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Queen Elizabeth II's death is renewing interest in British memorabilia in Hong Kong

Museum owner Bryan Ong looks at old postage stamps from British Hong Kong at the private museum The Museum Victoria City in Hong Kong, on Sept. 10, 2022.

HONG KONG — The death of Queen Elizabeth II has sparked a wave of nostalgia and renewed interest in British memorabilia in Hong Kong, which for 156 years had lived under the British crown until its return to China in 1997.

So Tsz-him says he grew up with post boxes and coins bearing Elizabeth's face. "I used to feel the queen was a God-like ever-lasting figure," said So, who purchased a commemorative silver coin that had been issued to mark the Queen's Platinum Jubilee earlier this year.

For many in the Chinese city, emotions still linger toward British rule of Hong Kong.

Its return to China has upended lives amid a political turmoil brought on by waves of pro-democracy protests and Beijing's clampdown that critics say has snuffed out Western-style freedoms and threatened its reputation as a global financial business hub.

"It was during the British colonial time when Hong Kong developed to become a metropolitan city where East meets West," said Bryan Ong, an avid collector and seller of royal memorabilia.

"So I think there's a sentimental feeling towards the queen, which was more than her as a ruler. It's the feeling toward Hong Kong's colonial past."

Edward Ng, who was born and raised under British rule, spent nearly $140 on four silver coins as a keepsake at Ong's shop, House of Men, one of several in the city that specializes in British memorabilia.

"The queen was an important figure for the Hong Kong people. I'll miss her," Ng said.

Ong bids on items from all over the world. Before the pandemic struck, he used to travel to Britain at least four times a year to bring goods back to his store.

His interest in collecting royal memorabilia and items from colonial Hong Kong began in 1997, when he was 17, and the Union Jack was lowered over the city for the last time.

He has since amassed an impressive personal collection of over 10,000 items. They include banknotes, military medals, stamps and royal portraits in The Museum Victoria City, which he also owns.

Over the past two years, demand for the queen's memorabilia has gone up in Hong Kong, particularly after her 95th birthday last year and the Platinum Jubilee.

"I personally think that it's the queen's own charisma. She was an idol, an iconic global figure and many people just admire her," Ong said.

"Moreover, she was part of Hong Kong's history. Hong Kong's older generations were under her rule and ... she is part of their collective memory."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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