Prince Philip visited Hong Kong twice with Queen Elizabeth II in 1975 and 1986 to much fanfare, but it was the two solo trips he made before that stayed in the hearts of Hongkongers, according to a Hong Kong historian.
Lawrence, a Hong Kong history buff that specializes in the history of the royal family, said perhaps the late Duke of Edinburgh’s most meaningful visit to the former British colony was in March 1959 when he presented the city with its colonial flag. Also known as the “dragon and lion” flag, it flew for 38 years before it was lowered at the handover in 1997.
The Blue Ensign flag had the Union Jack in one corner and the coat of arms represented by two lions and a dragon.
The lion in the center represented the city’s governor, who held a “Pearl of the Orient” in its paws — a referral to Hong Kong’s nickname. It was flanked by a dragon on the right, representing China, and a lion on the left representing England, Lawrence said.
He said that the flag became a part of Hongkongers’ identity and had a far-reaching significance to its residents.
While the flag was replaced by the city’s bauhinia flower flag since the city’s handover to Chinese rule, the colonial flag reappeared as a popular prop in pro-democracy protests since 2011, much to the ire of Beijing.
During his 1959 visit, Prince Philip was welcomed by scores of people who had flocked to watch his arrival at Queen’s Pier in Central, according to Lawrence. Crowds had filled the car park by City Hall and neighboring rooftops just to catch a glimpse of the royal.
Hong Kong had also built several 30-meter high pailou, or traditional ceremonial archways, in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon City and Causeway Bay just for his 50-hour official visit. Aside from bringing Hong Kong’s colonial flag, he attended a military inspection at the old Kai Tak airport and presided over a foundation laying ceremony at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, which was named after his wife.
He had also requested police to help him find the whereabouts of a nine-year-old girl he had met on his previous visit in 1945, when he had come to assist the recovery of Hong Kong after World War II.
Police managed to find the girl, then 23 years old, to meet with Prince Philip before he left, Lawrence said, citing old newspaper clippings. Prince Philip was remembered by Hongkongers as an affectionate royal who even treated a girl he briefly met on a ship as an old friend, he said.
Prince Philip died on Friday, aged 99, at Windsor Castle in England.
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