Royal wedding frenzy around the world is rooted in legacy of the British empire
Michael Chugani says the outsized interest in the wedding of Britain’s Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle defies logic, until one factors in Britain’s colonial rule
Hasn’t the sun long set on the British empire? So why all the hype over this Saturday's royal wedding? Every television news channel I switch to is giving it gushing airtime, especially in the West. A fairy-tale wedding it is not. It's between a balding prince who’s only sixth in line to the British throne and a former small-time American actress. So why such over-the-top media coverage?
I don't mean any disrespect. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle make a charming, if unusual, couple. Who would have thought a British prince would marry a divorced biracial woman. Hats off to the royal family for finally ungluing itself from its stuffy past. Racially mixed kids running around Buckingham Palace, should the new royal couple have children, would be a welcome barrier-breaker.
But what baffles me is why a British royal wedding still fascinates the world. Even American power couple Bill and Hillary Clinton, president and first lady at one time, did not attract global attention when their daughter Chelsea got married in 2010.
Royal weddings in Japan, Thailand, continental Europe and other places with monarchies draw minimum interest. Will the wedding of Xi Mingze, the 25-year-old daughter of President Xi Jinping, whom Forbes recently named the world’s most powerful man, captivate the world if and when she decides to marry? Somehow I doubt it.
When Prince Charles married Diana in 1981, the BBC said the wedding drew a global television audience of 750 million. Some media outlets estimated a staggering 2 billion viewers watched the 2011 wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. To believe that is a stretch of the imagination. But it’s safe to say hundreds of millions around the world watched at least parts of it.
Come Saturday, British time, viewers across the world of every race and religion will tune in to marvel at the pomp and pageantry of another royal wedding, with the queen, the rest of the royal family and top celebrities providing a high-profile backdrop. Will Hongkongers get caught up in the frenzy? We were, after all, a British colony for over a century and a half.
More than two decades after reunification, a growing number of Hongkongers are looking back at British rule with nostalgia. To be sure, independence advocates waving British flags to mock our new masters is an aberration. But increasingly I hear people lament that life was better under the British.
They note we didn't have subdivided flats, stagnant salaries, eroding freedoms and media self-censorship. Back then, young people were full of hope for the future, not disillusioned as they are now. And people now tell me British rule, in effect, gave them more liberties than Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong after the handover, or should I say after the return of sovereignty since saying “handover” is now taboo.
Fascination with royal weddings remains because many people, funnily enough, still harbour some affection for the long-dead British empire even though their colonisers were not always benevolent rulers. History is replete with the cruelty and racism British rulers inflicted on colonised subjects.
Yet many former colonies have not attempted to erase their colonial past. Many colonial-era street and city names, buildings, and architecture are preserved in India, Malaysia, Singapore, the United States and here in Hong Kong, although there have been attempts to whitewash our past.
Perhaps we must look beyond the glitz and glamour of royal weddings to realise that fascination with them is actually rooted in the legacy of British empire. It is a multiple legacy of the English language, parliamentary politics, rule of law, an independent judiciary and separation of powers. The Britain of today is indeed a faded power, economically and militarily, but what it left behind from its empire days still forms the foundation of governance in many of its former colonies, including here in Hong Kong.
Michael Chugani is a Hong Kong journalist and TV show host