A veteran Hong Kong opera star apologized and declared his patriotism on Thursday after his praise of Britain’s late Queen Elizabeth II sparked a backlash among nationalists in China.
Thousands of Hong Kongers queued outside the British consulate in the city this week to sign a book of condolence for the late monarch, who died after 70 years on the throne.
Among the mourners was Lo Kar-ying, a heavyweight of the Cantonese opera scene, who posted a selfie from the queue on Instagram with a message that read: “Hong Kong was a blessed land during her reign.”
Instagram is banned in mainland China, but Luo’s post went viral on other social media, sparking anger and criticism among nationalists.
On Thursday, Luo took to China’s Twitter-like platform Weibo to post a video apologizing for “making mournful remarks without thinking them through.”
“My original intention was to express my condolences to the deceased elderly woman, and I would like to appeal to everyone not to over-interpret what I said,” the 75-year-old man said in Chinese.
“I cannot forget my origin and lineage. The fact that I hold a Chinese passport says it all, I am Chinese and I love my motherland forever. I am very sorry,” he added.
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His original Instagram post has since been deleted.
Hong Kong was a British colony for more than 150 years, and although the financial center was returned to China in 1997, the past is etched into its landscape, from street names and the ubiquity of the English language to the common law legal system.
While other former colonies have seen a more muted response to Elizabeth II’s death, some 6,700 Hong Kongers, including some government officials, have signed the consulate’s condolence book so far.
Queues stretched across the business district and took up to four hours.
Many mourners expressed nostalgia for the city’s colonial past as China seeks to purge dissent following massive pro-democracy protests three years ago.
Hong Kong newspaper Ta Kung Pao, which reports to Beijing’s local liaison office, published a commentary on Tuesday accusing “anti-Chinese elements and anti-Chinese media” of “whitewashing colonial rule” by encouraging mourning for Elizabeth II.
Nationalism has grown stronger under President Xi Jinping, China’s most assertive and authoritarian leader in a generation.
Celebrities and businesses can face massive backlash from consumers for any perceived anti-China or hint of disloyalty.
Many of the commenters on Lo’s Weibo video were unconvinced by his apology.
Some told him to “learn from his wife,” Lisa Wang, a veteran actress who served as Hong Kong’s delegate to China’s top political advisory body for two decades.