Seven popes. Fourteen US presidents. Fifteen British prime ministers. A 70-year reign. Queen Elizabeth’s death has sparked an outpouring of affection
from around the world. Why would an old lady from a foreign country engender so much grief and tenderness among people far and wide, across race, age and nationality? Why have so many felt an almost inexplicably deep and personal sense of loss at her passing?
Perhaps it is because Queen Elizabeth has really been the
queen, most recently portrayed in the popular Netflix series The Crown
. She has been a constant in our lives for seven decades, providing stability in a world of change. She was apolitical
in a divided world. Seemingly timeless, she was there from the first time a man landed on the moon to the invention of the mobile phone and internet.
Remembered for her elegance, grace and ever-present smile, the queen was held in high regard for her lifetime of service to her country and the Commonwealth realms
. The only modern-day monarch to serve as long was Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who also served for 70 years, earning the devotion of many of his subjects.
Queen Elizabeth became the first British monarch to visit China in 1986 and hosted President Xi Jinping at Buckingham Palace in 2015. She was Hong Kong’s head of state for 45 years.
I vaguely remember the queen’s visits to Hong Kong in 1975 and 1986
, which led to a stadium being named after her, in addition to a hospital and several schools. I also recall adults referring to her as “the boss”. In the old days, her face was ubiquitous in Hong Kong life; I saw it daily on stamps, banknotes and coins.
Hong Kong has a long history with the monarchy, given that the British exercised colonial rule here for over 150 years until 1997. In our city, many streets and buildings are named after the royals, including Queen’s Road, King’s Road and the Prince of Wales Hospital
The queen’s love of horses is marked by two annual Hong Kong Jockey Club races – the Queen Elizabeth Cup and Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup. I hope these names remain in place and do not fall victim to revisionism, as they are part of Hong Kong’s history and heritage.
Over 10,000 Hong Kong residents have signed the British consulate’s book of condolence
in memory of the queen. But not everyone mourns her death. Even in the United Kingdom, where hundreds of thousands queued for up to 25 hours to pay their last respects, there have been several anti-royal protests.
Questions have also been raised about the need for a monarchy and the associated cost
. The Sovereign Grant
cost British taxpayers £102.4 million (US$117 million) in the last financial year, money that covered the royal family’s expenses and property upkeep. Some are calling for a serious debate on the future of the monarchy as an institution.
Many others who have experienced colonial rule also have complex feelings
about the queen. For some, under the shiny veneer of royal glitz and glamour lie ugly scars of racism, colonialism, enslavement, violence and theft.
At the end of the day, Queen Elizabeth’s enduring legacy is her lifelong devotion to service. She was one of the most famous and watched people in the world with a job that required her not to say or do anything that could be seen as remotely political or controversial. It required tremendous discipline and the sacrifice of privacy, freedom of movement and freedom from scrutiny.
Perhaps it was her unparalleled sense of duty and work ethic that struck a chord with people in this part of the world. Asians are familiar with self-sacrifice, placing a high value on duty and filial piety.
The queen is much admired for her tireless work ethic and dedication to her responsibilities. Aged 96 and in frail health, she still welcomed Liz Truss
as Britain’s new prime minister only two days before her death.
Like the Paddington Bears that people have been leaving at her memorial sites, Queen Elizabeth is an icon who will remain in our hearts forever.
Bernard Chan is a Hong Kong businessman and a former Executive Council convenor