions and massive profits, Hong Kongers told RFA that they were saddened by the queen's passing.

"I have very strong feelings about her; it's like she's my grandmother," a woman surnamed Chan said after making a trip to express her condolences publicly in Hong Kong on Friday.

"I respected her as a great leader who brought us peace of mind."

A man who gave the surname Fung said he and his wife grew up in colonial-era Hong Kong, where there was a portrait of the queen in every classroom.

"We all grew up in colonial Hong Kong, which helped us improve our lives, and develop the city, so we love the queen very much," Fung said. "She came here many times ... she was very close to the people."

"Many people benefited from a lot of [new] hospitals, better medical care, education and housing in Hong Kong [during that time]," he said.

Sociologist and current affairs commentator Chung Kim-wah said the late queen was a symbol of a Hong Kong that no longer exists since the CCP started to clamp down on the city's traditional freedoms in the wake of mass protests and calls for full democracy in recent years.

"People already had a bit of nostalgia for the British-style administration and methods of governance ... like human rights, freedom and democracy, which have all regressed [lately]," Chung told RFA.

"The memory of the queen, her death, naturally evokes this past era, and naturally people in Hong Kong feel very strongly about that," he said.

Hong Konger Lee Chi-lung, who now lives in London, said that while the queen hadn't been directly involved in the running of colonial-era Hong Kong, she has come to represent that time.

"For Hong Kongers, it's not so much they have special personal feelings about the queen, but an emotional projection of [the memory] of old Hong Kong," said Lee, who now curates a museum of Hong Kong in London.

"[She] was there as a lot of people in Hong Kong were growing up."

CCP leader Xi Jinping and Hong Kong chief executive John Lee both sent messages of condolence after the queen's death was announced.

"Queen Elizabeth II won wide acclaim as the longest-reigning monarch of the United Kingdom," Xi's statement said. "Queen Elizabeth II was the first British monarch to visit China, and her passing is a huge loss to the British people."

"We attach great importance to the development of China-U.K. relations and are willing to work together with King Charles III to take the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations at the ambassadorial level between the two countries as an opportunity to promote the healthy and stable development of bilateral relations and benefit the two countries and peoples," the statement said.

Premier Li Keqiang also sent a message of condolence to the British Prime Minister Liz Truss.

John Lee said: "The queen reigned for 70 years and was the longest reigning monarch in the U.K. She was highly respected, loved and praised by the British people."

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

CORRECTION: The offerings of Paddington Bear toys and marmalade sandwiches were in reference a video clip made in honor of the Queen's Platinum Jubilee celebrations in June 2022 and not to her appearance in a Paddington movie.


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